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Parisian Fairy Tale

September 30, 2008

Paris was a spur of the moment decision. My roommate’s parents were going to be there, so she was going…I saw no other trip to Paris in sight so I hopped onboard (literally). Trains to Paris are pretty confusing, and let’s explore that. There’s the famed TGV…speed train, luxury service, all that jazz. But then their are a million other train companies that are part of TGV international, and they will screw you over. So I go online, book a train from Liège to Paris, everything is dandy. LIES. I booked with SNCF, opted to pick up my ticket in the station, and got to Liège where I was not-so-kindly informed that they only sell SNCB tickets…SNC-Belgium. I brought my booking referral, my receipt, my credit card….and no dice. They advised me to write a letter of complaint, to which I have received no response.
So, 88 euro for a NEW ticket, and I was finally on my way. Arriving in Paris more than made up for the ridiculosity of the train station and their many-branched corporations. (I just made up the word ridiculosity, but it is the most appropriate word for wasting 88 Euro). Paris was exactly as I had imagined- I was walking through a movie set the entire time. The hostel, St. Christopher’s Inn, was brand new and much like a luxury hotel where you just happen to share a room with some strangers. We’re talking Sauna, free breakfast, movie theatre, two bars- the works.
The point of Paris, however, was clearly not the accommodation. Its hard to describe my time in Paris because I literally walked around beaming, checking out all the usual stuff. There’s no great story to it, no adventure really. No sites that I saw that someone hasn’t described before and, surely, in more articulate prose. But Paris just was. Here is a city that lives up to every fantasy, every stereotype, every expectation. Think Parisians are rude? Check. Think people propose under the Eiffel Tower? Yup (though, strangely, not to me.) Think the ghetto parts are a bit dodgey? Word son.
Day one I went to the Eiffel tower and the Champs D’Elysees, I climbed the whole tower as far as you were allowed (the very very top level is usually closed). The Champs was confusing because it’s a street and an area, so I was there before I realized where I was. Seriously wary to whip out my map, I trusted that if I loved Paris enough, it would love me back and I would find my way. I trust this instinct a lot, and usually end up lost (in the car…wondering why Torrington or Windsor don’t just embrace my presence and be easy to navigate). But Paris loves me, and I figured out where I was pretty quickly.



Day 2 was a shopping day- through the little shopping districts and to Les Galleries Lafayettes- like the Henri Bendel of Paris. Very exciting…very expensive. But let’s point out the most amazing features of Les Galleries Lafayettes: there are two.  The first is the top floor bridal atelier. I have a strong aversion to getting married any time soon, honestly I can’t imagine this ever really happening (for some hypocrisy on this issue, please see the entry entitled “The Search for My Irish Husband”). Maybe I’ll grow into it, blah blah blah but the wedding gowns at this store almost made me cry they were so beautiful. For a full 5 minutes I thought I’d like to own one. When that day does eventually come, if I’m not wearing a tye-dye T-shirt and saying my vows in Swahili on a mountain-top, I’ll probably buy one there.
Onto the second, and perhaps more impressive, unique feature of Les Galleries Lafayette. Upstairs they have a cafeteria, and in this cafeteria there is a drinks dispenser, you know the kind at Taco Bell with 7 different kinds of soda. And when you’re little you mix them all and claim the mix tastes good. Anyways, back on topic, they have such a drinks dispenser here, but it dispenses WINE. For real, there are about 8 spigots, you choose from types of white, red, or rosé and choose a glass size (much like super-sizing your drink) then you press a button to dispense the wine of your choice. I really thought about buying a glass, just for the novelty, but it was noon and I had a full day ahead of me. Check it out:

Maybe this is not so revolutionary, but I thought it was pretty cool. Coming soon to a school cafeteria near you.
Onto the Louvre and the Louvre park- another gorgeous September Saturday in a new city. It was down-right hot in Paris that day, and I reclined in one of the many lounge-style park chairs in the Louvre park and watched little Parisian children play with boats in the fountain. One of those moments that renews your faith in the human race: if we can produce offspring that sickeningly adorable then maybe we aren’t so bad after all. It was another movie-moment: 15 toddlers poking at boats with poles, 8-9 very chic Parisian ladies chasing after them, with their equally chic husbands chilling on the benches, wrapped up in their own attractiveness, munching lunch in the sun. Man o man, they say gender-relations have evolved! (and I think I may have still claimed above that the kids renewed my faith in the human race…way to form a firm opinion).

    What else what else…Sunday was a whirlwind of sight-seeing with my roommate Jess. We went to the Centre Georges Pompidou, a museum whose architecture I have had to give two presentations on in various French classes and thus decided it was worth going to see the monstrosity. Yeah it was cool, very industrial looking, very important moment for architecture and all that, but it doesn’t keep the thing from being an eyesore. The fountains next to it had very fun sculptures in them though:

(I am also a statue)

Then onto the Notre Dame cathedral- surprisingly HUGE in real life. I always imagined it as being very very large, but never entertained the idea that it would be absolutely MAMMOTH. Also, it was very very light in color- another misconception I had. I expected a dark, dreary cathedral with Quasimoto lurking around and gargoyles cackling. But it was surprisingly cheery. Next to the Notre Dame area, just over the river, there are street vendors selling antique books and posters. Probably not really antique, but whatever I will admit to being had. Merry Christmas Anne, I got you a really old French book.

Speaking of books, a friend recommended that while in Paris I visit Shakespeare and Co. Books. Those of you from New York, or familiar with my brother Andrew, know the gravity of the name Shakespeare books. In NY, it is one of the most fantastic book stores around. In Andrew’s estimation, it is God’s literary gift to New Yorkers. Needless to say, I was eager to visit the Parisian impostor and see if it stood up to my New York love. Andrew, close your eyes, it was BETTER. the most amazing bookstore I have ever visited. The kind that makes you want to read anything and everything, that has books by your favorite authors that you never even knew they wrote, that has little handwritten suggestions taped on the shelves next to the employees favorites (this always makes me laugh- some people will just come right out and say that Of Mice and Men is their favorite book, others get really obscure and you know they definitely read John Grisham every night before bed…others write their recommendations and you actually believe that that first edition, only-english-translation-ever-printed piece of literary obscurity is what makes them tick. It’s all in the recommendation style kids, I’ve got you pegged.)
Anyways the man who owned the store used to lend out books to friends and let them stay in the upstairs room while they got on their feet in Paris, so now the upstairs has three beds and about 600 books that aren’t for sale, but feel free to sit there and read them.  We know how much I like to read, so Im going to stop my description of a tiny little bookstore right here, lest I go any further in my book lust and lose 60% of my readers.

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