jeudi, août 31, 2006

Sleepless in paris

So, just becuase this post is dated to a different day, don't presume that it wasn't anything more than a hellacious extension of Aug 30th. I know that the best way for my body to re-set its clocks is to just stay awake until next nightfall, so I stayed up for the entire flight, taking coffee at every opportunity and reading Richard Leppert's introduction to Adorno : Essays on Music. That's right. Until the rest of my books get here, I have Adorno and Erik Larson's Devil in the White City to read. Of course, my plan is to hit the bookstores in the Latin Quarter later this week to bulk up on French-language books.

After a long but uneventful flight, we (me and my Chicago-based boss for this job, Val) arrive in Paris near 10:00am local time (about 3am CST). We stagger through the terminal at Charles De Gaulle and get to the contrôle passeport, which consisted in glancing at my passport and then waving me through. Seriously. I don't think they even realized I was here on a student visa. Not a word was uttered. After the flaming hoops of fire that I must jump through every time I enter the US, this totally threw me—even though I've travelled to Europe many times before. How times/politics change, eh?

We made our way through what Val called the "habitrail" part of the terminal (escalators and glass tunnels) to baggage claim, where we waited for what seemed like hours. I suppose it seemed like hours because we were standing next to a pile of abandoned luggage that was leaking some yellow-coloured fluid and smelled like fish that was just beginning to rot. Welcome to Paris!

As soon as we claimed our luggage and walked into the main part of the terminal, we were accosted by a long line of unlicensed taxi drivers, trying to convince us to use their services. I've heard enough horror stories about what they do to unsuspecting tourists, so I gave them a "Non, merci. Ça va. Non. NON. Laisse tomber." We eventually found the taxi/limo stand; I asked an attendant whether the taxis took credit cards, and he pointed me to another attendant, who pulled us out of line and put us into a new line that I think she spontaneously created in front of everyone else. Ignoring the glares, she called over a taxi. When I asked the taxi cab driver if he took credit, he said "Oh, my machine isn't working." So I just shrugged and got back in line. At that moment, the attendant got really animated and asked me what's wrong. When I said that the cabbie didn't take credit, she looked very stern and told the driver, "That's a refusal of service." Whatever that meant, the two stepped away for a moment and exchanged some heated words. When they came back, the cabbie told me "Well, if my machine doesn't work, we'll have to stop at an ATM to get cash." And then the attendant told me, "If he doesn't take your card, you send an email to this address, with the cab's license number."

After that experience, I spent the entire drive to my place watching the road carefully, trying to make it clear to the cabbie that he can't drive in circles to make a profit from me. My experience in Europe (and most travel destinations, really) is that as soon as you're marked as a tourist/traveler, you're subject to a different code of ethics, called "It's not exploitation if they don't understand." It goes both ways, I suspect.

Anyway, I finally arrived at Residence Lila, and Val continued off to her hotel. Here's a picture of the view from my apartment! Notice the lovely construction. I haven't posted the promised pictures of my apartment yet, since I want a moment to unpack and put my stuff away. Suffice it to say that the colour scheme of my room is orange and maroon. Figure-toi. After a kind stranger helped me drag my stuff into the building, I waited around for a bit until one of the receptionists, Fabienne, arrived. After filling out a bit of paperwork, I dragged my ass upstairs and dropped off my luggage. I took a moment to explore the apartment, and discovered that it was missing a few key elements, such as toilet paper. I made a mental note to pick some up. I had told Val I would call her at her hotel once I got settled, so I changed my shirt and headed outside to find a Tabac so I could buy a phone card. When I asked Fabienne where to find a Tabac, she gave me directions, but also told me that there were telephones in Arnaud's room. So instead, Fabienne gave me a tour of the building, then opened Arnaud's apartment to pick up a phone as well as the DSL modem and wireless router that I was to set up in my room (the U of C kids demanded a wireless network in the residences, of course).

I returned to my room, installed the phone, and tried to call Val, but the phone line didn't work. It was clear that I'd need the cell phone that the UCParis centre was going to lend me. Fabienne certainly didn't have the cell phone on her, so my only hope was that Arnaud (another Arnaud) or Sebastien had it at the centre. Fabienne was kind enough to let me use the phone at the reception for the time being, then I hit a Tabac to get a phone card. (Tabacs in France not only sell tobacco, but also transit tickets, phone cards, lottery, etc.)

I eventually found my way to the Métro station, where I bought my Carte Orange (monthly metropass) for the month of September and a few extra tickets for the last day of Aug. Some time later, I finally made it to the UCParis centre, which is near the Bibliothèque Nationale on the Eastern end of the city just south of the Seine. As soon as I got there and spoke to the receptionist, Sebastien appeared to greet me. He gave me a warm welcome and showed me around the place, which is quite lovely. Very new and full of pale wood and white—check out the UCParis centre link above for a photo tour.

A few moments after that, I met the rest of the crew, including Isabelle, Hélène, Arnaud, Sylvie, Stéphane, as well as the outgoing director of the centre, Robert. (The guy who will be in charge during my time here is Philippe Desan.) Everyone was really nice and I was delighted with how excited Isabelle (a French language instructor) was to use Chalk (U of C's on-line classroom software). While I was there, Sebastien dug up the cell phone that I would be using (it's a monochrome NOKIA from the 90s!) and I was set to go. The battery was nearly dead on the phone, but I borrowed Arnaud's phone to call Val and we headed off for dinner. Keep in mind that I still haven't slept at this point.

I met Val at her hotel, near the Luxembourg gardens in the Latin Quarter, and we headed off to get some food. It was still pretty early for dinner in France (maybe 5pm), so some restaurants weren't open. Val knew a really amazing place for cassoulet, but unfortunately it was no longer there. I knew of a Georgian place called Pirosmani (a famous Georgian artist, I think), but they weren't open yet. We hit a café on the Place Saint-Michel for a bit of coffee and people-watching, then hit the road again. The Georgian place still wasn't open, so we headed towards another place that Val knew about, called Brasserie Balzar. It just so happened that the special of the day was cassoulet, so we ordered some. Before the cassoulet, we each had a Kir Royal (champagne + cassis) and then a 1/2-bottle of wine with the meal. As the alcohol and beans and meat began to kick in, what was then more than 24-hours of non-stop wakefullness began to crash in on me (and Val). Considering all I had was a kir and a couple glasses of wine, I felt surprisingly drunk and profoundly tired.

We quickly got the bill and headed our separate ways. I was so tired I nearly fell asleep on the métro. The métro!! That's how tired I was. But I also realized that my apartment was still missing a few rather crucial things, so I dragged my ass to the Franprix near my métro stop and got some toilet paper, water, paper towels and milk. Why milk? Because milk in Europe is always better. And I felt like I deserved a bottle of organic whole milk. I certainly did after waiting in line at the cashier, half-drunk and mostly asleep, while the woman in front of me conducted an argument with her spouse across the entirety of the store. It was a small miracle that I got home at all. Finally, after all of that mess, I got home, had a swig of milk, and got ready for bed.

Thankfully, I managed to get the DSL modem and wireless router working without too much trouble, so I finally started this blog post (although I finished it later) and then crashed into bed.

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