15 September 2012: After bursting out from the underground into the open air in front of the Cathedral Notre-Dame, I started to feel things shift — from dirndls to silk scarves, from Weißbier to Côte-de-Rhone, from sprechen Sie Deutsch to parlez-vous français. The weather was also a lovely 23 C and sunny, late summer done right. I arrived at my hotel at 3:30 PM, too late to go to any of the museums as I had hoped to do, but perhaps not too late for adventures of a more spontaneous kind.
Last year you may recall that my foreign-language anxiety nearly got the better of me, but this year I have so far successfully held all of my conversations with the hotel staff in French. I’m giving myself permission to forget about flawless grammar and accent and just make myself understood while resorting to English borrow-words as seldom as possible. On the first round of this I not only understood pretty much everything in both directions and was able to ask some rudimentary questions about procedure, but learned that wi-fi is pronounced “wee-fee”.
The hotel is on the Avenue des Gobelins and has two stars. It’s clean and the staff are friendly, but that’s all I was expecting. A common feature of Parisian hotel rooms is that they’re hardly big enough for you to enter without knocking your elbows against everything. That goes double for the shower, which is so cramped I can barely even turn around. The German rooms were spare, but at least they were square.
Other comparisons of my French to my German experiences may be summarized in the following table:
|Spotlessly clean||A bit grubby so you know it’s historic|
|Locals seldom smoke||Locals smoke like chimneys|
|Locals jaywalk sparingly||Locals jaywalk as a way of life|
|Not too crowded||Can barely breathe in some places|
|Mostly quiet and calm||See “Techno Parade” below|
About that last line. Usually when I think of Paris I think of this:
Or maybe this:
I usually don’t expect to see things like this:
I first heard about it when I heard it, literally, a huge thumping noise from across the Jardin des Plantes around which I was contentedly ambling. On heading up to investigate, I encountered a queue of debauchery stretching across the Pont d’Austerlitz as far as the eye could see. People were filming it with their phones. It was hard to resist joining in the voyeurism, so I didn’t. Resist, that is. But since after about twenty minutes I started to value oxygen more than titillation, I moved on towards the search for dinner. There was the place on the Quai de la Tournelle that had four cheese ravioli…
That place will in my mind hereafter be known as the English-Speaking Restaurant, because I backslid on my conversational French after the waitstaff addressed me in English first for a change. It turns out that while I chose the place because I could get hot, satisfying food that didn’t necessarily have pieces of dead animal in it, I heard not a single one of the patrons of the establishment speaking French. Most were Americans or Brits, but I heard some Dutch from one family who’d stopped for coffee.