(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)
Saturday, September 15th.
Unlike Berlin – where I spent the first couple of days feeling completely out of sorts, directionally challenged and frustrated – I decide to use this day to get myself on the right track before even attempting to go sightseeing.
Also, my friend Darlene (she’s from Toronto, but living as an ex-pat in Paris) has touched base with me and we’re supposed to meet for coffee. She’s also been kind enough to suggest that I should find a local mobile phone carrier for a SIM card.
Which means navigating/braving that terrible, multi-level monstrosity of a mall from the day before.
After a few wrong turns, I find my way into its depths and find a mobile carrier which – relatively speaking – turns out to be much more customer friendly.
This small hurdle cleared, I take a walk to see if I can find my way around. I begin with Rue Saint-Martin, and just start walking. I make a left here, and take a right there, then try to find my way back. Which I accomplish. Sort of.
I then take a longer walk to see if I can find a main street and navigate using the map from my travel guide.
After a couple more wrong turns, I find Rue de Rivoli and just walk west – past all sorts of shops, past the Louvre (which makes me cuss aloud at the sheer number of blocks it inhabits – it’s well over 60,000 square feet!) until I get to (what I will later discover to be) Place de la Concorde.
I check the time and figure I have just enough time to get back before my orientation walk with Nathalie. I return to the flat sweaty, winded (from taking all of those stairs – Nathalie’s flat is on the fourth floor of her building) and with 10 or so minutes to spare.
Natalie arrives. She’s a smaller, somewhat slight woman, and today, she’s dressed in black. She admits a bit sheepishly that she’s overdressed for what’s turned out to be an unusually warm day for Paris. (Perhaps I’ve brought the warmth with me?)
We begin with our neighbourhood – she shows me places she recommends for good pizza and chocolates, and even if I want to listen some jazz one evening.
She takes me out of the arrondisement (we’re in the Marais), showing me buildings that house two theatres in the area, and then over the bridge to Île Saint-Louis, where she points out all the tourists lined up for Berthillon ice cream (which she says, contrary to what guidebooks might say, is NOT, in fact, the best).
She also points out Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ oldest English-language bookstore, and recommends a walk along the Seine which – if followed correctly – will lead me to an Islamic centre that serves tea and sweets.
On the river below us, we notice a group of boats that – as Nathalie reckons – is up from the South, for some sort of special event. We don’t get too close, though – Nathalie warns (with a glint in her eye) that southern French cuisine is quite rich.
We walk around the Latin Quarter- but not for very long, as it’s packed with other tourists. So we return to the other side, crossing another bridge. Nathalie allows me to get another look at the two theatres we passed earlier, gives me a brief overview of their importance, and points out a statue I can use as a landmark when I’m on my own.
We see two protests taking place – one for Syria, and another one I’m not entirely sure of. It’s turns out it’s a group of illegal workers who are demonstrating to demand that the French government grant them papers to allow them to live (and work) here.
We pass them, and back into our neighbourhood. Nathalie takes me to “the best ice cream” she’s ever had – an Italian-styled gelateria called Pozzeto. And man, is it EVER good.
I’ve told Nathalie about my frustration with – and desire to – write, so she shows me a couple of other spots to sit and write, or meet other writers.
We finally part ways; she tells me to call her at any time, if I have any questions. (I decide to keep my calling to a minimum. I feel I’ve pestered her enough leading up to this trip.)
At the flat I check my phone – Darlene’s attempted to e-mail me. So I call her back, then head out to meet her.
I take the train out to the suburb of Bourg-la-Reine, where she’s staying with a friend. When I arrive, Darlene’s been working on a transcription project and is fighting with her computer, which started giving her grief the moment we hung up.
I let her pick away at the transcription bit longer (while my tired feet rest), before she gives up for the moment, and we go out for a walk.
She takes me to this ENORMOUS park, called Parc des Sceaux. It’s absolutely beautiful – like something out of a 19th-century novel, set on the grounds of a wealthy French estate.
Between the fountains and manicured trees, and I haven’t even seen the Tuileries yet, all I can think is, FORGET THAT. THIS is a park.
We don’t stay very long, as the park’s closing and the sun’s setting. So we head to a local Japanese restaurant for dinner, which Darlene was first introduced to by her current roommate/shelter-saviour, Laurent, who happens to be out of town visiting friends in northern France. Funnily enough, he actually calls Darlene midway through dinner to check up on her, and is nice enough to say hi to me.
I’m also introduced to sashimi – although tentatively, since my previous experiences with it have almost never ended well – in return for sharing part of my dinner.
Darlene even tries to get me to practice my French-language skills, which are much worse than I originally thought. Not only it is frustrating for me to form sentences (albeit short ones), just hearing it come out of my mouth is painful, to say the least.
By the time our meal ends, Darlene isn’t feeling so well, so we make a hasty exit, where she helps get me a ticket back into town.
Despite the short time together, it’s still comforting to see another familiar face after swimming through a sea of strangers.