Saturday, March 27, 2010

Impressions of Paris 2010

This I hope to be the last time I make a non-movie posting, but I felt I should record some of my impressions of London/Paris before I forget.

It was certainly a magical week in the Foggy Streets of London Town and the City of Lights. In London my personal highlight was going to 221 B Baker Street. I've always loved the Sherlock Holmes stories (the film, not so much). It was strange that at the Churchill Museum & War Cabinet Rooms I got emotional watching footage of his state funeral. I've always been a great admirer of his when it came to his wartime leadership (though he was completely wrong on his views on Indian self-rule).
I also enjoyed the theater show Dreamboats and Petticoats. Many in my group weren't too thrilled, and though I would have rather have seen a bigger show (The Phantom of the Opera or perhaps Love Never Dies) I found it quite charming. The Tube system was quite easy to use and I was treated very well. Londoners are very friendly. My only regrets were not being able to see friends that live there or seeing anything Doctor Who related. I would also advise you to take a side trip to Bath--the Roman spa is magnificent. I know there were some who were disappointed in Stonehenge, but I thought it was remarkable. You could make a whole day out of the British Museum, so take an hour or two to look around and see all the splendours of the Empire. I will confess the Elgin Marbles were smaller than I thought they'd be, but for the moment it's as close to Greece as I've gotten.

Now, as for Paris, the highlight will always be the night at the Moulin Rouge. Yes they can-can-can. The show, Féerie, was absolutely fantastique, tres magnifique, shall we say. Be forewarned: with the exception of the side acts (a juggler, a pair of acrobats, and an amazing ventriloquist) the girls are almost always topless. It is a very glamourous, lavish production, but if seeing women expose their breasts en masse is offensive, you won't want to go. I found the food there absolutely delicious. Afterwards, a group of us went to a nearby pub, O'Sullivan's I think it was called, where I had a pint or two...or four. I don't think that's too much, do you? Needless to say, I had lots of fun that night and still managed to function quite well at the Louvre and Versailles.

If you go to Paris, you MUST take a side trip to Versailles. It is the Citizen Kane of palaces. Like the British Museum, you could take a day or two to see everything there and in the Louvre, but here's another tip: be ready to fight your way to see the Mona Lisa. It's a small painting, especially compared to what it's facing: the massive Wedding Feast at Cana. Also, watch out for Gypsies and West Africans at Notre Dame (not the university, though it would help if you're a Fighting Irishman) and the Church of Sacre Coer respectively. It's best to ignore them and respond "Non" if you're asked "Speak English?" They are easy to identify with their slightly ragged clothes.

Now, for THE BIG QUESTION: Are the French rude? I can only speak for myself and none of the people who travelled with me. I was treated quite well by the Parisians. I won't say that they were outgoing and that they greeted me with kisses or hugs but they were at the very least very civil and pleasant with me. I had no problems getting around even with my extremely limited French (most understood English) and I can't complain about how I was treated. I must add the caveats that A.) I don't have a typical "American" look (more Spaniard/Mexican looking am I--I was once greeted in Spanish while there) and B.) the majority of people I dealt with are in the service industry that deals with foreigners, especially English-speakers (Americans, Canadians, British, Australians).

I will say that we as Americans should do our best to learn their language while visiting their country. It's wrong to have others learn English and us not reciprocate. I don't mean we have to be super-fluent but at least a few key phrases (Where is..., What time...) would be helpful. We must remember, we are visiting THEIR country and can't expect Paris (or London) to be exactly like New York or El Paso. On the other side of the coin, Parisians should remember the first rule of being good hosts: you treat your guests with respect, not contempt. It should not be an inconvinience to take a few moments out of your day to help someone who asks. You should make your guests feel welcome, not paranoid. Civility should be a trait common to all people.

Finally, the people I met. Here are some impressions. There were the Australians: our tour guide Dave, Paul from Sydney and Brittany from Perth. They confirmed what I've been told about Aussies: they're the most fun-loving and partying people on Earth. They were all great fun to be with: so friendly, always up for a good time. I now want to go Down Under (which I understand is the National Anthem of Australia).

There were at least three South Africans that I knew of. There was Mohamed and Adila, a very nice couple from outside Johannesburg who I got to know a little on my last day. There was also Nyiko. She works for the federal goverment and she was the epitome of the glamour girl. Nyiko would always "strike a pose" whenever she had her picture taken and is the only person I know who had her picture taken next to a pair of shoes. Being a guy I would find that odd. There was Ken (or Kentaro) from Japan, and it's been my experience that the Japanese are very friendly. Ken was no exception, though I didn't do much with him unfortunately. There was also another nice couple (there were tons of couples) from Kuala Lumpur as well as one from West Virginia.

Most of the people I knew were American, and oddly, a healthly group of New Yorkers. There was Sandra, who is the only other librarian I've met outside my work circle. There was Niles, fresh out of the Police Academy. Lou is from Connecticut but that's pretty close, isn't it? There was Lawrence, who I think works in finance and struck me as a very cool guy. Ashley is from Chicago and while with her red hair you'd think she was an all-Irish girl she actually I think is more Polish (though with Irish ancestry too). Go figure.

Margarita is Russian-born but fiercely proud of her American home. I find it the case that naturalized citizens are prouder of their country than native-born citizens. Stephanie is a California transplant but she to me was your regular California Girl (she's the one who called them "blonde moments" not me). There was Elvira and her niece Alicia and I think they were from California too (don't hold me to that). I shared a room in Paris with Steve, who I think works with research on communicable diseases (worthy endeavour I think).

With a group of about 57 people, it would impossible to remember all of them (at the Louvre, I mixed up two people's names TWICE). I regret not knowing them all, but I certainly enjoyed my time will the people I was with.

Well, that is it for my London/Paris adventure. Some in the group went home right after, some stayed in Paris a couple of extra days, some went back to London for a couple of days, some went off to Rome and some to Amsterdam. I hope to hear from them soon. As for myself, they were wonderful days with wonderful people. I love to travel but I will admit I love coming back home to that West Texas town of El Paso. Still, "the last time I saw Paris/her heart was warm and gay/no matter how they change her/I'll remember her that way".

At least now I can truly say, "We'll always have Paris". A la prochaine mes amis.

1 comment:

  1. Thats sooo cool man, if I were to go to Europe I
    'd travel to Italy and then Sicily...and I'd go visit Corleone.


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