American in Paris, Circa 2016

Yes, unoriginal title, but mandatory no?

Americans walking the El Camino normally fly into Paris and take the train down to the starting point in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, where one begins this delicious journey by crossing the Pyrenees mountains into Spain.  We decided to give ourselves at least one day to play in Paris and it was…très magnifique! (No shame!)

Have you ever been told by someone how rude the French are?  I received plenty of warning before my departure and I have to wonder if it’s really by actual experience anymore or has it become a learned behavior?  Like the word, “France” is the trigger and the automatic response is, “They are so rude there!”  I have to set some record straight and say that it was not my experience at all as everyone I encountered was very nice.  In fact, if the reverse were true, being that the French call us, “Dumb Americans,” than I proudly say I confirmed that belief when I, clearly an American, absent-mindedly spoke basic Spanish to a French cab driver.  What can I say? Head smacker, that one.

If ever, you are so fortunate to make it to France, see it at night, like really late at night!  I can’t speak for your safety, but hey…dumb Americans.  We had no choice actually, but it turned into a fortunate unfortunate.  Our non-stop flight was really straight out of a comedy, cue wild children, oblivious parents, knees to the back, phone flashlight in my eyes and the Velcro on my Tevas continually sticking to the carpet!  I was oddly calm through it all but because of the madhouse plane ride, we spent most of our extra day in Paris catching up on sleep.  Our hotel was in walking distance to the Louvre and Notre Dam which was perfect because that was about all we had time for.  By that I mean only see them from the outside; there was no time to go in and they were closed anyway by the time we walked by. Our very nice concierge said that it was plenty safe to walk to and fro these landmarks.  Whether that included past midnight, I can not say.  But blessed be those raucous little children for I would have missed the quiet moonlit treasures.  Everything really does happen for a reason.

So off we were to the busy streets of Paris.  Our first stop, of course, food! Why, please someone tell me, does French food taste so much better than American food?  There is a soul, a history, a genetically inherited love and appreciation of food that is actually palpable.  Or was I just under the spell of Paris?  Well, I can tell you that I had a simple salmon salad, in a restaurant between standard and no-where special, that would have made Archangel Gabriel blow his trumpet in joy.  I’m salivating just thinking of it now.  I won’t even mention the bread, duh!  Aside from the joys of French cuisine, here is a restaurant tip, should you be as ignorant as I was, you must ask for the check!  In all my obsessive research, I do not know how I missed this essential fact, but it wasn’t until 3/4 through Spain that a Canadian living in Mexico told me that you must ask for the bill as it is considered rude for the waiter to just give it to you.  Mind blown.  Weeks of this, weeks of sitting, waiting, wondering, what the fuck?  Dear Europeans, give a stupid American a clue!  So this simple custom left us sitting in the restaurant like waiting room torture, eating away at our precious time in Paris.  C’est la vie.

By this time it was fully dark skies and bright city lights.  But what an oddly haunting gift it was.  The statues, and carvings literally everywhere, high and low, were highlighted from all different angles creating contrasting looks from a pleasant angelic gaze to a truly menacing stare.  The facial features, most worn with time, were made anew and brought to life by the deep casting shadows.  Another benefit was that there were very few people about, which later, terrifyingly, became no one about.

Our last stop was Notre Dam.  There was a gentleman at its base playing a stringed instrument that I have never seen nor heard before.  It echoed up into the arches creating an out-of-body experience.  I kept wondering how in the hell is this happening?  The darkness of night, the disappearing people, the grandeur of stone and the figures looming within it, were all heightened into a magical moment by a song that felt lost in time.  Clearly hypnotized, we were drawn to walk the perimeter of the church.  It was completely empty of cars and people at this point, until we reached the first corner where we ran into a group of teenagers playing Poke-ball!  So here, apparently, were my stereotypes kicking in as I thought Parisians were much more sophisticated than this.  Teenagers will be teenagers even in Paris.

As we started to head back, our architectural trance seemed to be wearing off and we quickly became aware that we were totally alone.  To further our distress, or maybe it was just my distress, we were not entirely sure how to get back to the hotel and our phones were not receiving service.  Americans lost in Paris?  After detouring a street that was now filled with tents filled with the homeless arguing loudly in French,  we had finally found our whereabouts just at the peak of my panic attack.  We arrived back at the hotel at 1:30 am, washed our clothes which was really dumb because they didn’t have time to dry and we had only 3 hours to sleep before getting up to catch the train.  Oh and did I mention that I had not even started the Camino yet but already had my first blister cutesy of Paris!

It was totally worth it.


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