mercredi, juillet 02, 2008

Get Everything done in Paris, Day 1

Although I didn’t really succeed in getting any sleep on the plane, I’m putting in another blog entry as if it was a brand new day; a brand new day wearing yesterday’s clothes and covered in a layer of airport grime.

So we landed in Paris 15 minutes ahead of schedule (hooray!) and stumbled off the plane. I spent nearly way too long waiting in line at the currency exchange desk, only to find that there were bank machines on the exterior of the terminal. Great.

As always, the French “passport control” involved a simple glance at my passport. Nothing like the intense and scary grilling that you get when you cross into the US. Part of this laxness, I think, is that government agents in France can actually stop you on the street and demand your immigration papers at any time, so there’s not as much need to stop us at the borders. Also, my passport was Canadian and not Algerian or Malian or something else from a former French colony, so I was probably benefiting from that.

Anyway, I stumbled out of the airport with my 3 huge, overpacked bags and grabbed a taxi. As we were on the A3 and heading into Paris, traffic suddenly got very slow. After a few minutes of stop-and-go traffic, we passed a pixelboard that said “A3 → BP, 45 mins.” In other words, it would take 45 minutes just to get to the border of Paris. About 30 minutes into that escapade, my taxi driver banged the steering wheel and started cursing at all of the single-occupancy vehicles surrounding us, accusing them of creating this traffic jam. I was in the mood to kvetch, too, so I joined in the bitch-fest and we consoled ourselves with the resentment of other commuters until we got into Paris. The driver was really good about trying to get me as close as possible to my destination (which was at the centre of a network of one-way streets), so I gave him a large tip (relative to French standards) and hauled my luggage the rest of the way to the apartment.

I’m staying at the apartment of a colleague from my Paris job; she was in Chicago at the moment, working on her own project, so she handed me the keys to her place the day before I left. Her husband heard me dragging my luggage through the courtyard and came out to help me get my stuff into the apartment. I should really take a picture of their courtyard at some point, as it is this lovely narrow row of bushes and trees.

[a quick lesson in French grammar: In French, you have two kinds of affirmative answers to a question, “oui” and “si.” You use “oui” when you’re answering a question phrased in the positive, such as “did you go out last night?” You use “si” as a more emphatic statement, in response to a negative question, such as “You didn’t sleep with him last night, did you?” “But yes!” “Oh, gross.” So, when my host said “You’re not too tired, I hope.” My answer was “Si.”]

After having a much-needed coffee with my host, I sent off an “I’ve arrived!” email and then took an also much-needed shower. After that, I was feeling a lot more human.

Once I was dressed, I sauntered off to the nearest subway station to head over to my future work site (The UofC Paris Center) to get some administrative stuff taken care of. I still had my old NaviGo pass from last year (an RFID passcard), so I just re-charged it with a week-long transit pass. I was out of sorts and needed an employee to explain to me which machine took bills, but eventually I was sorted and on my way.

In a strange moment of symbolism (not lost on my colleagues), it was raining by the time I got out of the subway and headed over to the Paris Center. Since I’m continuing my previous custom of not blogging about work, I’ll just say that everyone is doing well, they’ve all retained their sick sense of humour, and they now have a hilariously high-tech fingerprint scanner at the front door.

After having lunch and coffee with my colleagues, I managed to wrangle from them an Attestation de Domicile (a proof of living quarters that you need to do practically anything in France). From there, I was off to open a bank account at the bank next door. That took a fair bit of time but was eventually successful; the only snag was that the young man opening my account put my first names in the wrong order, so now I’m Manuel-Luis Garcia, according to the bank. He told me I could correct that later, which I can only hope, knowing French bureaucracy.

I was planning to open a French cell phone line before leaving for Berlin, but I left that for the next day and instead headed over to my old neighborhood metro stop, Porte des Lilas, to hit my “regular” bakery from my previous year in Paris. I was pleasantly surprised to see all the employees recognize me and ask me where I had been. In fact, I ended up exchanging kisses (la bise) with the woman with whom I had traded recipes and food during my last stay.

After that encounter, I took a constitutional walk back to the apartment, since the last subway ride had nearly put me to sleep. I was determined to stay awake until the evening, to properly re-set my body clock. I spent a bit of time at the apartment chatting with my host and his daughter, answered some emails, and then lurched off to bed, ready to collapse.

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