How to Become a Paresien in One Month

by

Richard Swallow

The following is a rather loosely structured diary that I compiled while living in Paris over the Christmas holidays during the winter of 1998-99. I say living, rather than visiting, because I did not go with the intention of visiting as much as to become a resident, albeit temporary. I wanted to discover the language and people for myself in a way that one cannot if one goes simply with the mindset of a tourist. I had rented a flat so that I had my own "home" to go to whenever I wanted, one with a telephone for my computer connection to the internet, a radio and television for my French in-home entertainment.

This 30 day diary in 3 parts is not meant to be a literary work, but more than anything else a reminder to myself of the wonderful time I had in the "City of Lights."

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

I departed San Diego for San Francisco at 10:08 A.M. after some delay because of weather (high wind) conditions in San Francisco. After a short layover in San Francisco, I was boarded and on my way to Paris. My seat mate was a Parisien named Stephano (actually of Italian parentage), a cell biologist who has his own lab in Paris. He had been both lecturing and attending lectures in San Francisco. A very interesting young fellow. He had once attended UC (Berkeley, as I recall) for his Doctorate and had had his wife and two young daughters with him there. His daughters 7 and 11, now speak flawless English, French, and Italian and the family now resides in Paris.

Thursday, December 17, 1998

Landed at 10:20 a.m. Paris time at Charles DeGaulle without incident. The day was overcast and portended rain. A short, free shuttle ride to the RER (Railroad) and then a short train ride (not free) landed me at Gare de nord (Railway Station-North) in Paris. 36 francs later (about $7 U.S.) and a taxi had me at 50 Rue de Riquet in the 19th Arrondissement in time for a prearranged 13th hour meeting with my landlord. This is the northeastern-most of the 20 sections of which Paris is comprised. The neighborhood is undistinguished from much of the rest of Paris: ample traffic both piéton (pedestrian) and vehicular; tall buildings (I am on the 6th (top) floor of 50 Rue Riquet and look upward to most of the surrounding buildings); shops of all sorts fill the lower level of many.

I was met at the door of the apartment by William's mother, who was cleaning in anticipation of my arrival. She speaks no English and I, not enough French to carry on a casual conversation so she continued about her task and I surveyed my home for the month. After a few minutes, William Crocomo, the owner, arrived and showed me about the apartment. He speaks much more English than I do French, and we made arrangements to meet again at 8 the following evening for payment of the rent.

I discover that I do not have the proper adapter to plug my 2-pronged American style computer plug into the 3-pronged French 240 volt, 50 cycle outlet. Dismayed that I might not be able to go online today, I set out to explore the immediate neighborhood, do a little grocery shopping, watch a little French TV and hit the sack by 8 p.m., exhausted from Jet lag.

Friday, December 18, 1998

Notre Dame

My task for the day was to obtain an electrical adapter, so after waking up following an incredibly long 11 hour nap, I set out on foot. I noted a Metro stop at the end of the second block but not knowing where it led, I passed it up as something to explore later. I determined by map that I live only 20 minutes by foot from the Gare de l'est, an area I became familiar with during my visit this past summer. On the way, I made mental note of the location of a small electric shop on Rue de Flandre ("Ave" on one map). At the Gare I purchased a Carte d'Orange for the day (an unlimited use Metro pass) and was informed by the ticket agent that I might find an adapter at a certain store on the Rive Gauche (Left Bank). I also munch out on a "Le Fermier" (The Farmer) sandwich purchased at one of several fast food stands in the Gare--one which I had previously frequented and found to make this sandwich of my liking.

A quick geographical note here: Paris is (very roughly) divided by the Seine, which flows Eastward to Westward through the middle of the city (actually making more of a wide, inverted "U" ). In the common parlance of river talk, Rive Droit or "River Right" is on the right as you float downstream, and conversely, Rive Gauche or "River Left" is on the left. In this case, then River Right is on the North side, and I leave it to you to guess which side of the river/city constitutes Rive Gauche.

In any case, I was sent chasing a shop on the south side of the city that turned out to be closed at the oddest hours, and open on only certain days of the month following a schedule that could only have made sense to the operators.

Not to be discouraged, and following my previous determination to be more a resident than a tourist on this little European outing, I pressed on to explore the city by foot. I found this surprisingly easy, once I got my bearings. I was at the time but a few minutes south of Notre Dame, so I made that my first goal. A brass plaque in the court in front of this ancient and beautiful cathedral marks the point from which all mileage in France is measured. Further, the cathedral is on one of two virtually contiguous islands in the Seine upon which the original city was established by the Romans: the Isle de la Cité. I believe a good ball player could chuck an apple into the Seine on the north side (Well, why not then?).

If one crosses the Seine at that point (as I did, on a bridge conveniently located for precisely that purpose) and turns left (westward) along the river, within 10 minutes one arrives at the Louvre, followed immediately by the Tuileries (appearing to be, depending upon the time of year, a stand of seemingly dead trees or a veritable forest), and the Concorde. The Concord seems little more than a large traffic rotary, but it marks (approximately) the spot where the guillotine was located where 2700 French citizens lost their heads following the French Revolution. The Concorde is also the site of a 3300 year old, 75 foot tall obelisk that once was located at Ramses II's tomb at the Temple of Luxor (in Egypt, for those not up on such). I t was presented to Louis-Phillipe in 1831 by Mohammed Ali, who apparently had the authority to do so at the time! All Louis-Philippe had to do was go and fetch it, but that's another story.

 

At the Condcorde, one finds the eastern end of the Champs Elysées and beyond that in a straight line about a mile and a tenth to the west, the Arc de Triomphe. I took this photo during the Holiday Season. It shows both the beautiful lighting and the Ferris wheel at the end of the Tuileries as well (mentioned elsewhere in this site).

 

 

 

Okay, so I walked all this just to discover where I was, to "orient myself" so to speak. In the process, I even discovered that there are no less than 5 different public entrances to the Louvre, 4 of which bypass the usual crowd at the above ground "tourist" entrance at the glass Pyramid which has become the trademark of the Louvre--and these don't include those that enter from the cavernous underground parking area.

I arrived back at my apartment in time to finish supper before William arrived. We sat for some time and chatted, quite comfortably I believe, in our "Franglish" manner until his lovely wife Valérie arrived. I decided immediately that I would adopt her. Following a bit of wine (and, of course, the rent payment) they set about to leave, only to ask if I would like to take in a movie. Now, how could I refuse? We went to see "Lost in Space," which was the second time for me, but as it was in French, it was like the first time..only more so. Following the cinema we went to a nearby restaurant and had a light meal and imbibed until nearly 3 a.m. Oh, the French do like to party!

Saturday, December 19, 1998

After once more spending an inordinate amount of time carefully examining my eyelids for holes, I went to the aforementioned electric shop on the rue de Flandre and found the electric adapter I needed. I continued on to the Louvre and the surrounding neighborhood to further my orientation. I spent the evening setting up and checking in to America Online to answer my Email.

I further discovered that the Metro stop just down the street from my apartment is heRiquet stop on line #7 which leads directly to the Louvre. How convenient.

These shots from my balcony over the street look eastward toward the Metro stop--just behind the red truck in the photo to the right.

 

Sunday, December 20, 1998

Another day spent establishing my territory and affirming my residential status. Many businesses are closed on Sunday so it is slightly less interesting wandering about the streets off the beaten path. The whole day was more or less a walk in the park and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Monday, December 21, 1998

Louvre

In this model of the Louvre, one sees the Louvre in the foreground and on both sides, the glass pyramid which has become its trademark, and the Carrousel Arch in the center background. The structures surrounding the Carrousel Arch are actually underground; the shopping, eating, exhibition areas, parking, etc.

 

Carrousel Arch

 

My first really serious day of exploring the Louvre. Nearly a full day of walking its isles, and not much territory covered save to examine in great detail the priceless collection of Egyptian artifacts, mummies, etc. The picture on the left is part of what is left of the original Louvre, preserved under the museum proper, and the picture on the right is of a model of the original Louvre.

 

An accomplished goal for the day was to photograph the La Joconde (Mona Lisa), but I find that my picture of her does not do the piece justice so I've opted not to include it here.

The Carrousel Arch, located at the western end of the

Louvre, was built in 1808 to celebrate the victories of

Napoleon Bonaparte. It imitates the Arch of Septimus

Severus in Rome. Two of the "underground" Louvre

entrances are stairwells locate a few yards to either side

of this structure. Just beyond are the Tuileries.

 

Tuesday, December 22, 1998

Musée de l'Armée

Tombeau de Napoléon

Musée de Rodin

The Museum of the Army and the Tomb of Napoléon are located at the Hôtel des Invalides just south of the beautiful Pont (bridge) Alexandre III, a bridge one will surely remember if one walks the Seine Westward from the Louvre. Here are two shots which show both the bridge with its guilded artwork and the golden dome of Napoleon's tomb in the distance.

The Musée de l'Armée (Museum of the Army with the Museum of Relief Maps and Plans on the top floor) has a very impressive array of uniforms, suits of armor, weaponry, and other military devices on display. Part of the same complex is the Dôme des Invalides, sometimes called "Napoleon's tomb" because his remains (among others) are now permanetly enshrined there. The 350-foot tall structure was built between 1679 and1706 and its beautiful gold-on-blue dome can be easily seen from virtually any high point in Paris.

From there on to the Musée de Rodin at 77 rue Varenne, a small side street which abuts the north side of Les Invalides. Such of his works as "The Thinker" (le Penseur), "The Hand of God" (Le Main de Dieux) as well as a marble version of "The Kiss" (Le Baiser) are located there.

 

I attempted to squeeze in one more museum, the now famous Musée d'Orsay located in the renovated Gare d'Orsay, but found it closed due to a strike by the guards.

Wednesday, December 23, 1998

Musée de Marine

After an early rising (finally), I wandered about the 3rd Arrondissement to locate the office of my friend, Robin Lent, and shop at the Bazaar Hotel de Ville, one of the most all-inclusive department stores I have ever visited. Talk about one-stop shopping... and all I wanted was Scotch tape to hold a large map of Paris on the wall in my kitchen!

From there I took the Metro to the Musée de Marine (Trocadéro stop on Metro line #1, direction La Défense), the oldest maritime museum in the world. It was an interesting experience as there was much to look at in the way of ancient marine ware. Now had there been some English translations of the placards on the models, etc., it would have been much more of a learning experience for me.

I was discouraged at finding the adjacent Museum of French Monuments and Museum of Man closed for renovation. Given that, I walked down to the River front just below to investigate the river barge tours, and thence to the Eiffel Tower just beyond where I hung out for a bit and took a few snapshots.

The number (J-369) in the left picture is "Jour (Day)369", a countdown to the millenium. Note the Montparnasse tower beyond The center picture was taken from atop the Montparnasse Tower. To the right, a few days earlier, a shot from the Trocadéro.

 

 

 

I finished off the day with a return visit to the Louvre where my goal (accomplished) was to photograph the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite). She's about twice the size of a human figure, and quite impressive. I determined that a good hug was out of the question.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, December 24, 1998

Musée d'Orsay

What a beautiful day! Sunny and in the 60's. I did a lot of walking just to locate places I want to visit while here (filing them away in a corner of my mind, so to speak) and simply enjoying the ambiance.

The strike is over so I made a visit to the Musée d'Orsay. Van Gogh's self portraits and Whistler's mother caught my interest.

While strolling about near the Eiffel Tower I made acquaintance with a family from Dallas. I walked with them to the Arc de Triomphe and enjoyed nice conversation over all.

I discovered that there is no Operator under the "O" key on my French telephone, so tomorrow, Christmas Day, I shall arrive unannounced at Robin Lent's barge on the Marne a few miles outside of Paris in Congis.

Friday, December 25, 1998

Took a 10:41 train to Armentiere-Congis to visit Robin and Marie Helen and deliver some Christmas gifts from my best friends Martha, Ric and their girls, KC and Robin.

In the Gare de l'est I found that there were no schedules available for my destination and had almost canceled the trip when I discovered in my pouch, much to my pleasure, a schedule that I had picked up on a previous day.

The train ride is but 44 minutes direct and I soon found myself snapping pictures of the Armentiere-Congis stop, a tiny little grocery store I had frequented this past summer, the bridge over the Marne just downstream of which the Progrès, Robin's péniche (houseboat/barge) was supposed to be moored.

Gasp! After a couple of pictures of his empty mooring area, I focused my attention upstream, and there, just next to the lock situated about a block away, was a barge. Hmmmm. I couldn't quite make out the name but decided to check it out none-the-less.

I climbed down into the field below the bridge and walked upstream along a fisherman's path and was quite happy to find the Progrès tied up to the lock on the upstream side. It turns out that there had been a problem with the dam in Meaux, a city just downstream, and Robin was told to get his barge upstream as they were going to have to work on the dam and apparently didn't know just how low the water at his place would get--or something to that effect. [Stats: The barge Progrès is just over 15 feet wide and 120 feet long.]

 

I entered the wheelhouse and finding no-one there, my spirits sank a bit. Arranging the presents in a little pile on the aft ladder hatch (sea speak) and scribbling a note on a scrap of paper from my pocket I took a last look around and started to leave. I had no sooner disembarked when I heard a whistle and there, in her lovely jogging suit and mud coated shoes, came Marie Helen.

Robin, it turned out, had driven to town to deliver his mother-in-law (who had spent the night) and arrived back at the Progrès shortly thereafter. I enjoyed a wonderful French meal prepared by Marie Helene, had an apéritif, an abundance of wine (needless to say) and a couple of hours of interesting conversation.

After a hasty farewell, Robin drove me to the Gare at Meaux and I was soon home again ready to spend a couple of hours answering my Email, surfing the Internet a bit, and working on this, my journal.


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