Paris, oh Paris! A city of tourists, accordion players, SDF (homeless), busy commuters and metro stations. A city of countless museums, a city of rich history, a city with a 1000 faces to it. A city of disappointment for many, yet for others, full of hope and wonder. A city, although known for its Tour Eiffel, is full of parisians who tend to think their international icon is rather ugly. Paris. Take 2.
I arrived in Paris at 8h in the morning, still bleary-eyed after having got up at 5h30 to catch the train. It was a strange experience, rather dreamlike actually, as I walked along the near-empty streets, past the Petit Palais and Grand Palais, toward the Arc de Triomphe. I was armed with my tourist map of central Paris on a Saturday morning, doing a bit of exploring before meeting a dear friend--that's all that mattered. I didn't really feel the need to take photos this time round; I just took photos of seemingly unimportant details of neon lights or old sewing machines in clothing shop windows. It felt strange seeing such great monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe with no one to share the excitement with, but I didn't mind too much. Maybe I'm used to doing things individually from childhood. Mind you, I'm totally with 'the more, the merrier'.
Soon enough the hours melted away, and it was time to catch the metro to Montparnasse. I was going to see Caroline! Man, had I been looking forward to this! We met up, wandered around the Breton-style cafes, checking prices, before finding a nice restaurant. It had an understated interior with ceramic plates on the walls --probably hand-painted-- wooden floors with a homely vibe about the place. It was a crepe-o-licious meal. Caroline and I reconnected right away and tried to summarise the past 8-something months as well as talk culture. She made the interesting comment that during her visit to Perth the newspapers and news on TV had been quite inconsequential and even a bit fearmongering, with news often focusing on local violence and trival stories rather than a more balanced international coverage. She pointed out that Australians seemed quite insulated from the creeping fear that French culture has of its economic future. I think to some extent the Queensland floods may have chipped away at that sense of economic immunity. It seems to me that Parisian universities really work their students, and so sadly Caroline bid me farewell way too quickly as she dashed off for a Saturday appointment with a project group.
Paris is a city of peddlers. Just try to find a tourist-sounding place on the map, visit there, and you're bound to be asked to buy a trinket from a person of African-descent. The rest of the afternoon, I checked out a few places of interest, including the Marché aux Puces. It made me think of good old Freo! I passed a Australian family who were trying to communicate in broken French with a painter who was asking for 400 euros for a painting which he most probably could whip up in less than 5 hours. I felt them, and so encouraged them that a bit of haggling might not go astray. When I left the markets, the family was still there. Speaking of markups, there is a lot of that in Paris, as you can imagine. There is many a tourist who has been tricked. Another example of trickery is when I visited the Louvre yesterday, the last of my 4-day visit, and I bumped into some Roma girls (nomads from Romania) who were asking for money. They were holding sign-up boards for people who are deaf and dumb. Because I felt for them as well being curious, I read the sheet. It was surprisingingly (or unsurprisingly) lacking detail. As I was reaching into my wallet a lady yelled at me in French that they were liars.
My stay in Paris flew by in a blur, but at the end of it I was happy. I had seen some wonderful sites such as Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame and had hung out with my good friends. I actually sat in on a Sunday evening masse at Sacré Coeur to see what it was like. I was intrigued to see how 'stripped back to basics' the liturgy was; a nun sang beautifully of God's tenderness and pity, and the priest preached on Matthew 5 about loving our enemies in light of God loving us while we were his enemies. Also I had had a chance to see the Jaconde (Mona Lisa) at La Louvre with my patient French friend, Martine, as well as see some of her favourite Italian paintings and sculptures. Lastly, it was wonderful to spend time with an exchange friend Louise --she has one of the most colourful vocabularies of all the people I know. If she's organising a group of friends to go somewhere, she's 'forming a coalition', if things are busy, they're really 'hectic' and at the end of my visit, we had a 'joyous' time eating at a chic restaurant not to far from the Moulin Rouge. I totally want to visit South Africa now! All in all, I left Paris with lots to reflect on.
It was a sad time as I left Paris this time, just the same sort of damper mentioned in my blog about my first visit, except that last time it was the night I arrived. Cut a long story short, as Louise and I were walking along the red light district, looking for our restaurant, a guy bumped into me, muttering something in French. Initially, I thought he was asking for money, but then wondered if he was asking for directions. I looked at his face, and he held out his hand, asking for a few 'espèces'. Afterwards, just as we were about to eat, I checked my pockets. My wallet was gone.
*names changed for privacy reasons.