Not the fulfillment/redemption capital of Ontario, but the City of Lights. Paris, France.
I don't know what I was expecting.
Well, that's not entirely true, I was expecting a few things. Style and culture, which was available in abundance. Mind you, the musicians coming on to the Metro and playing accordions (Unless it's Klezmer or They Might Be Giants, I REALLY F**KIN' HATE ACCORDIONS!!!! And they're in every European city, and they were in the UK too!!!), violins and clarinets was NOT what I was expecting. There is a very interesting style of coat that women are wearing in Paris this season that is tres “cool” (Apparently it's the same in English and French, and that's according to Jodi. She speaks French.) I believe I took a picture of a woman wearing one. It's like a patchwork coat full of coolness. Jodi says it's got brocades, but that's a word I wouldn't use, so I'm not going to. Regardless, way cool. Did I say they're cool? Just checking.
Tonnes of children here wear eyeglasses. TONNES!!! I don't know if the French have vision problems in general, but their children wear very stylish glasses. That's fer sure.
The cheese was TOP NOTCH!!!
The bread was.....well.....I could have eaten just bread, but hey, that's just wrong.
The mussels were superb.
The fruit and veggies were fresh and really tasted like fruit and veggies and not watered-down, genetically reproduced copies of fruit and veggies.
We did not eat any meals out. Sadly, that was the case. Mind you, I did a pretty good job of feeding us, and like I said, there was bread, cheese, chocolate (forget to mention that!), mussels (that I made in two different sauces – one with wine and one with beer) and....we missed out on the Paris restaurant/cafe/bar experience.
In fact, while we did have an amazing hot chocolate, for which I'm sure I can find the information on, plus the places we shopped in Montmartre - where we stayed – across from the produce store from Amelie (YES!!! I love that movie and only bought a crappy can of beer there.)
Oh, I haven't mentioned that French beer pretty much sucks, in that I couldn't find good beer. I tried. I bought Jenlain, Fischer, Saint Omer, a Heineken product made in France that has Scotch Malt Whisky in it and....OH WAIT!!! The Kronenburg 1664 was pretty good. Also there was a brown-ish beer that had added sugar (I should have read the ingredients!) that wasn't too good.
Also, the problem with going to Paris on a budget is that wine drinking becomes problematic. I don't tend to spend a ton of money on bottles of wine at home, usually between $12 and $17, but more often closer to $15. I don't speak/read French very well, and the wine shops/grocery stores near us were either cheap ($6-$8 )or more expensive $20+. In retrospect, I should have gone to a wine shop, told the dude/dudette that I was looking to spend about $12 and wanted something dry and bold. Red or white, I wouldn't have cared. So, we got a cheap “Fuzion-esque” (For those of you familiar with Fuzion, you'll know what I'm talking about – leave it in the decanter for a day, and the $7.45 bottle of wine drinks like a $12 bottle of wine.) red that ended up being used in salad dressing (in lieu of vinegar), and in a sauce for ground beef. Only after the quality had been established.
Then we also found a relatively acceptable white on the cheap, that was easy to drink, and wasn't offensive. It was the white used in the mussels. Blah blah blah. Jodi told me that I'm talking too much about booze, and my mom told me in an email that I seem to do is take pictures of breweries.
Anyway, back to Paris.
As I said, I don't speak French. I took it until grade 10, and after encountering a teacher who was not my favourite, dropped it in favour of.....well, maybe it was Dance. :) For those of you who have heard about my high school dance experience(s), you'll know I made the right choice. Maybe not for aiding communication in Quebec, New Brunswick, France and French-speaking Africa, but it certainly aided my life otherwise. Wearing tights in Dance class, and having a fire drill builds a certain amount of character. Arts-based school or not, when you're in grade 12 and really just starting to get your sense of self, having the whole school seeing you in dance tights in front of the school puts a little steel in your spine. FAST!!!
So, I wasn't really able to communicate with the masses in Paris. That was mildly soul-sucking. I like to talk to strangers. I like to compliment people on their fashion choices, hairstyles, and just shoot the s**t with the peeps out there. Alas, that was not to be for a week. Oh wait, we're not going to be an “English-speaking” country until January. That's London for a bit and than Israel, where most people speak English. Sure, most people can speak a little English in Europe, but it's not their first language and it's not their responsibility to speak English for my comfort. I know this. That said, it doesn't necessarily make it any easier for me to be.....well....me.
If you're reading this, you most likely know me, or know of me through Jodi, and you know that I like to talk. Sure, I'm a good listener (at times), but I'm a talker. I'll take up the oxygen in the room and make you pass out in no time flat. I have that ability. I talk about anything. I talk about stuff I love, stuff I hate, stuff I know a little bit about and stuff I know Bo Diddley 'bout. That's me. Love it or hate it....it's not apt to change any time soon.
I live life with a passion. Most of the time. Sure, I'm indifferent to things. In fact, the word “sure” is an issue with Jodi and me, since she'll ask me a question and I'll answer with, “Sure.”.
Not usually her fave answer. (It's also the tone in which I say it that pisses her off, hey....can I always sing, “Confident, confident, dry and secure. Raise your hands, raise your hands if you're Sure.” Oh wait, that's an antiperspirant commercial. Oh, by the way, Tom's of Maine wasn't quite doing it for me with their all-natural deodorant, so I bought Sure and I'm poisoning myself with aluminum and other nasties. But I don't smell.)
Anyway, back to my feeling like an immigrant. Ya, I know I didn't say it yet, but I suspect I have a pretty good idea of how an immigrant would feel in coming to a country they've never been to, with a bag of clothes/belongings that they consider relatively important, and an inability to speak the language. While I'm better off than most immigrants (Or am I?) in that it's a temporary situation, and my partner speaks the language well enough for whatever we need to happen to get done, I still feel/felt isolated.
It's a feeling I wasn't used to. We spent five weeks in English-speaking countries, and while accents come in to play in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland (Glasgow, as I've already mentioned) and England, they speak/understand English. So my ignorance about what I was going to encounter (only having been in Europe once before, for my friends Sheila and John's wedding in '99 when I was relatively sheltered amongst Canadians, Americans and bilingual Italians for ten days) was/is HUGE!
I don't want to be the North American who expects everyone to speak English to make me feel better. I've tried where possible, with my “pigeon” French, to communicate. It seems to have been appreciated, especially by the cute young women in the boulangerie around the corner, where I would go to get the tasty thin baguettes.
So, I got some culture. Two churches, big landmarks/monuments, cemetaries, and museums. Here's my take on what I saw. I don't care if you like what I have to say, because it's my take on things. I think by now you know I'm not like the other boys. (Oh geez, there's another Michael Jackson reference. Speaking of Ola Ray, Playboy Playmate and “girlfriend” in the “Thriller” video, Pigalle, which is right next to Montmartre and where the Moulin Rouge is, really just resembles a sad version of Yonge Street. Between Dundas and Gerrard. Back in the 70s and 80s. Or a sad little version of Times Square when it was seedy. Very feh, and not “red light” at all. Just so ya know. Also, Fashion Television in France, which is a network (surprise, surprise) has “Midnight Haute” (pronounced “hawt” in this case) from 12 AM to 1 AM. They show topless fashion shoots for calendars and Penthouse Pet shoots. It's mildly amusing, but really tame. Oh, and they showed “Caligula” in French a few nights ago at about 9 PM. It was funny to see a mud/oil slapping/wrestling match between two women in a “historical” movie. But that's me.)
Okay, culture. The Notre Dame Cathedral was pretty cool, but the see-through confession rooms was weird to see. I thought it was supposed to be through the wooden wall/shielded opening. Oh well, that's the Jew in me showing through. The River Seine smelled like urine, probably because French men/dogs (not necessarily one-and-the-same) seem to find it necessary to relieve themselves on cement and not grass, which allows the urine to enter the ground and not be smelled. Oh well. The Champs d'Elysees was disappointing, and the Tuileries was different/enjoyable. The Arc de Triomphe was big. The Eiffel Tower was big and interesting. I was surprised that Paris is not as “green” to view as Toronto. I've also come to realize that Toronto is not a world-class city, but a smaller version of a world-class city. I'm not slagging Toronto, but it's not a major world city size-wise and certainly not up there with other cities for things to do.
The Catacombes (bones under the city) were closed, owing to vandalism. F**KERS!!! I really wanted to see that. I hope a dog pisses on your new fabric sneakers and then the cats does likewise on your pillow. The Jardin du Luxembourg was nice, but not overly interesting. Probably because it was the end of October and not-so-in-bloom. I didn't go into Shakespeare & Company, 'cause I'm still reading Tucker Max's “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell”. I do not recommend you read it, but it's..umm...well...he's an ass. He treats women worse than he treats his liver, and that's not very well at all. I won't tell you who suggested I read it, but I will say that he works in the book/publishing/reading/entertainment business, and I only reading it for one reason. He said that he doesn't read books, and he read this. He also said he would read James McBride's “The Color of Water” if I read this. I'm trying. Lord, I'm trying.
Don't get me wrong, there are parts that make me laugh out-loud, but there are also parts that make me wonder if it's true or not. He swears it is, but there have been more important liars and embellishers of the truth before him.
We saw a few famous graves in Pere Lachaise, like Jim Morrison and Jodi took pictures of Heloise and Abelard – no clue who they are, don't care who they are, and Cordelia apparently would never forgive Jodi if she didn't. Whether they were under scaffolding or not.
St. Chapelle was another church, and really lame. TONNES of stained glass, but it was overcast and I'm SUPER DUPER glad I didn't have to pay extra (we got a museum pass) or have to stand in line for a long time to get in there. Otherwise I'd be making more noise than a wolf howling at the moon with rabies, while hungry and in heat. Georges Pompidou was a really cool museum, where Jodi and I had an extended “debate”/discussion about my finding some of Matisse's work to look like kindergarten cut and paste, and whether or not Keith Haring's work was in some inspired by what I saw of Matisse's, that I was interested in learning about Matisse. Sure, there are some Matisse pieces of work that I like, but I'm not fond of everything. I LOVE Damien Hirst, but his paintings suck. S-U-C-K!!! At least the blue skulls at the Wallace Gallery.
We went to the Jewish Museum, which would have been much more enjoyable if I wasn't Jewish. There were a few interesting things, but I knew most of what was explained in the audio tour, and the pronunciation SUCKED!!! It's not Ha-noo-kah, but CH-ah-noo-kah. I expected MUCH better, and in fact was pretty much offended at how non-Jewish the names/word sounded.
The Picasso Museum was closed for renovations. Don't plan on going for three years. Three years to reno a museum? That seems overly long, but Jodi tells me everyone goes on strike in France. Maybe they're just building in extra time in case of the inevitable.
The Louvre. BORING!!! Yep. BORING!!! SUPER BORING!!! I felt like an 8 year old at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) or AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), but without anything modern or dinosaurs to look at. It's all old stuff, and the Mona Lisa is 2' x 3' and the Venus de Milo was good only 'cause she's got plumbers buttcrack showing. The best part of the Louvre was the floors. Yep, the floors.
Now seems like a good point to once again point out that I don't find Paris to be an overly attractive city. ESPECIALLY around the Louvre, where it's all monochromatic and blah/grey. There are parts of the city that are really funky 'n fun, but generally it's old. I'm a modernist, in that I like variety. I don't like the Upper West Side of NYC (Sorry Zarya) for the same reason. It all looks the same.
I'm a heathen, a simpleton and a cretin. And I'm okay with it.
The Orangerie was pretty cool, in that the Monet paintings (“Water Lilies”) are really well displayed, with four paintings in a room, and two rooms. Four directions, morning in one room and night in the other. There were also a bunch of paintings I liked from Rousseau, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin and maybe some more.
The D'Orsay was also good, because there was a lot of more modern stuff and a number of famous paintings. It was cool because it used to be a train station (like my house of worship, the Summerhill LCBO store in Toronto) and there are several different kinds of paintings, which pick up time-wise from where the (boring) Louvre leaves off.
Finally, the first Sunday of the month in Paris means free museums. We were kind of “museumed out”, so we headed to the Cinematique Museum, which was dry (mind you, it was raining!) and I'm glad I didn't have to pay to get in, otherwise I'd feel ripped off.
WARNING: I can't speak for all of Paris, but in Montmartre, almost everything is closed on Sundays. Or they close very early on Sunday. So, if you're planning on preparing meals, either be prepared to scrimp and scavenge for ingredients, or plan on eating out. Walking around in the rain, looking for ingredients for an unknown meal, is not my favourite thing to do in the world. Jodi was enjoying it even less than me.
We're headed to Lyon now on the TGV (The High Speed train that is supposed to go 300 km/h, but it sure doesn't seem to be going that fast.) for a couple of days of whatever, and visiting with Jodi's cousin's sister, who lives in Lyon. After that, we're looking at several different options for France, as we (thanks to Lavinia!) stumbled on a website that seems much more active than WWOOF. HelpX.com has both hosts and helpers look to meet up, while WWOOF just seems to be helpers contacting hosts. In fact, just after signing up for the site ($35 for 2 years), we got a message from a host in Spain, looking to have us come.
It looks like the troubles we had in finding something in France are changing, as we had someone from France contact us this morning, and HelpX.com includes France, Spain and Italy, which will make things more interesting/easy for us in the long-run. Or so I hope.
Bonne journee for now.