On mondays, I come in late (based on my new office hours), so I slept in (mmmm!) and rolled into work around noon. Of course, there was plenty waiting for me when I got there, but it was all fine. After work, I had planned on heading home, doing a grocery run for a few things, and then heading off to the famous bookstore in the latin quarter, Gibert Jeune, to buy some French-language books (more on this tomorrow).
However, my after-work errands turned into the entire evening, really. I was interested in hitting a Carrefour grocery store, which is sort of like a watered-down Target married to a high-octane grocery store. Imagine if Target invested less $$ in securing designer contracts for their clothes and furniture, and directed that towards a full-service grocery store. During the day, I also overheard one of the French teachers telling a student to check out Darty for cheap electronics and other éléctroménagier (i.e., appliances). A quick internet search revealed that both were in a shopping centre nearby, so I decided to head out on foot and check it out.
Now, I've included a screen capture of the GoogleMap for this trip(click image to enlarge), just to give you an idea of how close this place was. That should've been a 30-40 minute walk, tops. But note that the path recommended by GoogleMaps is for a car. What I didn't realize was that this shopping centre had been designed specifically for car access, there was still token pedestrian access (as I would soon find out), but this whole thing was obviously designed with the notion that American car culture was going to turn the Paris suburbs into a car-only area real soon. So take a look at that crazy interchange of cars right near my destination, and imagine that most if not all of those are highways and their variuos on/off-ramps. The only way to get into this place on foot was by one very narrow sidewalk that ran across one on-ramp, across another off-ramp, and eventually through the service entrance of the underground parking lot and into the building. Yes, that's how pedestrians get in.
What should've been a 30 minute walk turned into 90 minutes, as I kept on trying one on-ramp, coming to a dead end, turning around, trying to cut through a park full of homeless people, turning around, etc... By the time I finally got there I was ready to shop. I walk through the underground parking lot to the entrance to the mall and ride up several escalators to the third floor before I realize that the shopping carts are all located on the parking level (so you can take your groceries directly to your car). I drag my ass back down there and realize these are the shopping carts that require a 1€ deposit to use, and all I had were 2€ coins. F*ck. Thankfully, a somewhat bemused valet attendant (yes, there was valet service available) helped me out and I finally got my cart and joined the French consumer masses.
For what it's worth, the food section at Carrefour was fantastic. Certainly, it was not the finest France had to offer, but I found a lot of special items that would be impossible to find in a budget grocery store in North America—and I even found Rillettes du Mans! (here also is the French Wikipedia article, which is more accurate) This is a specialty local to the place where I stayed for my exchange program almost 10 years ago (Le Mans). Essentially, it's well-cooked pork, shredded, and then chilled in a suspension of its own fat. Yes, I know what that sounds like; this is one of those dishes that you must try once, and you will either love it or despise it. It's spread like a pâté over bread and/or toast, but I find it a bit greasy on its own (duh), so I make a little sandwich with rillettes on one side and a layer of super-hot dijon mustard (of the sort you can't get in N. America) on the other. Mmmmmm...
Anyway, I managed to find pretty much everything I needed, made my purchase, and then walked another 1923409853419238 meters to get to the bus stop on boulevard Paniatowski (check map). Of course, the bus I (and everybody else) needed was running late, which meant that by the time the bus actually got there, it was already overcrowded before we got on. We crammed in, we me stacking my grocery bags in a corner, and I presumed that the bus had hit capacity. As the next 5 stops made clear, however, I was wrong. Each time, I thought we had maxed out the spatial proportions of the bus, and each time everybody just pressed in. It was a hot day, the bus wasn't air-conditioned, and deodorant is still optional in France (although it's improved a lot from my first vists in the early 90s). I was amazed at how French folks, who normally make the air-kiss the only form of everyday bodily contact, will at the same time pile into a vehicle with each other and engage in the kind of body contact that usually results in reproduction—were it not for the layers of clothing. And a note to any frottage fetishists out there: it's not sexy. Whatever fantasies you might have about rubbing up against random strangers in public will evaporate in the stench, heat, humidity and pent-up frustration of the actual experience.
I got home too late to go to the bookstore (which closes at 19h30 (translation: 7:30pm! How's that for European hours?), so I unpacked my groceries and opened a chocolate bar that I had bought at Carrefour. Without thinking I sat at my computer and at the WHOLE THING. There is a lesson in this, which should not be a surprise to most of you: Luis can't be trusted with chocolate. So, I didn't even have the urge to eat a real dinner until midnight, at which point my meal was hastily made spaghetti with some store-bought (but delicious) sauce. Ah well, it's Monday!