Random Observations on Paris

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

As with Moscow, there are a number of things I’ve noticed that are interesting, but don’t really warrant a proper long post. Here you go:


There are buskers on the Metro here. Notice I didn’t say in the Metro, as in “hanging about in the tunnels between platforms”. I said on the Metro, as in “riding on the trains”. The first time I saw this was on the train out to the Catacombs – there was a guy in my car who actually had a microphone and amplifier and was doing some kind of karaoke act. Despite the fact that I’ve recently made the acquaintance of someone who is busking for his dinner and thus am more aware of how precarious an existence that can be, I was tight-fisted with this particular guy because really, karoake to a canned sound track? The next day there was a nice violinist in my car and since I am a generous sort I gave him fifty cents, so now he can probably get that 96” plasma screen TV he’s been saving up for.


One night I went to a one-man comedy show near le Bastille; it was billed as being 100% English, and promised to teach you how to become Parisian. It was only sorta funny, but some of it was really true. For instance, the guy taught us what he called the “Parisian Sound”, which is that contemptuous “pfffft” noise usually accompanied by a quick roll of the eyes that marks a true Parisian’s reaction to, well, almost anything. The funny thing is that a few days later I found myself making that very noise after deciding to have a coffee and pastry near Notre Dame, solely so I could use the toilet in the café. Upon discovering that, even for paying customers, the toilet cost an additional 50 cents, I instinctively let out a “pfffft” that would have made any Parisian proud and departed instantly. Well I mean, really.

Pleasant street near the annoying café


Some of the metro cars here have little buttons or levers you use to open the doors when the train arrives at the platform. The cool thing is that if you push the button early, the doors will actually open before the train comes to a complete stop, which lets you hop off in a rakish manner, somewhat like being on one of the old Routemaster doubledecker buses in London. Ah, it takes me back…


It seems like all hostels in Paris have a mid-day lock-out period, which is really annoying. I remember this from London twenty years ago, but all of the hostels I’ve stayed at so far have evolved since that time. Not in Paris. The lock-out is ostensibly so that the hostel rooms can be cleaned during the day, but if the staff at the hostel I currently inhabit are really spending 11:00 am to 3:00 pm cleaning the place then I shudder to think what the place would be like without that time. It’s conveniently located and has free wifi, but I wouldn’t want to have surgery there or anything.


I think I’ve mostly got the whole computer disaster sorted out. The new machine still needs some tweaks – iTunes is being, well, iTunes-y, and I need to get in under the hood and expunge a bunch of Microsoft bloatware and such, but generally it’s working fine and the battery life is brilliant. I was also able to arrange a pleasant evening of quality time with an external monitor and the “forked”* old computer, so I rescued the files I needed from it and it’s now been dispatched home along with my broken steripen and a few other odds and sods. It’s a relief not to be dragging all that (literally) dead weight around with me. And though I suspect he’ll never see this, I have to thank Kai, the sort-of hasher** who invited me over to his flat to let me use an old monitor, and chatted with me, and gave me a cup of tea, and then opened the bottle of wine I’d brought as a thank you, and then walked with me through a nice park back to the metro. What can I say? It’s all about the kindness of strangers.


The Arc de Triomphe is smack in the middle of a gigantic traffic circle. It’s madness – 12 streets converge at that point, which is called Charles de Gaulle Etoile, I guess because it looks like big star on maps. The roundabout – the world’s largest, according to the LP - is about 5 lanes wide and I honestly can’t figure out how that many cars manage to negotiate it without everyone ending up in a crumpled heap. From the sidelines it looks like utter chaos.

The Arc de Triomphe


The food… God. I keep walking down streets that are lined with shops selling beautiful bread and pastries that are works of art and fruits and vegetables and artisinal sausages and paté and oils and wine. It’s become apparent to me that in order to really experience the best of Paris you need three things:

  1. An infinite budget
  2. An infinite appetite, and
  3. An infinite ability to ingest calories without actually becoming infinite.

Despite having none of the above, I think I’m making a game stab at the first part of number three, but failing miserably at the second.

Macarons! They will be my undoing.


That’s all for now, stay tuned for news about my trip to the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, near the Normandy coast. I’m going there to visit the grave of my Great-Uncle Mervyn, of the Regina Rifles.

* Ironically, I’ve actually lost the fork that was the cause of all the trouble. I used it at a café near the Musée D’Orsay and forgot it on the table. It was gone by the time I realized it was missing and went back to look for it. So now the computer is gone, and the fork is gone. It’s like the whole episode has been erased, which isn’t necessarily bad.

** Sort-of hasher because he’d hashed exactly once a couple of weeks ago and found it wasn’t quite what he was expecting. Still, he was on the email list to which my cry for help was sent, and he responded. Nice guy.


Unknown said...


What have you got against flip-flops? They are very appropriate footwear for certain situations - like going to the beach.

Just caught up on your last 2 weeks blogging. Very good as usual. You are getting to be a very cool tourist - Paying to get into the Louvre then heading straight for a big lunch instead of the Mona Lisa - That is so French.

Keep having fun.

Rob H.

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