07 October 2008

Journeying: 10 hours in Paris

I arrived in France dead tired, but happy that I wasn't shivering or soaked anymore and excited to drop off my baggage and see our new apartment. I grabbed my luggage, got a cab and headed off to meet up with our soon-to-be landlordess Ariane at the apartment, 35 Rue De L'Esperance.


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It was a truly amazing ride. The contrast between the Indian subcontinent where I'd spent the last 3 months and France was so striking (and refreshing for me). I got into a beautiful cab. The music that played over the radio was smooth French jazz, no loud half-Hindi-half-English-half-Tamil bahngra. We drove at speeds (60+ mph/100+ kmh) I hadn't attained since I had left the states. The road was so smooth and all the cars simply moved in their separate lanes. Nothing was on the road except for the cars, no cows, goats, dogs, carts, people, donkeys, camels. No dust, potholes, contruction equipment. Just smooth asphalt and cleanly delinated lines with beautiful countryside passing by. The sun came in at that beautiful fall gold you only get at temperate latitudes. It was delicious. I dozed, comfortable in a way I hadn't been for months. I was back in the West.

Within 30 minutes I had reached my destination - a cobblestone street in a part of the city that seemed more like a village than a metropolis. So clean, so quiet, so quaint. Golden fall sunlight and a crisp fall morning chill in the air with heat wherever the sunlight fell directly. I left my luggage near the building's door and crossed the street to sit half in a sunny patch and just absorbed the Sunday morning calm. After about 10 minutes Ariane arrived and I got to meet the person with whom Linda had spent so much time making arrangements.

A brief detour to tell you how we came to be in touch: Linda had been working at the JCC of the Upper West Side. One of the several classes she taught was a mommy & me cooking class for 3-4 year olds. One of the mothers in this class became quite friendly with Linda, and happened to have close friends in Paris, whom I'm quite excited to meet at the end of this month. These friends were close friends with Ariane who is an actress and was also looking to rent her apartment right around the time we wanted to rent one. So things worked out in this fortuitous way they often do for me (I'm truly a blessed man) and we ended up agreeing to let the most lovely apartment from a person I discovered to be just a tremendous sweetheart. I would arrive in Paris before my internship without having to search frantically for an apartment or find interim housing. What was even more fortuitous was way back when I was booking tickets to Israel, it turned out I had a choice of a very short stopover from Bangalore-Paris to Paris-Israel or a 10 hour stopover. I really didn't want to stretch my trip out, I mean what was I going to do for 10 hours in Paris with all of my luggage? But I also didn't want to get stuck missing my connecting flight. So I opted grudgingly for the 10 hour stopover. I can't imagining it having worked out better. Because you see we subsequently discovered Ariane and made arrangements with her and I ended up being able to go see the apartment, meet her, drop off my luggage for storage in her basement, and put down our deposit! Not only that but freed of my luggage I could explore Paris a bit and wouldn't need to shlep it back-and-forth to Israel.

But things worked out even better than that for two reasons. It turns out Ariane is just the nicest person. And the apartment was really nice as well - it was a sunny duplex at the top of the building with floor to ceiling windows that opened completely unto what I'd describe as an-almost-balcony. A tiny refrigerator was more than offset by a real oven (oh how I've missed thee), a washing machine, and a real dishwasher! I loved the place, the only drawback being that the sole bathroom was upstairs through the master bedroom - it will make having guests a bit more difficult, but we are still looking forward to hosting. I don't have much French, but from the little I know the perfect word to describe her apartment is charmante. After making me tea at the apartment and showing me around the building (and waiting patiently while I took care of getting the Citibank customer service rep to manually set the permissions so I could take out enough money from the ATM), Ariane began showing me around the neighborhood - and what a lovely neighborhood it was. Then there was the second thing - my friend Jen who recently married a Parisian was in town visiting the in-laws for the chaggim. So she came and met us and we all walked around together. We passed quaint shops and cafes. Shops in Paris are fantastic - instead of simply going to a supermarket, they have specialty shops. You get your bread at the bread store, your cheese at the cheese store, your fruits and vegetables at the fruit and vegetable store. Heck right down the street from us we passed a store which sells only honey - all different honeyies (and for those of you who know my love of honey, you know how excited this made me ;-)

I really needed some new bacteria for my stomach and was also quite hungry so our first two stops were to grab a 4 pack of activa yogurt and my first French baguette (the above picture of Jen and Ariane is outside the Boulongerie where I bought the baguette - Jen is on the left, Ariane on the right)

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At this point, Ariane had to go and get some of her own stuff done, but she very kindly invited me to come to Le Marias where she was staying if I wanted to take a nap or shower before heading back to the airport (did I mention how kind she was). Jen and I spent most of the next hour or so wandering about the neighborhood. We had a baguette in a quaint nearby park, where I made a shechianu (blessing on something new) on my first French baguette - it was delicious.

After this we walked over to the nearby freshwater spring. Yes that is correct, a freshwater spring. Paris has almost no heavy industry and very strict pollution laws, which means that this 600 meter-deep spring produces mineral water as high quality as anything you'll get in a bottle. The residents walk to the fountain fed by this spring and fill their bottles and jubs to drink - Ariane tells me she goes twice a week on the average. In fact this spring is such a good water producer that the oldest municipal pool in France was built right adjacent, fed by the spring water - I can't wait to go swimming there! The water was copious and quite tasty. I hadn't been able drink water that hadn't been filtered and UV'd for months and here I was drinking straight out of a fountain in the middle of Paris fed by the freshest of freshwater springs. I felt refreshed and cleansed (got a whole bunch of it on my face an up my nose - which helped clear out some of my terrible congestion).

I then took a moment to enjoy the artwork drawn along the a wall across the street. On the same plaza was a quaint little tent - Jen and I did a bit of exploring and found it to be a tent for children's puppet show (so cute). We wandered about for a little while longer and then headed towards the Place D'Italie where I would take the train to Le Marias (by the point I was feeling a bit feverish again, strained from carrying my heavy bag, and just generally in need of a break). I bit Jen adieu at the Metropolitan and had a quick trip to Le Marias (I like subways but will write about the Paris Metro some other time).

When I exited the train I was right on the Seine river. I was really wiped but had to see it. How beautiful it looked in the afternoon light. The day had gotten quite warm and I was a bit sweaty, but the picnicing people at the riverside looked like they were emininently comfortable. I decided I was really looking forward to living in Paris :-) Traveling is nice, but it is so wonderful to be able to live in a place and really absorb it. I made my way to the apartment where Ariane was staying.

The walk to the apartment was a bit circuitious - mainly because I took a wrong turn. But it was a fairly nice wrong turn as I got to walk straight through the center of Jewish Paris. What I found was that they are obsessed with falafel. I saw more kosher falafel places (with people lining up to eat) on that block than I've seen since I got to Israel (if this is an exaggeration, it's not a big one). when entering the area I stopped a group of orthodox teens and asked them where kosher pizza (pizza kasher) could be found. The girls were really nice and helpful (although they didn't seem too sure on the pizzeria's location) but the boy who was with them was actually quite rude saying "Bye bye" and pushing the girls down the street. I'm really hoping that this isn't indicative of what I should expect in future dealings with the French Jewish community.

By this point my shoulders were really hurting (my carry on bag was still quite heavy), I was feeling sicker again and terribly exhausted. Thankfully it was only a short walk further and I arrived at address Ariane had given me. Her friend's place was gorgeous - two fully stories, beautiful furniture, kitchen, and a roof garden with a small tropical tree. Walking on the roof I got to savor even more of the fall - it was quiet hot in the sun and the stones the sun touched were quite warm, but those in the shade had a deliciously chilly feeling.

As August ended and September came in, I had begun to feel the end of the summer and that inoxerable, melancholy and beautiful pull the fall has. Every fall in the North-East I soak in those transitional days - the color of the leaves, the crispness of the air, the amazing golden quality of the sunlight, the change in the ocean that I find so difficult to describe but so relish on my all-too-infrequent autumn visits to the shore. But none of this was in India, they don't even have a season called fall (nor one called spring) - the seasons there are winter, summer, and two monsoons. Perhaps there was the slightest hint of fall in the air in Bangalore, or more likely my mind grabbed unto the slight cooling of days as September came through as some tangible manifestation of the fall season that was coursing through my veins, even though I was so far from home - like a transplanted temperate tree dropping its leaves in sultry weather. But for one day in Paris I truly got to enjoy fall. It wasn't quite the fall of home, the warm gulf-stream current moderates Frances climate too much for that. But it was so close, and so wonderful. I would have been very sad to have a year without fall and this was really a gift. As Yom Kippur quickly approaches fall is in the air here in Israel as well, but it's nowhere near the same (although it's still nice), and by the time I return to Paris at the month's end, fall will have transitioned to its dying phase, fall in a minor key, with few leaves left and the summer heat but a memory. I am truly blessed that things little and big have worked out so well for me. I know this is a difficult and scary time, but I'm truly feeling hopeful. I think this year will be one sealed for the good, despite its difficult beginning and I wish you all to be sealed for the good.

Perhaps continuing now is anticlimactic but I want to finish my Paris story. After arriving, I was able to take a shower (which really helped the feverishness that was returning), neti for the first time in 3 months (ironic that the only place I couldn't use the nasal cleansing technique developed in India b/c the water quaility was so bad) to clean out my clogged sinuses and change into a clean set of clothes. After really taking my time in the bathroom, I had only 20 minutes to nap, but I took advantage of them - swallowing down another container of yogurt and lying my broken body down on a couch. The clock ticked in the background and a fly buzzed, but otherwise there was nothing but silence. Silence was another thing I had really missed - it doesn't really exist in India, except in the deep wildnerness (which is a different thing and also usually full of cricket buzzing and other animal noises). I dozed.

I woke, packed, had a spot of tea and Ariane took me to the Metropolitan and helped me get the right ticket. But that wasn't all. Gracious as ever, she accompanied me all the way to the train that would take me to the airport so I wouldn't get lost. I said goodbye, looking forward to returning. Then I jumped on the train and began my journey again.

The ride was a bit hot, filled with the noisy conversation of some African-French men sitting across from me (I'm not sure why he needed to yell everything he said, but I liked his accent at least - couldn't understand a thing). Sunlight slanted in and in a daze I watched the suburbs pass me by. I arrived at the aiport found my way to the check-in, waited and was on my way again, now to Israel - to see my friends (mainly Efrat and Yair) and be reunited with Linda. But I'll tell you about that in a later post.

Shanah Tovah, v'Gemar Chatimah Tovah - Happy New Year and may be be sealed [in the book of judgement] for the good.

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