Monday, July 25, 2011

Paris, Day 1 -- Nervous Beginnings and Notre Dame

25 JULY 2011

I am in Paris.

I am on another continent.

D. met me a the airport yesterday, and navigated us via train and subway to her mother's apartment, where I will be staying for the next three weeks.

You might call it a railroad flat, as all the rooms are in a row, but the outside wall curves, and the doors are in different places (and are different sizes), so I'd say it's more of a meander flat.

We had a good hour of instruction on where things are and how they work, made more interesting because a lot of things work differently here than in the U.S.  And I don't speak French, and D's mum doesn't speak English.  D. translated some, her mum demonstrated some, and we all waved our arms a bit.  And then they left on their vacation, and here I am!  An American in Paris.  A broad abroad.

It was late afternoon when they left, and I didn't go out after.  I was exhausted from the overnight flight, and a little intimidated by the apartment lessons and all the little Google Translator translated notes that Madame left me, taped to the walls.

In my little Parisian flat!
The kitchen.
The sitting room.
I believe this is a player piano, but haven't opened it yet...
The view out the window, through Madame's plants and along the winding, narrow walk-street.
This first morning in Paris, I set my alarm for six.  I fed Pepito and Bout de Zan, and figured out how to use the gas stove and the little coffee maker.
Bout de Zan (named after a licorice candy).
I'm taking my time, settling.  I have three weeks, so I don't need to rush, for once.  But also, I'm a little scared to go outside.  Will I be able to work the strange door locking mechanism?  Will I be able to find my way back to the apartment?  It is on a tiny walk street, off a small street, off a boulevard, and all the signs are in a language I don't speak.  And my little brother inherited all the genes for navigation in our family...

I begin with a trip to the Monoprix -- both supermarket and department store.  It is right around the corner.

I manage to buy bread and milk and cheese and fruit and shampoo.  I'm fairly certain it's shampoo.  The blond neighbor lady smiles at me, and says bon jour (and other things I don't understand).  I met her yesterday, when Madame showed me where to take the garbage.  It is nice to see a familiar face.  I pass the door coming back, but backtrack and find it.  My key fits the lock, and I make it back through the door, and my first little Parisian adventure is a success.

I've had a bit of lunch, and am now setting off to try to find the Ile de la Cite.  And hopefully find my way back again after!

Even before I find the Ile de la Cite, it is a landmark for me, as I am staying in the garment district, just north of it.  On the Paris map, I find the Seine, then I find the Ile de la Cite in the middle of it, then I go up from there along Sebastopol, to Reamur.  That is my important corner to remember, for getting back again.  It has its own Metro station, which makes it even easier to find on the map.  "M" for Metro.

I write now from a little cafe on the island, where I am drinking a cappuccino and trying to find myself on the island map in my guidebook.  All this cartography all of a sudden!

It's good to be out and about.  Like most things (like writing!), it is easier to keep going than it is to start.

I think maybe this is the good sort of scared, the kind that makes you brave.  Maybe I should call this little blog series "Alone in a Language Not My Own."  Which reminds me of Walter Mosley's "Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned" -- an entry in my "Best Title Ever" list, along with Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried."

My guidebook says that there is no place older than this in Paris.  And that the city is named for a Celtic tribe named the Parisii, who liked the island's defendability.  That must have been before they built all the bridges...
The view from Pont Neuf.
I crossed over on the Pont Neuf, which is the oldest bridge in Paris, even though its name means "new bridge."  (There is something in that which reminds me of Ozymandias.)  From the bridge, I can see the temporary beach they've constructed along the Seine.  They truck in sand so the city dwellers can lie out there and sun themselves, and the children can play.  It sounds strange, but it's really lovely.

Now it is after six.  I heard the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral ring... and promptly sat myself down at a little restaurant on the island, and ordered a beer and some dinner.  What have I been doing with my afternoon?  I've been here!

Mary, flanked by angels, over a long row of saints.

Me in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral!  Picture courtesy of the nice Michigan couple.

The cathedral is where I spent a good part of my afternoon.  It's magnificent.  I remember learning, in an art history class at Chemeketa Community College, that cathedrals were built to allow human beings to experience the glory of God, or Heaven -- as close as we could, here on earth.  To inspire awe.  And I have to say, Notre Dame took my breath away.

Inside the cathedral.  Candles and prayers.

In the gardens behind the cathedral.  This is where the flying buttresses are!  Also, a rose garden...
In line, I chatted with a nice couple from Michigan.  "We're sixty-six," she said.  "This is our big blow out trip, and we're trying to make it count."  They are tackling three cities of Europe, two weeks each.  They're ready to enjoy it all, and remember it for the rest of their lives.  Me, too.

Things I noticed today:
  • There are lots of motorcycles here, and sometimes they ride on the sidewalk.
  • There are lots of smokers here.
  • Ballet flats are in.  Le mode.
  • When you eat, here, you are encouraged to take your time.  
  • People really do wear a lot of scarves here, both men and women.
Poor Heloise and Abelard... were here.
The flower market!
Things I liked today:
  • The statue of Charlemagne, outside of Notre Dame.
  • The flying buttresses of the cathedral.
  • All the bridges to the island.
  • Happening on the residence of Heloise and Abelard.
  • Finding the flower market.
  • Chocolate mousse for dessert on a perfect, warm evening in Paris, eaten outside as the sun began to set.
  • Walking along the water, watching the people and the river.
The beach by the river.
Walking by the water.
Oh, beauty!
Lock your love, like a bicycle, to the fence on the bridge, and it will last forever...
Things I plan to do tomorrow:
  • Return to the island to see several things that were closed today, namely the Crypt Archeological, the upstairs part of the Cathedral, the World War II Holocaust Memorial and the Ile de Louis -- which you can reach by bridge from the Ile de la Cite.

What a lovely day!


Maureen Brady Johnson said...

This is lovely...all of it! I will be following your journey with joy...Y'know...I must meet you face to face someday e.m.
from mbj (Maureen Brady Johnson)

Claudia said...

Soak it all in, journal it, sing to it - I remember being 30 and footloose and fancy free in Paris. It's just one of those moments in time that continue to give.

Ginger Ogle said...

This is a wonderful, beautiful journal. Keep it coming!! It is like being there with you--a broad abroad, snicker. And there's nothing wrong with, "Je suis perdu. Parlez-vous Anglais?" I'm sure you would say it breathlessly and someone amazing would help you, and you would see something secret and hidden and fabulous on the way.

EM Lewis said...

Thank you for commenting, Maureen, Claudia and Ginger! It's nice to have you traveling with me!


PS: Maureen -- I would love that!

Anonymous said...

Word Verification: besio

So lovely! Where's that fence with all the locks? I didn't know about that.


Tim said...

We did a house swap in Paris a few years back. Our apartment came with a cat who would ignore us when we'd try to call him with "Here, kitty." Finally one day three we realized he'd only come when we called "Viens!" So don't forget that cats in Paris speak French!

Love in the Time of Foreclosure said...

Ellen! I'm catching up on your adventure. I'm so glad you're blogging it and allowing us to live vicariously through you.

I love the fence w/ the locks. I'd never heard of that either. And that rose garden behind Notre Dame- Bob and I took a nap on one of the park benches. Sitting up. I look forward to more. Love, Steph