Under and Above Paris

Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
Trip End Oct 10, 2006

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

MOOD: Glad to be off my feet
DATE/TIME: 9/30 12:14am, the courtyard of Hostel Mad in Madrid
SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD: "Rambling Man" by The Allman Brothers, which was playing in the bar downstairs
FOOD LAST CONSUMED: A great meal of salty grilled meats with a glass of rioja wine, a dark German beer and another beer at the bar here.

I'm sitting here outside shirtless wearing sweat pants that are too warm while doing a wash, listening to American college girls playing "Never Have I Ever" fifteen feet away. ("Never ever have I had an orgasm," etc.) The laundry is 2.50 each for the washing machine and dryer, and while I usually do my own laundry, I just have too much to do, and it's really filthy. And since I'm half-naked in public, which I'm not prone to do, I obviously was out of shirts.

One of the shirts I brought was the Iraqi Provisional Government short sleeved collared shirt I bought used in San Francisco last December. I wear it to meet people, and it's worked, but the rest of the time I'm to aware of people thinking that I might have been in Iraq, or that I support the war. So I'm not sure it was a good idea. Another shirt that I regret bringing, and indeed sent back home, is the black shirt I bought in Bangkok that shows the female symbol on the left side with the word "Before" under and the skull and crossbones on the right side with the word "After." It's so weird and lacking in any connecting meaning that it doesn't mean anything, but I still feel uncomfortable wearing it. For some reason I thought it would be a good shirt to wear to Oktoberfest, but then I didn't even wear it there. So I need to buy another shirt.

As for Paris, it was 7:15 and dawn had only just broken, which is a good indicator of the days getting shorter. I arrived at Gare D'Est and had to walk to Gare D'Nord where they had baggage lockers. I changed my shirt among the lockers, bought some Metro tickets and went up to Anvers station where I got out and walked up to Sacré Coeur, which was the first place I went to my other time in Paris, 2001, so this made sense. It's a great place to look out on the city. Except it was hazy that morning, but still nice. I looked around inside, ate yet more Turkish deli meat and cheese while sitting on a pedestal next to the stairs below, then hustled down to find and buy a phone card and call my relative Peggy, who I said I'd call at 10. I called right on time and she answered. Unfortunately, I reached her at their home in Chamonix as they live there half the year and have the number transferred, so I wouldn't be meeting her this time. But it was nice to hear her voice as I don't think we'd spoken over the phone before, only via letters.

After hanging up, I walked down to the Woodstock Hostel, which was where I stayed last time. It hasn't changed, and that's not a good thing. I don't know why I had positive thoughts about the place. It's not clean, there's too many people per room, the bunk beds are too rickety meaning that my bed shakes when the other person shifts and vice-versa, the showers are gross and you have to keep pushing the button to make the water flow and breakfast consists of baguette, butter and jam, and maybe a slice of lemon cake if you're lucky. (But they do have free wifi). All of which would be fine if it didn't cost 21 Euros a night. But I shouldn't complain -- they had a bed for me and I didn't have to go searching. But an American I met at Gare D'Nord (while wearing my Iraqi Coalition shirt, 'natch) said he had a room to himself at a budget hotel for 20. So... grrr.

After getting signed up at the Woodstock I realized that Gare D'Nord was walkable and went on my merry way, snapping photos of the building facades every which way. What an awesome city. This was my second time in Paris and both times it was a bit of an afterthought. My first time I just didn't think I was going to like it for some reason (I guess I bought into the stereotype of the rude Parisian, which I haven't found to be true, far from it), and this time I wasn't sure I'd need to go through Paris to get to Spain, but I did.

At the station I bought my ticket for the following night's night train to Madrid, then took the RER train to the Catacombes, which was one of the sites I wanted to visit five years ago.

The admission price was 7 Euros, and at first I thought I'd been jipped. Tunnel after tunnel there was nothing but plain walls and the occasional sign describing the construction process. It really went on and on and I was like, "Where's the bones?"

Oh, but then I came upon them. Piles and piles of bones. Bones from mass burial sites due to plague. Bodies moved from cemetaries into artistic patterns of skulls and femurs in, again, tunnel after tunnel. After awhile it got to be too much and I needed to get out. But not before staying down there a fairly long time, taking lots of time exposed shots.

[TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS: If you visit the Parisian Catacombes, be sure to wear closed toed shoes as there are puddles, and also don't wear shoes that you won't mind getting muddy. The soles of my sneakers are still gray from the mud down there (decayed bone dust?) and it's three days and many thousands of feet since. Also, bring a hat if you've got one as the ceiling drips.]

When I got up from underground, I saw that the city was beginning to cloud over, which I was worried about in terms of the best light for another of my make-up goals for Paris, Notre-Dame. So I booked it up there, even though I was really hungry. I found a bus that took me right there, and the weather was still perfect and the light inside was amazing. In 2001 I walked around the cathedral in a light rain around midnight. This time there were kids playing, and pigeons and tourists galore, and I couldn't believe the inside. There's a reason it's such a beloved structure.

Afterwards I wandered around the Latin Quarter, re-discovering little knooks that I'd found last time. I was looking for this pub that had sod and real grass on the floor while also scanning the Prix Fixe menu signs, but they were all about 18 Euros and all serving Steak Fritte. Blah. Eventually I came across Delikat Zen: Cafe Convivial (5 Rue do Pontoise, a block away from Notre-Dame, just over the bridge), where Martine was indeed convivial, with some helpful English and a throaty laugh. Seeing that I was exhausted, she said, "Food and drink I can provide, a bed, no." (laughs)

The food was incredible. A torte of sundried tomatoes and goat cheese, followed by steak tartare, which I'd never had and really liked. It seems easy enough to make, too: uncooked ground beef, seasonings, raw onion, pickles. The meal came with a basket of baguette, a tall carafe of water and a glass of wine, all for 15. Plus there were piles of books to peruse, and I was happy to find ones on Dali and Gaudi.

Unfortunately, I was the only patron there, though it was late for lunch. Fortunately, though, Martine has her pet Doberman to keep her company. It growled at me at first when I went to the bathroom (real towels that get washed after each use!), but we made friends. "Uh, please don't feed the dog," Martine told me. And I obeyed.

I asked about the tavern with the grass (Tavern on the Green?) and she told me it was long gone, that restaurants and bars in Paris last on average three years. I sure hope Delikat Zen is there next time I'm in town.

[For some reason 30 pictures including the shots of my meal didn't make it onto this computer from the camera, lost forever, I'm afraid.]

After lunch I kept walking and happened upon the Pompidou Center. Though I didn't feel up to going to a museum, they let you look around the lobby, which isn't nearly as interesting as the outside. I then found Les Halles, and next to it St. Eustache, another one of my favorite things in Paris. In fact, the square next to it with the waterfall and the spiraling pavement design with the sculpture head on its side might be my favorite place in Paris. I'd been there at night last time and wasn't able to go inside St. Eustache, and it was great. The design of the organ pipes might be the most magnificent I've seen.

From there I stumbled across a pub called The Frog and Rosbif, which is a chain of British-run microbreweries. I ended up sitting outside with two Parisians just off work, Xavier and Kristoff. They were really great guys, with Xavier even treating me to a pint of D'ark de Triumph Stout.

And lo I walked some more. Following the signs to Gare D'Nord, I finally found another thing I'd been searching for in this city full of Africans, an African restuarant! Two different people told me there was no such thing, but I couldn't believe it. But I found two on Boulevard Strasbourg at Rue d' Chateau d' Eau which were both steam table affairs. I was served up rice, beans, plaintains, a very spicy tomato sauce and was given the choice of chicken or "cow meat." Along with a tall Guinness it came out to 10 Euros. Kinda steep, but a good meal and enough for lunch the next day.

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