Sunday, March 09, 2008

Un-Paris

I need to apologize to my neighbors.

My kitchen windows don't have curtains, so anyone across the courtyard can see in. This morning, I did some things so offensive to French sensibilities, that I'm sure they're contacting my landlords to draw up the eviction papers.

You see, this morning, I not only fried eggs for breakfast, I not only sliced a baguette lengthwise to stick it in a toaster, but I microwaved some coffee left over from the night before.

In other words, I had the most horrifically un-French breakfast short of chicken fried steak & eggs, in full view of anyone who wanted to see the repugnant morning unfold.

Eggs might be forgivable. Toasting a baguette probably isn't that bad. But microwaving coffee? I think I even offended myself.

I then spent a leisurely morning catching up on the news, reading up on UCLA's heart-attack basketball victories for the week, and generally feeling good to not sleep half the day away.

So I decided to put on the ol' coat and trailrunners to go on a nice walk, with a destination I'd had in mind for some time. I ran down the stairs and stepped outside and... it was bitter cold and pissing rain.

Perfect!

Although this stymied my plans to hit up the outdoor markets on Boulveard Richard Lenoir on the way, it made it an even better time to go into the bowels of the 13th Arrondissement and fill my tummy with a hot bowl of pho. The real stuff. With basil and oxtail broth and... tripe! Or so I hoped.

I'd heard about the place - Pho Banh Cuon 14 - a number of times in the last week, while researching authentic Asian food in Paris. While I'm sure, with this being the mainstream choice, that there are even better Vietnamese noodle joints to be found, this one did absolutely fine. (Read my review, in English or French.)

I had so much fun slurping my meal, that I think my joy was contagious. The previously apprehensive looking French couple next to me saw the way I was diving into my noodles (real Asian style with chopsticks in one hand, spoon in the other) and attacked theirs with a bit more gusto. A pair of ladies wound up sitting next to me, obviously new friends with a major language gap, and I bridged their various broken languages to make some recommendations and decipher the menu.

For once, it felt OK - nay, excellent - to be a foreigner here. In an otherwise insular society, I felt like the hero of the day, slurping noodles like a real Asian, confidently ordering what the restaurant does best, and bringing others along for the joyride. Instead of feeling like that odd-looking ethnic fella with the weird accent who sits at a table for one, I felt like... Me.

I walked out of the restaurant with a bit of a spring in my step. Despite being in a wondrously beautiful, vibrant city, I'd been feeling the doldrums a bit. Largely from missing Alannah for sure, but also because other than beginning to make some contact with locals, I haven't really had anyone to share all these things. Sure, there's the blog, and numerous phone calls home, and obligatory quips on Facebook and other social networking sites. And of course, all my great coworkers during the week. But sometimes you see something cool on a Saturday night or Sunday morning walk, and you want to turn to someone and point it out. "Hey, check that out!" But you can't. At least, not without looking like a crazy person who's had too much absinthe in the Bastille. And believe me, there are a lot of those.

So it was nice to have this victory, albeit tiny, to feel something and share it with people, even if they're strangers.

I started my walk home, and then I realized... Crap! I didn't bring my iPod. Much of the time, I like walking without music. It allows me to take in the sights and the sounds of Paris. A city this alive has a soundtrack all its own. But it's Sunday, and I was about to make a trek through some of the deadest neighborhoods in town.

I decided to save myself the boredom and just hop on the metro at Place d'Italie, a mere five stops from Bastille.

Big mistake.

There are times that you just need your iPod. Or earplugs. Or pills that will provide you with the sensory deprivation necessary to put up with the not-so-charming aspects of Parisian life. Like the insanely irritating hum of a stationary metro train, sitting at the terminus for a solid ten minutes before taking off. Or the crazy man at one end of the car, yelling at his invisible friend through the four teeth remaining in his mouth. Or at the opposite end of the car, the wheezing of an old lady's sick terrier, obviously too unhealthy to still be up and about, miserably dying - ever so slowly - on the end of Madame Denial's leash. Or in the set of seats across from you, Madame Tracheotomy, who ironically speaks about 700 words a minute in this odd whisper/whistle, sounding disturbingly like one of many intergalactic freaks in the Star Wars cantina. Only I didn't have C-3PO to translate whatever obviously vitriolic hatred she was spewing.

There is a beauty, a music, a rhythm to traveling underground in Paris. And other times it's a cacophony of the ugliest, most hideous things in the world, personified in the people who just happen to be crammed on every side of you.

The narrow sidewalks are eternally romantic, forcing you to walk closely with your companion. At the same time they're the bane of your existence, making you want to take the slow-walker or zig-zagger in front of you and toss them into an oncoming Citroën.

Paris, being an enormous, multifaceted city, can rightfully seduce you with its charms, then turn around and pummel you with its frustrations: The constant wet and cold. The confusing intersections. The cloying tourists. The unavoidable nuggets of dog shit.

Sometimes it requires a symbolic detachment. A virtual middle finger to the things you hate in the place you love. Today, I did it via my food. An American breakfast. A Vietnamese lunch. Followed by the unheard of amongst the unheard of, sitting down with a good book to limitless refills of coffee.

Ok, this wasn't at some idyllic sidewalk café. I did this at my place. I made a big pot of coffee, curled up with my book, and leisurely drank and read and drank some more. I lavished every moment of this, this bucking of Parisian convention.

After all, having refills of coffee is almost as unthinkable as microwaving it.

2 comments:

  1. A lot of that sounds strangely like Vancouver on a bad day lol

    the wet, the cold, the train, the crazies, the diversity you love and loathe, the tourists, the French ;)

    glad you had a mostly good day :)

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  2. What the hell is this Qype crap, eh???!?! :)

    ReplyDelete