Paris – the City of Love. Paris the City of Arrogance. Sophistication, fashion, cuisine … so many clichés and stereotypes.
From my experience it is all of those things and none of those things. We had only three days there but I had visited in winter 1989 just as the Berlin wall had fallen in Germany. The European winter is something special and Paris was cold but sunny then and bedecked with tasteful Christmas decorations. Then I did the Arc du Triomphe, Versailles, Pompidou arts centre, Museé Rodin, and The Orangerie. I stayed in a rickety old left bank hotel and ate Chinese on my first night.
This time around I had the chance to see the Eiffel Tower up close (couldn’t be buggered queuing for the lift to the top). It is huge. Also we did a day trip to Versailles, and the Montparnasse street markets and cemetery. We stayed in a Marist Brothers’ hostel for just 46 euro a night, including the standard French petit déjeuner of crusty baguette with jam, cheese and coffee.
I didn’t quite get it last time in France, but I realise that bread is the staple carbohydrate of the nation. Bread is eaten with every meal; and as a snack between meals. There are stacks of baguettes behind the counter in gas stations where you would normally expect chewing gum. Baskets of bread immediately appear on your table at any bistro or restaurant. A friend told us that the government tried to convert the masses to potato consumption hundreds of years ago by planting fields of spuds, loosely guarded by gendarmes to give the impression that they were valuable and worth stealing. It was a total failure.
Now, to Parisian arrogance and rudeness. Nope. All but one person we met in three days of dozens of interactions, were helpful, charming and indulgent of our tourist French language skills. The only time we struck anyone rude was at the oxymoronic ‘Information’ booth at the St. Jacques Metro station. I think they have retained just one rude bitch from hell information lady as a relic for posterity. This one was a doozy. She spat her apparent incomprehension of my stumbling French pronunciation mockingly back at me, with an icy stare in rapid fire French, and by way of help shrugged and jerked her thumb at the automated ticket machine.
(To be continued ...)
When he's not away overseas being an international man of mediocrity, Phil runs Wine Tours in Auckland