Paris is My Fitzwilliam Darcy

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While I was in Paris I didn’t have access to wifi. I still blogged, though! This entry dates from Tuesday, the second day I was in town.

So I’m pretty sure that I am one of those people who is Supposed to Like Paris. I’m sullen and brunette and like stripes. I am at this moment wearing a boat neck top. La Belle France is the place for me.

I was thinking about this at 2 pm the day that I arrived here, as I stood–feet numb from soaked shoes, being made fun of by some high school student because her very midwestern mother tried to help me with my bag–in the world’s longest taxi line outside of the Gare du Nord.

If Paris is supposed to be my great love, we’re starting out on Darcy and Lizzy Bennett footing. (Barcelona, in contrast, was like a drunken bar fling. I have no idea what anyone was saying, but it was beautiful and fun and full of sangria.*)

The leadup to the world’s worst day was pretty much my fault, sadly. Two things happened: I took the redeye in from Dakar, and I forgot that weather exists. As a result, I was stranded when the woman whose flat I’m staying in got stuck in a meeting, and I was wearing Dakar-appropriate summer clothing when Paris was 50 degrees and pouring rain. I like my $6 Senegalese espadrilles a lot, but they’re basically made of hope and a scrap of fabric–it’s been a day and a half now and they’re still wet from the trip.

Because I got in four hours later and 200% sadder than expected, I gave up on my first day plans of seeing the Pantheon and Saint Chapelle. Instead, I spent the afternoon walking around the neighborhood and taking pictures. I’m in the very heavily West African neighborhood of Paris, which means that I saw eight tailors with wax print in their window and got (charmingly) hit on in the street by two Senegalese men. It was kind of a great bit of weirdness. (Unlike in Dakar, these dudes accepted it when I turned down their invitations for coffee, I wished them a good day, and we parted ways. Yay!) It was nice just to see the neighborhood here, and I stopped in my obligatory paper goods/hipster curio boutique to buy some souvenirs.

I had looked up things to do in the evening before I got here, and so at six I headed out towards the sixth arondisement’s courthouse for a concert. Since I had time to kill, I walked around Saint Suplice for a while (stopping in for evening mass, of course). The neighborhood was pretty, but mostly full of bars that I am too broke to drink in since my bank stopped my account and stores that I am too broke to shop in because it’s Gucci and I’m 21. I had a hazelnut cream crepe from a street vendor for dinner, because I am an adult.

But back to the concert. What was billed as an amateur group jazz concert turned out to be two adult glee clubs covering primarily American “jazz” music. They opened with “Down to the River to Pray” (sung with an adorable group French accent–“sisters” became “cedars” and it was great), which is pretty much my favorite spiritual.

Then they moved on to a Cibo Matto song, “Aguas de Marco,” that a) is in Portuguese and b) I played approximately 500 times in my early teenage years because it was on a super-bitchin’ mix CD my uncle made me. So that was a weird blast from the past. The second group picked substantially less me-appropriate songs, but they did do an excellent cover of “Boogie Wonderland” (with dancing!).

So for the price of a train ticket, I got pretty much the most delightfully weird experience that I’ve had since that time I got drunk in a bakery in Dakar a few months ago and started doing ironic running man dances with a Chadian law student.

Today was less delightfully strange, but also less full of rain and misery. I started by going to Gare du Nord to purchase my museum pass for the week. Unfortunately, Gare du Nord’s tourist office only takes credit cards for the passes, which is an irritating level of asshattery. (They justify it as being “for their security,” which, what?) So I caught a train to Gare de l’Est, which has much nicer staff and also no policy against accepting legal tender for purchases.

After that, there were several very boring and stressful runs through train stations in an attempt to figure out the RER C, but the end result is that I did eventually get to Versailles. (Immediately upon exiting the train, I got made fun of–in English–by an Italian 12-year-old for walking too slow. Children: they are the best!)

Versailles was Versailles. It is, of course, stunningly beautiful and stunningly crowded. While waiting to get in, I started chatting with the woman in front of me, who turned out to also be a solo traveler. She was from New Zealand, but is currently living in London after volunteer stints in Cambodia and other Asian countries over the last year. She was pretty great to talk to. We chatted about bucket showers and how I’m going to make my millions convincing Senegalese people that sweetened condensed milk > powdered milk and eight sugar cubes. It was concluded that once I make my millions (of CFA) that I’m going to pay someone to gild my roof like Marie Antoinette.

That’s one of the great parts about looking at dead rich people’s houses: you get to keep reminding yourself that somewhere along the line, they convinced people to build this shit for them. You know there’s some unrecorded French roof gilder somewhere going, “Rich people, what the Christ, birds are literally going to shit on this.”

As is usual when I go to historical sites, I was struck by how short the beds were. It’s hard enough to think of Marie Antoinette as a real woman who looked at herself in her hall of mirrors, but it’s even weirder to consider the fact that she was like four feet tall when doing it.

In general, the whole experience was a surreal reminder that these were real people. I particularly like the idea that the royal families were constantly remodeling each other’s rooms over the generations. Basically they each inherited their grandma’s house and had to figure out what to do with the avocado kitchen and the dodgy wood paneling. It’s kind of fun and weird to think of Marie Antoinette as someone who would have strong opinions about the Pottery Barn catalogue.

The Trianons–the French royal family’s country houses–were almost empty, and (to me) much more fun than Versailles. I started at the Petite Trianon, which was Marie Antoinette’s house to do what she wanted with. Because Versailles has so warped my perception of space, it seemed small–I’m pretty sure it was still over 2000 square feet, though. It had sunflower-shaped door knobs, which I thought was sweet.

The Grand Trianon, which I came to from the back, was sort of mind blowing. It was huge, in this very Georgian sort of way. Giant marble columns in pink, that sort of thing. It struck the right balance between seeming like a place people might live and also being kind of frothily insane. The gardens in between were great, too–they included an “outdoor dining room” (like a dining shed, basically) where the king would eat the food produced by his garden and the queen’s fake dairy farm village**. Because, you know, why not? Eat local, etc.

After Versailles I was too tired and sore to do anything. My feet feel like they’re going to implode from walking so much today in the ever-unsupportive desert boots, and my back and shoulders feel like I got punched repeatedly as a result of my day spent lugging an extra 50 pounds of crap around on my body yesterday. So, I took a nap in the apartment, got Indian food, and discovered that the Monoprix next door has a grocery store in the basement. (I bought two large containers of organic beer, as you do.)

Even the boring shopping stuff was fun for me, because I am a nerd. The Indian place, though it served some mediocre chicken masala, had some fabulous house naan (by “fabulous” I mean “filled with molten cheese”). And the lassi–which I initially balked at for being nearly four euros–turned out to be a half-pitcher of lassi, so I drank my weight in sweetened yogurt. The Monoprix was great just because it was the first time in months that I’ve been able to browse around and look at makeup and not be talked too. So it was all the joy that Target brings me with the novelty of French brands, basically.

The apartment that I’m about to drink my beer in is another nod in favor of meeting strangers from the internet. (The other is, of course, that time that I met all of my internet coworkers in a hotel room in Texas and then I turned 20 and everyone was in their underwear. Fond memories.)

I rented a room in a woman’s house from AirBnB, and it’s been great so far. I got a place to crash for $50/night without dealing with a hostel, and it turns out that the woman I’m staying with lived in the Casamance for a few years when she was younger. Also, the apartment is basically my dream apartment: pretty wooden floors and white wood everywhere and big windows and charming old radiators. AirBnB is basically a really cheap way to imagine yourself in someone else’s life, which is the sort of thing that is absolutely great fun to do when you’re in Paris.


* This makes Dakar that ex that didn’t work out, but we’re on good terms and I wish it all the best, I think.

** Which I did not get to visit because I could not find it and my feet felt like they were going to fall off. Next time I am just spending three days in Versailles.

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