Wrapped Up In Books

Neither down nor out in Paris and London
January 12, 2009, 11:13 pm
Filed under: A, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Instead of venturing back to Ancaster this Christmas, I instead spent my holidays with friends in Paris and London. Originally I wanted to go home no matter the cost, but after realizing that I could save thousand(s) of dollars if I waited out a few more months, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. A trip home just three and a half months after leaving Canada would mean I couldn’t return until at least another eight months had passed, and this idea was altogether unattractive. I’m hoping to make a temporary return sometime in March (and hopefully a stopover in Boston – I’m keeping my eyes peeled for affordable flights), though I’m not exactly sure on the dates just yet.

I landed, without much hassle, at Charles de Gaulle in Paris on the afternoon of the 22nd, and my friend, A, met me at the airport with her totally f-ing adorable Jack Russell named Scotch. The days leading up to Christmas Eve were filled with grocery shopping and cooking – I’ve really never had to do all of this myself and didn’t realize the effort (and money) behind creating a festive feast. I cannot describe how bizarre my Christmas was. A’s boyfriend, N, raised in the 17th arrondisement in Paris, speaks very good English, most of which he credits to learning when he lived in Toronto a few years ago. For Christmas Eve we had N’s parents, N & A’s 89-year old neighbours, and an English student of A’s over. Most of the conversation was held in French, and though I understood the grand majority of it, I really couldn’t add much myself and hated my accent for trying. Eventually we let the neighbours win a game of Pictionary (the husband would both spell out and say the word aloud and still his wife wouldn’t understand – she’s nearly deaf and has terrible cataracts in both eyes), and at midnight, we opened our gifts and went to bed at about 3am.

Christmas Day was spent at N’s parents’ flat in the 17e, and I had an amazing post-dinner nap. I really liked the custom of opening gifts on Christmas Eve because it gets everything out of the way on the same day – the big meal and presents – and leaves Christmas Day for relaxing.

The day after Boxing Day A’s friend from Calgary/Toronto, R, and his mother arrived in Paris. I had met R only on a few occasions when he visited A at Calvin Klein or at A’s return dinner last February, so it was good to actually spend time with him and get to know him better.

Other highlights in Paris included a tour of the sewers (Les Egouts) which was smellier than I predicted, but really, really interesting. The boat tour on the Seine was awful and full of uber-tourists who were hell-bent on having a shitty photo of them plus (insert Parisian landmark or not even one). Boat cruises are terrible ideas when it’s barely above zero degrees outside.

A and I went shopping far outside of the Peripherique one day and basically it was the day that sealed the deal about my underwear obsession. The first time we lived together, T joked that all I spent money on was rent and underwear, and unfortunately nothing has changed much in the three years that have since passed. We came across the lingerie boutique Princesse Tam Tam and I was enchanted (take note that the website does not do anything justice to seeing it in person). I do feel a bit jaded for these sorts of things and am fairly critical, but when I walked into this shop my jaw could have hit the floor. I spent far too much money there, and now they have a sale online and I’m trying my hardest to avoid accumulating anything more. Oh, what I’d do to have an employee discount for this stuff again!

The following day we decided to picnic on the Champs de Mars (the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower), however, this was probably the worst idea we could’ve brewed; it was barely above freezing that day! Then, if things couldn’t get worse, a gypsy girl accosts us and says (in French), ‘give me your food’. A refuses and the girl says that she won’t leave until we give over our food – so A responds that ‘I guess you’ll just watch us eat then’. So the girl spits at us (thankfully misses!) and marches away. Oh, she was wearing a fucking Santa hat, too. These people are seriously a plague upon the city.

We also went to Poilâne bakery (as per my mother’s request?!) which is world-famous, but unfortunately I couldn’t tour the ovens, even though A described me as ‘an American baker’ (thus explaining my lack of French skills!). Every month other than December and January they offer tours – oh well.

Le Bon Marché totally sucked more money out of me (I picked up an Alexandre de Paris hairband which cost more than I would’ve liked to pay, but I lifted it from its display and couldn’t bring myself to put it back). I did, however, pride myself on not spending nearly 300€ on probably my most favourite perfume in the world, created by the heir to the Hennessy cognac company, Kilian Hennessy. At the time, however, it didn’t seem like a ridiculous spend, which in itself is ridiculous.

Another thing I spent far too much money on was tea. Yes, tea. Mariage Frères is the tea house in Paris, and I admit, I became a bit wrapped up in the luxuries the city offered (on the list so far: finely tailored Oxfords – I picked up an Alain Figaret, underwear, hairbands, perfume, etc.). I bought my grandmother’s birthday present there, bought things for myself, and also for C for letting me stay in her flat in London. There are actually two tea shops across the street from each other – one has a shop, tea room and museum and the other is just a shop, but upon exiting the former, I went in the latter and continued to charge my poor credit card. The clerks are so genial and have to wear super-Colonial linen suits. I loved it.

A and I went to the Musée d’Erotisme (Erotic Museum), which was basically as trashy as we thought it’d be. It was seven storeys of random Peruvian artefacts or otherwise early 19th century sex props over and over; the most interesting part was learning the history behind Montmartre’s sex trade. The novelty wore off probably after the second floor or 40th carved wooden dildo, though.

The day prior to New Year’s Eve, A and I went to Euro Disney. Dear God. I’ll pony up that it was my idea to go, but I think it had its roots in my childhood. My sisters will attest that our mother used to say ‘We’ll go to Disneyland when all the pets are dead’. Certainly this was the quick route to make us shut up about Disneyland and we definitely grew up with a menagerie of pets instead. A few days before going we booked our tickets online because it was nearly half-priced to do that versus buy them at the gates. However, the day after booking I had an ache in my left foot that made it painful to walk on. The next day I noticed it started to swell, and by the day before we were scheduled for Disney you could not discern that I had an ankle joint. It was a pure, straight up, kankle. The worse the swelling got, the more walking grew from being just a nuisance to downright excruciating – walking for ten minutes was enough to make me want to throw in the proverbial towel. Therefore, A and I thought it best if we rented a wheelchair for me for the day. It also served as something of a social experiment; if children bumped into me, they’d turn around and apologize to me straight in the face. Adults, however, were embarrassed for having run into me and were sort of confused as to whom was owed the apology – was it A or me? How was that even a question – was I suddenly subhuman when I was sitting in the wheelchair? Seemingly so. However, it got us to the front of the line every time, making the two hours of pure bureaucracy in acquiring the wheelchair completely worthwhile – some rides had a wait time of two hours! Unfortunately, it was freezing rain that day and I was completely frozen to the bone, but it was fun (sort of) in the end. At the very least I have a hilarious photo of me in the wheelchair and A behind me, with the castle in the background. No one will ever see this, but it’s quite akin to Andy and Lou in Little Britain. I also nearly threw up in the Star Trek ride.

On New Year’s Eve we went to dinner then to the Champs Élysées. In hindsight, and even at the time, this proved to be a very bad idea. In theory, however, it sounded fantastic. There were approximately 400,000 people there, and the Gendarmarie (riot police) were there in full force. It was A, R, R’s mother, and me, and we were shimmying through the crowd trying to get a better view of the Eiffel Tower when R’s mom (who is approximately 5′ and barely 100lb) felt overwhelmed, and rightly so – her face was essentially squished into people’s bodies instead of being above shoulders and able to see the path ahead. We had to get to the barrier and help her over for her to feel alright to breathe again. A police officer explained to us that we had to go over the barrier very slowly and one by one so as to not cause a tumult around the Arc de Triomphe. So R crossed, then I did a few minutes later, however A didn’t — because the crowd started to grow extremely restless and it became what was the worst mosh pit experience of my life. As we were talking to each other we all noticed our mouths, throats, and noses become increasingly tingly and burning-feeling – the Gendarmarie had set off tear gas to quell the rising masses! Fortunately the feeling subsided after probably 40 minutes – I’d equate it to having eaten a lot of Scotch bonnet peppers. We had to reintegrate into the mob to get out of the city and were home in the early hours of New Year’s Day. It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget.

I left Paris on the 2nd, had my flight delayed by two hours, then the shuttle from London Luton to the city was held up in traffic because of a protest, and I got to C’s flat about six hours behind schedule.

I then proceeded to lock myself in her apartment. I didn’t know there was a ‘trick’ to opening her door, and felt as if I was going to have held myself hostage until C and T’s arrival on the Sunday. Fortunately, I got out (but not without incurring this problem another two or three times).

I will admit that I like London much more than I like Paris. For one, I can speak English (though I understand French, telepathy is not a common method of communication, and until it becomes such, my efforts to speak French will flounder), and it feels, on the whole, much safer. I do not feel like I might have my purse snatched (which nearly happened in the crowd on NYE until I asked the man to release my purse) on the tube whereas the Metro makes me feel perpetually uneasy, as do all of the tourist-y locations. Also, London is a lot cleaner than Paris (the latter spends too much taxpayer money on cleaning up dog poop).

I saw the Edward Scissorhands not-quite-a-musical-not-quite-a-ballet stage dance on Saturday night, which was kind of ‘meh’. It’s one of my favourite films, and to have random dance sequences that were solely for the sake of dancing and not inching forth the plot were annoying, nevermind the fact they bastardized the plot completely, albeit, I realize, because a direct stage adaptation wouldn’t really be possible.

I did more shopping in London, but it was much more to the tune of my budget, and frankly, whipping out my credit card gave me a bit of a wave of nausea after I checked the balance online. I discovered the awesomely utilitarian Uniqlo and picked up a hoodie and a spring jacket there (both black!), Muji, where I got a candle that will inevitably set off my fire alarm and a camera case, Twining’s (H and I went there last year only to discover they’re closed on Sundays) for some incredibly affordable tea, Speedo, where I picked up the goggles I thought I had packed upon moving to the UK, and, naturally, Calvin Klein Underwear – they had a sale on! Still, everything was a fraction of my French not-so-budget-friendly spending.

Moreover, I took advantage of the free museums – I visited the Victoria & Albert on Saturday, the next day I went to the National Gallery (mainly for their amazing Impressionist collection – I am nearly dying to touch van Gogh’s Sunflowers), the Wallace Collection another day (not really worth visiting – troll their website instead), and the most marvelous Wellcome Collection. As most of you know, science rocks my world, and the Wellcome Trust is devoted to promoting awareness of the role of science in improving both human and animal lives. The Wellcome Collection has a fantastic exhibit called War and Medicine that demonstrates 150 years of science in a combative context. Two exhibits within this piece resonated with me: a brief word about the outcome of the Nuremberg Trials (did you know that Kurt Blome was hired in 1951 by the US Army Chemical Corps to help with research in chemical warface or that Fritz Fischer was released from prison in 1954 and worked as a scientific advisor to still-extant pharmaceutical biggie Boehringer-Ingelheim?! I had to write it down, I was in such disbelief) and also The Guinea Pig Club – a group formed by burn patients who were literal guinea pigs for reconstructive (yet experimental) plastic surgery by Dr. Archibald McIndoe during WWII. Both of these things nearly drove me to tears – the former because it was so infuriating, and the latter because it was so touching (the men, when asked if they’d do things differently and not wind up the way they were, said they’d still go through everything as the Club has made lifelong connections between them – even Prince Philip (the Queen’s husband) is a member). Really, read up on both of these things because they’re certainly worth your time.

Otherwise, I mainly just walked around the city and explored it more fully; my kankle disappeared, thankfully.

All in all, my holidays were fantastic – I was so happy to spend time with A and C again. My next trip though (if not to home) will be somewhere I haven’t been before – it’s time to see something new (and end this epic post).

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Small addition: it snowed in Paris, which to them is a huge deal, and the only place that salted their sidewalk was the Canadian embassy. How typical.

Comment by bohemianvegan

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