Le voyage en France 2011: Chapitre 1

Paris is always a good idea – The movie “Sabrina”

America is my country and Paris is my hometown – Gertrude Stein

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.-Ernest Hemingway

Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention. A drink is felt as the spinning out of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of an effect which is sought: wine is not only a philtre, it is also the leisurely act of drinking.-Roland Barthes

The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older – intelligence and good manners.-F. Scott Fitzgerald

To err is human. To loaf is Parisian.-Victor Hugo

Boy, those French. They have a different word for everything.-Steve Martin

Here I am, just a country boy at heart, visiting France for the first time. Though, as my fellow submariners will tell you, I’ve literally been around the world, but sometimes I feel as if I never really left home. I have now. I have to say that I was quite nervous prior to leaving, not sure why, but I was. When the day finally came about, all was goo though. I got to Nashville airport quite early, but that is how I like it; I don’t mind waiting at the airport, I hate to be rushed. The trip to Atlanta was without much excitement. In Atlanta, my plane went directly to the same terminal I would be leaving from. Quite convenient. My layover was three hours and forty-five minutes; again, I don’t mind waiting. Boarding the Air France plane was like stepping into a spaceship, I felt the anticipation, could almost taste it. The flight to Paris was only forty percent full, so for weight and balance considerations, they had us take ‘temporary’ seats for the takeoff, but soon after we were allowed to take our assigned seats. My assigned seat was in the center section of four seats, but I had all four to myself! I could lay back with comfort! Soon after taking off, they served dinner, and I had the first of what would come to be a quite common verbal exchange. The flight attendant asked what I wanted for dinner, and I said, “Je veux un coca light.” She then said “Ahhhhh vous parlez Francais” Followed by a bunch of words that I totally did not understand! My bewildered look led her to say… “Do you speak English” at which I sighed, “yes.” This has happened a few times, mostly in Paris though. I was afraid I would not sleep on the flight, but luckily I did. I suppose the four seats I had made a bit of a difference, I certainly hope my flight home is similarly empty. I couldn’t easily look out the windows, but I did notice that Charles De Gaulle airport is surprisingly amidst the country! Lots of agriculture around the airport. I landed, and made my way to and through customs with little to no problems. The customs agent simply asked me to remove my hat to compare me to my passport photo. The first thing I did after customs was to find a French Telecom public phone and phone my shuttle service to ask for a pickup. No problem, the lady on the other end spoke a rather hurried English. Making my way to baggage claim, I found that my bag had just come out of the chute. Surprising luck. I then headed out to ‘sortie’ 8 and waited for my shuttle. I had to wait about twenty minutes…. But I was waiting IN PARIS! This phrase became my catchphrase during my entire stay in Paris. No matter what happened to me… it was happening In Paris! Now the shuttle… Wow, better than a Nascar In-Car camera, I felt every side slip, and bump the entire way to my hote. And interestingly the shuttle was a Prius. Not being driven in a fuel-efficient manner though. Most of the traffic was heading north, so we didn’t run into many slow downs until we came more into the center of Paris. Now the shuttle driver was playing a French pop radio station, and after recovering from the shock of an Indy 500 like start, I noticed “She’s a maniac” pumping out of the speakers. Hello eighties! It appears that mixing pop songs with French songs is ‘the’ thing in France. I think the French government requires they play something like thirty percent French music, but rest is some genre of American music. Paris traffic is rather crazy, and one thing that I noticed was that scooters and full-sized motorcycles are not just allowed, but encouraged to disregard any and all lanes! As ‘Love is a Battlefield’ wafted through my ears, I was amazed by the courage that these cycle drivers displayed weaving in and out of traffic, and between closely packed lanes of traffic! I did finally arrive at my hotel in one piece, and ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’ saw me out of the Prius, and onto the sidewalk. Checking in was easy, I had studied a few phrases of French for my arrival, and this was one. I paid for my three night stay in Paris, and got the key to my room. In the States, the fob on this key would have been appropriate for many a country gas station restroom key… not exactly a pocketable item. Hitting my room was a pleasure, I was ready to settle in, but I still had one task to perform. For anyone planning a trip to France, at Charles De Gaulle (CDG), there are no phone outlets in the arrival section. I had bought a GO phone in the USA, and my plan was to buy a French SIM card to put in it. I had already looked up the closest kiosk for this from my hotel, and had ‘walked’ to it via Google street view, but a brief conversation with the hotel attendant led me to a shopping mall called Italie 2. This was lucky, as the kiosk I had found on the internet was from a bygone era, well at least in internet terms. It was a closed up shop. But in Italie 2, I found a shop named Darty which is similar to a Best Buy. I went up and went through my little spiel… ‘Je veux un SIM carte s’il vous plait.’ I took my phone out, and took the back off and removed my USA SIM. He asked me something in French, but I recognized that he was asking if my phone was unlocked. I replied ‘Je pense que, oui.’ He took his SIM card out and tried it… no go. So I said ‘Pas problem’, I just asked for a prepaid phone, then he started asking a bunch of questions. I think my blank face initiated his, ‘Do you speak English’, and I said … ‘yes’. His English wasn’t perfect, but neither is mine, so we got along famously. Oh and another thing… That whole Jason Bourne buy a prepaid phone and slip it into someones pocket?? Nope…. Hollywood! I had to show my passport, they made a copy of my passport, and I had to sign lots of things… then I got my twenty-nine euro prepaid phone. But it all worked well! I called Ethan and he was on the train, heading to Paris, would arrive in a few hours, so I decided to fix my phone up and go have some beers and wait to go meet him. My hotel was only a kilometer and a half from Gare Austerlitz, one of the main train stations in Paris, so the plan was for me to walk up the street, and him down and we’d meet. Oh by the way… ‘Je veux un biere, s’il vous plait.’ Is a very important phrase to learn. So learn it well! I had four beers while waiting, and then headed out to meet Ethan. I called him, and got no answer… called him again, and went straight to voicemail. I’m just plodding up the street, and while fiddling in my pocket for my phone, who do I almost literally run into… Ethan! What a joyous meeting. by this time we had to hurry to get back to the hotel and hit the Metro to go to the Eiffel Tower. My good friend Joe Phillips (His new book, Vampire Management, is just being published, you should get one!) by some coincidence was going to be in Belgium, at about the time I was going to Paris, so he decided to fly back out of Paris. Because of the certainty of no telecoms, we had made plans to meet at the Eiffel Tower at 6:45 local time. We got there a little after seven, and saw dishearteningly that there was quite a throng of people, and the setting sun was sure to make our discovery of each other very difficult. I just happened to look in a certain direction, and saw someone who I swear had the same ‘back of the head’ as Joe. So with the country boy in me, I just hollered; “JOE”, and amazingly he stopped and came towards me. Seriously, this was very lucky, he had to have been fifty to seventy-five yards away. That Parisienne luck was still with us. So, we took a few pictures, and then decided to go have a beer and get a bite to eat. Knowing that everything was expensive near the Eiffel Tower, we walked away from it to try to find a place to sit down. The first place we stopped at, we had Kronenbourg beer, a French beer, and some frites and a cheese plate. “Frites and Fromage” That was the specialty I had! Here was where I described to Ethan and Joe my new catch phrase; “In Paris”. And we used that the rest of the night, nay, the rest of the trip! After here, we decided to then go do a little bar hopping. The next place we went to was a nice little place, they had homemade chips, and of course we had beer. There was an interesting American couple there: Nick and Katelyn. Katelyn was a very…. ummm how to put this… negative person. Yeah she was very negative. She was complaining about everything, her earlier meal had been bad, etc. Her boyfriend Nick, a really nice guy mind you, had brought them over with his work, so a paid vacation… To Paris! Ahh well. I suppose Paris doesn’t touch everyone’s heart. We had some beers here and talked with Nick and Katelyn for a bit, and then decided to find another place. We hadn’t walked a hundred yards when Joe and I felt bad for Nick… We stopped and conferred… And yes, we should give Nick the opportunity to escape. So we walked back and I distracted Katelyn with “Did I leave my glasses in here?” Followed by: “So you went to school in Ohio?” While Joe gave Nick the opportunity to slip off with us. Of course, Nick did decline with a laugh and he said Katelyn is a really good girl. And I’m sure she is, but I hope when he’s forty, he doesn’t look back and say… “Damn I wish I’d gone with those guys!” We then went to our last place for the night, had a glass of champagne, and another cheese plate, and called it a night. Joe took a cab, and Ethan and I made our way down to a Metro stop. The Hotel looked quite pleasant for a good night’s sleep. And I was definitely ready to sleep. In Paris!

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