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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Paris, love vs. hate, part III

Let's say the airline screwed up and you wound up in a completely strange European city. It looks strangely familiar... that enormous iron phallus, where have you seen it before? That brown stinky river that runs through it... that white cream pastry on a hilltop that vaguely resembles Alan Lee's Tolkien illustrations of Minas Tirith... you can't quite place it. The language that buzzes around you, is it spanish? No, unless it's spanish spoken with chocolate mousse in your mouth. Italian? Almost, but italian does not exude hormonal activity like this language. Is it true? Could this be PARIS? - If you're still at a complete loss and the airline misplaced your GPS, let me give you a couple of well-tested clues just to make sure. If you answer 'oui' to the claims presented below, you are in the City of Lights, the Capital of Love and Weight-obsessed women!

  1. As you enter a boutique, the immediate presumption that you spot on the salesperson's face is that you are there to steal.
  2. This is the only place you've ever been to where you get less service if you smile and apologize.
  3. However, if you snap a nasty retort and shrug, the service around you improves by 100%.
  4. If you dress to your best, it is still not good enough. If you dress badly, you are ignored and pushed around. If you dress revealingly and put on make-up, you will receive lots of attention from elderly toothless men looking for love they can pay for.
  5. If you're a woman and eat with a healthy appetite, you get dirty looks.
  6. There are more pharmacies that grocery stores.
  7. If you happen to speak the native lingo, but speak it slower than at the pace of 100 words per minute, people give up on you, shrug and sigh impatiently: 'Oh, I thought you said you spoke french.'

Yep, you're in Paris. Now that you're here, might as well go to one of those street cafés you've always heard of, and enjoy the slow service. When you get used to the noises around you - the car engines, the honking, the yells, the high heels on pavement, the tyre screeches - you notice that sitting in a café kind of gives you your own private little space in the universe that is Paris. Your private little living room that smells like strong tobacco, pollution and occasional dog turd. You look at the parisians around you, see how their faces are sort of closed, expressionless when they sip their 'express', no sugar. They couldn't care less about the noise and crowds. They shut them out. You wonder how they do that. Going to a french public school from the age of three does that to you.

I took a 'covoiturage' to go to Paris from my heavenly southern France village. Covoiturage, that wonderful invention, is when you reply to an ad on the net where a ride is offered from place A to place B if you participate in the gasoline fare with a small sum of money. The driver was an extremely nice french guy, a parisian, in fact. He had impeccable taste in music and cigarettes (which we smoked the whole 8 hours to Paris), we stopped for a quick coffee (lunch? what lunch? you're not going to eat? he exclaimed at me) and drove towards Paris chattering in a friendly fashion. The closer we got to Paris, the sulkier the gentleman got. He started sighing heavily, talked less and less and frowned more. When we reached 'le périférique' of Paris, the man started swearing from the corner of his mouth. At the first traffic jam, he started waving his fist, swearing heavily, and then honking. When he dropped me off at Montparnasse, he had become a full-blown parisian. 

And yet, I was in Paris, and loved being there. Go figure. There's no rush like the one when you first step off of the metro. The smell alone sticks to your clothes for days. It was an icy, windy day, fit for a Paris fall and winter, and yet little girls were barelegged, boys bareheaded, chic ladies in itsy-bitsy ballerina shoes. I was dressed to go face the Finnish autumn so I felt no cold - but neither did they, it seemed. They had that closed-up look on their faces as they rushed by me, eyeing me up and down with a kind of cynically amused half-a-smile, then returning behind the iron curtain of parisian sulkiness that gets them through the day.

Honestly, don't know why I like the damn city so much.