Paris

Welcome to Paris: Please Empty Your Pockets

We had to do a short writing exercise for one of my classes. Bam! Success!

Paris, the City of Love, also happens to be the City of Black Market Cellphones. That is not to say it is composed entirely of couples in love toting illicitly obtained iPhones, but my own recent experience would suggest that Western Civilizations fanciful obsession with Paris might not be entirely accurate.

My husband and I stayed at the Best Western in Montmartre, a neighbourhood near the Basilica and populated almost entirely by Algerian mobsters and Nigerian princes, judging by the number of individuals who had offers for us as tourists to their city. Our first night in Paris was a rainy one, but hoping to make the bests of our time we opted to explore the area and stave off the jetlag that was already settling in. Not two blocks away from the hotel we were approached by a jaunty fellow with a set of gold teeth who palmed a new smartphone towards us and asked if we were interested.

Non, merci!

The thing with Paris is that you can either fumble your way around the language and pretend you don’t notice their aggravated looks, or you can smile like an idiot and act as if non, oui, and merci are the only three words you know. Yes, that puts a slight target on your back for potential scammers or pickpockets, which is why it is very important to align yourself with one of the various sketchy groups of people who inhibit Paris right away. We placed our alliance with the Algerian mobster who owned a brasserie and, we think, an underground gambling ring. He was a nice enough gentleman, when not whispering to the elderly man behind the counter and glancing nervously towards the brasserie on the other side of the street. We couldn’t be sure, but it’s possible that we had stopped to have a petit dejeuner in the middle of a turf war that was about to become very violent.

The Algerian mobster asked if we wanted anything else, and with dumb smiles we replied, ‘Non, merci!’

                Outside of Montmartre we were on our own. Nigerian princes and the Algerian Mafioso had their territorty well protected, and they minded the boarders like ruthless bloodhounds. The Roma, on the other hand, had no such desires. One might argue they are a necessity in Paris. Your trip will not be complete unless you find a clipboard shoved into your chest by a friendly young woman who asks if you care about the deaf or the blind or puppies with only three legs.

Of course you do! Mai oui!

The minute you take the pen, however, you’re in trouble. No Algerian mobster can protect you from the determination of a tiny Roma child who demands a donation for your signature. The next thing you know you are surrounded, they have your wallet, your keys, and somehow even your shoelaces.

Merde.

Uncle Vanya is going to be very upset that you fell for that. At least, he will be when he stops glaring at the owner of the café across the street.

That being said, the sketchy parts of Paris are all part of the experience. It’s understandable why Tourism France isn’t building their entire campaign around Come to France, See the Architecture, Get Plundered! Try as they might, there is no getting a Roma child to sit long enough to have their picture taken for the campaign poster. Even if they did, they’d just steal it after you’re done.

Por moi? Merci!

Pigeons of Paris

Paris has many pigeons. Grey, speckled, white, a microcosm of pigeon culture, all with the same beady red eyes, watching, waiting. And, oh yes, they are all tremendously fat. I’m not talking about your average run of the mill fat pigeon. I’m talking about full on boisterous, carnivorous birds that spend their days bathing in the water being expunged by the storm drains every morning, waiting for the stereotypical Frenchman to get hit by an errant car as he jaywalks, exclaiming ‘Oh la la!’ as his baguette falls to the ground and becomes the pigeon’s next meal. You may think I am stereotyping the French people by saying this, but in reality I heard the term ”oh la la” said three times while in Paris, the drivers were terrible, the pedestrians took needless risks, and I saw a Frenchman in a black and white striped shirt carrying a baguette down the street on the very first day we were there.

The pigeons of Paris essentially live on bread crumbs and, I assume, the fear of the tourists. There is no doubt they are watching you, and they can sense your fear. For instance. This little bugger called Luxembourg Castle his home. He watched Alex and I as we ate our baguette (shut up, you don’t own me) and our pomme tartlette, which was essentially a slutty version of your standard apple tart. This pigeon clearly wanted to take part in the meal but my flapping arms and “Whoop-whoop-whoop” noises dissuaded him and so he went to the fountain across from us. It was there he decided to pick a fight with a flock of seagulls. As you call tell from this picture, the winner was very clear.

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This particular pigeon spent most of his time hanging around the back end of Musee de l’Armee, patiently waiting for unsuspecting tourists who were keen on seeing Napoleon’s tomb. I theorize that every night this pigeon flutters through the doors just before closing and takes a giant dump on Napoleon’s tomb because, let’s face it, if you were a pigeon with the capacity to fly into a building with a towering ceiling where no one could capture you and poop on a national hero… wouldn’t you?

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Next on the list of Pigeons of Paris we have this little fatty who, despite having his gargantuan girth working against him, managed to struggle underneath this fencing to escape my paparazzi wrath. Just beyond the Eiffel Tower is this lovely green space that is full of three things: Tourists, Roma trying to scam the tourists, and fatty fat fat pigeons. I kid you not, in the fifteen seconds it took me to snap this photo Alex was approach by a Roma who wanted him to sign a petition for the deaf, blind, and mildly incontinent, and when he refused they started to curse him out. I can only assume that means the Roma and pigeons are somehow in cahoots. Fill a city with pigeons, throw in some scamsters, toss in a clipboard with a fake petition or two and blam! Success.

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Seriously. Just look at all these sneaky jerks. And the pigeons are hell too.

To round out our exploration of the Pigeons of Paris we have what might just be the ultimate pigeon. I met him at the Small Town America portion of Disneyland Paris. He was hopping around, eyeing up people. When I tossed him a piece of croissant he landed on the ground and hobbled forward and… wait, hobbled? Holy shit, does he had a broken foot? Oh my god that poor pigeon has a broken foot! I instantly named him Pepito, fed him the rest of my pain de chocolat and paid for the post secondary education for all his children. It was only then that it occurred to me that I had been had. Pepito was the Roma equivalent of pigeons. There was no way his foot was broken. No way at all. It was all a ploy for my sympathy, the bastard! What a jerk! And those other people are feeding him a muffin now? What the actual hell? Being the sort of spirited vigilante that I am, I gave Pepito a taste of his own medicine and chased him down throughout Small Town America, much to the horror of the tottering children and their angry parents. Long story short I’m not allowed back in Disneyland Paris. *

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But seriously, he used his broken foot to sort of propel himself forward. It was actually really impressive, especially given how fat he is.

 

 

*Some facts may be exaggerated for my own amusement

Dear Paris, Was That a Pimp?

(I wrote this about four days ago but quite frankly I am tired and full of croissants so deal with it.)

Today I saw a French pimp, and I mean a pimp. Alex thinks that he was just black and coordinated, but that lime green top hat, cane, and matching shoes knows different. Not being a very worldly person, I have never seen a sterotype of a pimp before. It was everything I could have hoped for and more.

Not ten feet later I saw a homeless man and his son sleeping in the alcove of one of the nicer buildings in Montmarte. They were hidden under puffy winter jackets, the only indication of their age from two pairs of shoes that stuck out from beneath the bulk. The homeless of Paris sleep during the day, or remain stationary in doorways of closed off buildings, their clothes dull and shabby against the backdrop of remarkable coloured wonders that have been carved to perfection. In that way, Paris is a constantly rotating mass of contrary images. In the heart of it, where postcard images are captured and shared with the rest of the world, there are mostly just Roma to contend with. But outside the central tourist attractions exist a world remarkably familiar. In some ways, it is like being back in North America. People are just as forgotten on the streets of Paris as they are on the streets of Calgary.

We’ve seen a lot these last eight days, and as today is Christmas Eve we plan on taking it easy. I’ll have more to say about Versaille, the Louvre, Musee D’Orsonwellees, nearly getting my pocket picked and McDonalds in a few hours.

The Honeymon Letters: Dear Paris, Please Stop Trying to Sell Me Phones

I’m in Paris on my honeymoon. I like Paris. I also like ferrets, and Barret from Final Fantasy VII. I also like rhymes.

Dear Paris,

I’ve found you at last.

What a magnificent city. What an oddly surreal experience to walk into. I mean this in the most literal sense. When we stepped off the plane, literally, off the plan, there was a set of rejected twins from The Shining standing there and staring at us with beady little eyes and comical Christmas sweaters. They could immediately smell my fear. Fortunately I distracted them with my Canadian prowess, the same I use to avoid errant moose on my way to school, and we made our escape into the airport proper.

One thing that immediately struck me about Paris, and was reinforced after our first half-day of exploration. Parisians love their tunnels. Like, really love their tunnels. There is a set of criss-crossing escalator-like glass tunnels that take weary travelers from their exit gates and lead them towards passport control and, hopefully, their bags.

It was raining when we stepped outside to catch a taxi. Not unexpected given it is mid-December. The poor taxi driver, both fluent in French, Mandarin, and I suspect Swahili, couldn’t understand us and, given the manner in which he spoke French, as if his tongue had been caught in a hand drill, we could barely understand him. Still, we somehow made it to our hotel in Montmarte, the San Francisco Mission of Paris.

We were too early to check in, so we abandoned our bags in the hotel lobby and began our exploration of the area. This is the point in this particular reflection where I tell my family and friends that if you want something illegal, cheap, and made by the tiny fingers of a blind Chinese girl, tell me now. Our neighbourhood is delightfully sketchy and we are now taking bets on who will get stabbed first. On our hour and a half exploration of the area we were offered not one, not two, but, three opportunities to purchase cellphones that magically appeared in the palm of passing strangers. I can only assume their coat pocket have some sort of warp into Cellphone Narnia, and they simply have to dig around a bit before they find one of these totally legally obtained phones to cell to passing strangers.

We first found a place to have our petit dejounner. Given the nature of the neighborhood and my over active imagination, I have determined that this particular café is run by an ex-Algerian mafia enforcer who, despite abandoning his post is deeply respected by the local gang community. He also sells lottery tickets!

Our obviously tenuous grasp of the language was clearly going to make us a target for further cellphone sales, so using my best Canadian smile and embarrassed giggle I ordered a croissant (maybe), a tea (I think), and orange juice (possibly milk). We spent a good amount of time nibbling and watching the world pass by. The police cars do indeed have that lovely “bee-oo-bee-oo-bee-oo” siren, and the moped riding delivery people are clearly king of the streets. Alex and I have agreed that we will never be able to speak unkindly about Calgary drivers given the number of pedestrians we saw nearly mowed down over the course of thirty seconds. Where my inner Dustin Hoffman would have banged on the hood of the car and proclaimed “Oo la la! Je suis (walking in French)”, most pedestrians just shrugged it off, winked at the drivers and continued their attempted cellphone sales.

We briefly visited Gare Du Nord, the Parisian train hub. The architecture was stunning, but my brain was powered down by this point, and the only picture I got was one blurry image of a pigeon. He wasn’t even doing anything. Just being a pigeon. Oh, I’m sorry, pig-e-oen.

After this we returned to the hotel and, with the front staff taking pity on us given the travelers smell we were exhibiting, we were allowed into our room where we promptly collapsed for four and a half hours. Upon waking we realized that A) It was getting a wee bit dark, and B) The lights in our room didn’t work. Honeymoon central, this place. After about a half hour of wandering in near blindness we realized that there is a small device by the door where you insert your room card. In doing so you summon the great power of electricity. However, if you take your card out, you get roughly thirty seconds to run into bed and hide under the covers before the lights go out. Because Paris monsters or something.

After dragging ourselves out of bed and washing away the “I’ve been awake for 24 hours traveling and have seen some things you people wouldn’t believe” stench, we made our way to the Metro and took the train into the center of the city.

This is where Paris really begins, and where this particular update ends because I need to get another stamp on my croissant punchcard or else I will be arrested.

The Honeymoon Letter Series: #1

I’m away on my honeymoon! Yay me and also my new husband! In true form, however, the comedy has already begun. You can read some of my other open letters here, here, aaaand here.

Dear Guy Sitting in Seat 22D on the Flight to Chichago,

Listen, I get it. We’re both stuck in this whirling metal tube, headed towards Chicago, possibly beyond. The flight was delayed and you’re obviously tired and frustrated but please, buddy, just… stop with the seat. Back and forth, back and forth. You’re not on a see-saw. This is not a rocking chair, nor is it a fairground game where the end goal is to rock your seat as much as possible so you reach vomiting velocity. There is a little girl behind me who I was fully prepared to engage in a foot-kicking war, and she’s been golden. You hear that? Five year old Terry Lynn is better behaved than you.

Why these seats recline I will never know. Everyone hates it when the seat in front of them go back. As soon as the first jerkwad decides he’d rather be at a slight angle, you know, so that way his snoring gets that really lovely wet smacking sound, the guy behind him is bound to do it as well. Plane seats are basically mutually assured destruction of the kneecap variety. Oh and that window shade you put down? That is my window shade. It is on my row and I am in the window seat. You don’t want the sunshine in your eyes, move your damn chair up.

Now, I am a reasonable person. After all, I am Canadian. However it must be noted that by viciously rocking your seat in such a manner as if you are suffering from a grand mal seizure not only batters around my tablet which never did anything to you, but also causes the cup of sad, half-assed coffee to wibble and wobble. I’m not sure if you noticed because the person sitting in front of you has some basic human decency and has not reclined her chair, but the more you recline yours, the more my coffee cup, specially made to fit these tight spaces, inches towards a precarious end. And trust me, if this coffee spills on my husband or my tablet, you will be getting an earful.

I’m a gentle human being. I have very few requests from life aside from “Dear life, please don’t kill me okay thanks.” But one small thing I’d like is a wee bit of consideration so that when, during this ungodly flight to Chicago, I can safely take out and use my tablet without the keyboard hanging halfway off of the tray. And yes, I am frequently kneeing the back of your seat. No, it is not out of malice. I simply have zero room for functioning. It’s not like I have the knees of Andre the Giant. These are tiny knees but you, much like the other 89% of the plane, are in the economy section which means unless you and I are composed entirely of day old spaghetti, we are simply going to have to accept that there is a finite amount of room and you are not deserving of spreading your vast, thining-haired wealth around anymore than I am or else I would climb onto the back of your seat like a cat and bat at your skull like a mouse for the next two hours and forty-five minutes.

Most Sincerely,

Kathleen Sawisky, Esq. Seat 23D.