Friday, February 19, 2010

Carriage Wit Classics: Paris, Its Not Just For Lovers Anymore (Day 1)

In today's Carriage Wit Classics, I'm revisiting my first trip to Paris, two and a half years ago.

Paris: Its not just for lovers anymore (Day 1)
This weekend I checked off another of my life 'to-do' list and visited Paris. I had spent several weeks already looking at the photos posted by friends of mine who are studying in Paris, so I had a hunger to experience the famous French capitol for myself. Though I wasn't able to meet with said friends, I was able to go with some friends from the program here in Brussels.

The following is a bit of a travelogue, mostly for the benefit of my mother and anyone else curious to hear of my impressions of the City of Lights. Pictures may be added later, as I scan my archaic disposable images into digital format or figure out how to transfer photos from my phone.

I decided I would be 'roughing it' this trip, foregoing a shower and change of clothes in favor of traveling light. I had my wallet, cellphone (unusable except as a watch and camera), train ticket, and my visa on my person. Before you turn up your collective noses in disgust at my hygienic sacrifice of a shower, let me remind you of the saying that begins "When in Rome..."

We left Brussels around 8 in the AM, catching a high speed train and arriving in Paris around 10:30. From there our first stop was the Eiffel Tower, iconic symbol of Paris. From the top, I was able to see the vast city in all its splendor, as well as plan out the rest of the day with my party of five: Jeff, a reserved, but friendly fellow on his second trip to Paris, Kamil, another Paris veteran from Poland who helped serve as guide on the trip, Odina, a girl from Izbekistan who was quite possibly even more excited to be in Paris than I was, and Dave, a Minnesota native with a penchant for tennis. We decided our next stop would be l'Arc de Triomphe.

After a brief visit to the arc we headed down the famed Champs Elysee and made our way eventually to our hotel room, just down the street from the infamous Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge happened to be located on what Obi Wan would call "a wretched hive of scum and villainy." Sex stores, porno shoppes, and everything else you could possibly associate with everyone's favorite deadly sin filled both sides of the street.

We climbed quaint side streets, making our way to la Basilique Sacre-Coeur, a chapel on the hill on the edge of Paris that was not far from our humble abode. The cathedral was as massive as it was impressive, and the view of the city from the hill was panoramic and stunning. The true thrill of this area was a young European musician who had gathered a crowd of more than a hundred tourists around him. He sang covers of famous American rock songs as he played his amped guitar, accompanied by a random, very strange looking girl who convulsed comically in what we took to be dance. From the 'trying not to laugh' expression of our young artist's face, she was a stranger to him as well. The ambiance of a setting sun over Paris, sitting on the steps of a large cathedral while music is played behind you made us all want to stop and simply enjoy the moment. There is something about Paris that makes one feel more...artistic? Tranquil? The whole experience was soothing, almost spiritual, and certainly a welcome reprieve of the rush of touring the city.

As we were leaving, I had the pleasure of dealing with Senegalese con men. They stopped us and began to create for us "authentic African bracelets" while repeating "hakuna matata". He asked me to make a wish, which I did (and kept secret, of course). When the entire bracelet was finished, I was wearing a pretty cool looking string bracelet of interposing green, yellow and red (Senegal's colors, I was informed). He then demanded 10 euros for the service (nearly 14 US dollars). Meeting a con with a lie, I told him that all I had on my was three Euro, and escaped without paying the demanded price. Little did I know that the bracelet truly was lucky, and worth every centime.

That night, after a quick meal of (relatively) cheap Turkish food, we made our way back to the Eiffel Tower to see it light up at night. It was a sight to be remembered, and even the manliest of males in our group had to admit to ourselves in secret that it was a romantic one. I sat in the yard behind the tower and just watched it, content in the cool evening air. Around me, hundreds of other travelers did the same, some sipping wine pensively, others chatting animatedly with their friends.

"My boy-friend" a girl's emphatic voice broke my musings causing me to turn around. Three girls, American tourists from the looks of them, were being hit on by three somewhat sleazy looking local guys. "I do too have a boyfriend." The cutest of the three insisted. "And I love him very much. He should be right back. " From her awkward polite smile and her constant referencing to a boyfriend that even the boys, in their broken English, knew to be fictitious, I realized that they were not enjoying the attention. Flashing back to my hero training, I realized that these were damsels in distress, the genuine article.

After another moment's hesitation, I decided to try something I'd only ever seen work in the movies. I stepped up, walked away, circled around, and sat down next to the cute girl getting the most attention and wrapped my arm around her back. "Hey hon," I said, taking a seat. "Sorry that took so long...who are these guys?" I locked eyes with the girl, hoping that she'd realize the ruse and play along. After a flicker of a questioning glance, dawning realization filled her pretty blue eyes and she smiled warmly. "No problem...I don't know, they just got here."

The guys were a bit suspicious at first, and for a moment, I was afraid my bluff had failed. The girl must've sensed that as well, and became a bit more affectionate to add credibility to our tale. Slipping into French, I told them that we were indeed dating and that hitting on my girlfriend is not cool. They apologized and asked me to translate a message to her friends. I told them that they were not interesting in learning how to 'french kiss' and that they are blocking our view of the Tower. I was polite, but stern, and I think I got the message across because they apologized and left, moving to stand behind us about 25 yards.

"Thank you so much!" All three gushed when they were out of earshot.

"How did you know we were in trouble?" My 'girlfriend' asked gratefully.

"I overheard you mentioning a boyfriend three times in one breath," I grinned. "It wasn't hard to figure out he wasn't real. How long have you been in Paris?"

"Just an hour," She admitted.

"Wow!" I gasped, glancing surreptitiously over my shoulder to their fleeing admirers. "Already three of them? Well done!"

We commenced covert introductions (keeping the shaking of hands down so as not to arouse suspicions that we were indeed strangers). They were very pleased to learn I was a fellow American and I found out they were college students who had taken the summer off to nanny in Italy. They had just finished and were backpacking Europe before the next semester started. They wanted to know how I knew French, to which I responded that I used to live in France, and still knew enough of the language to save damsels in distress when the occasion demanded it. I filled them in on my story and we enjoyed the ambiance of the Eiffel Tower, chatting quietly for an hour or two. From their laughter and interest I realized that Paris grants extra wit and charm to any swashbuckler daring enough to call upon such virtues. Eventually, my group had to leave so I said my farewells, telling them to be careful and wishing them a pleasant Paris experience.

I walked back to the metro with a bemused glance at my lucky Senegalese bracelet.

Unfortunately, it was so late by the time I left the girls that the metros were closed. I managed to hail a cab, and most of our intrepid band boarded. I opted to stay behind with Odina and Kamil, in case my French abilities would be needed. We walked quite awhile, finding another cab nearly an hour later. This cab driver was from Algeria, and extremely happy to have such an international group in his cab. I impressed him with my French, before Kamil revealed he knew a few conversational Arabic phrases, much to our driver's delight. The final surprise came when Odina revealed to him that she too was Muslim. Praising Allah for his fortune at meeting us, our driver promptly deposited us at the hotel for the night, after a pleasant drive through the city.

Day one was over and I collapsed into the tiny room I shared with Jeff and Dave. The room was hot, but sleep and dreams came quickly and carried me away. The hour was late and morning would come all too soon...


  1. I first went to the Eiffel Tower with my parents and sister. Then my sister and I went back together.... Definitely not just for lovers!
    Also, I love that you got my Chappelle's Show reference. I can be friends with pretty much anyone who likes Chappelle's SHow.

  2. Oh David- you never cease to amaze me. I can't believe that actually worked with those french guys...and that you had the guts to try and pull it off. NICE!
    Miss you tons- can't wait to see you again!

  3. I realized later that I totally stole that move from Hitch.

  4. What a romantic story. I also want to go to Paris (despite knowing nary a phrase in French)- and this entry makes me want to go there even more.

  5. I can't believe you did that! And I can't believe it worked! That is so great. I've only been to Paris once, and though it really is cliche to think it, it was the most romantic place I'd ever been. I found the Eiffel tower to be much more impressive than I expected. Can't wait to hear more of your adventures. :)