Travel

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!

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.