Tag Archive: france

the french bath

in october of 2007 i spent a week in paris visiting museum collections.  while i did chronicle some of those experiences here, i had the best of intentions for others but never got around to them.

well, i re-read my travel journal the other day and feel the time has come to tell you about the place i stayed during that week.  here is what i recorded about my b&b in paris:

‘marble floors, carved wooden furniture with gilt accents, curly brass fixtures and candelabra, frou-frou knickknacks and figurines.  the whole nine yards.  my room has a very firm, but comfortable, double bed with a frilly white satin bedspread.

‘icing on the cake: the bathroom.  wow, the bathroom.  pink fixtures (tub, sink, toilet, and – i believe? – bidet, plus radiator, vanity and linens), ornate black tile walls, mirrors in elaborate brass frames (about four of them, including one over the tub), countless bottles of cosmetics and lotions.  scented pink toilet paper dispensed in small, individual squares.  interestingly, taps all pretty much require a wrench to turn off completely, as i discovered when i tried the cold tap on the ?bidet out of curiosity – just wanted to see what the water actually did in there!

‘shower is a true engineering marvel, packing maximum inconvenience into a small area.  shower head hangs on a prong at waist level.  endlessly perplexing – does one sit under it or hold it while in use?  shower-head weighs about 3kg, so holding is tiring; the balancing kneel/crouch option is also not ideal.  pressure is so high and holes so tiny that the shower-head is like a water-blaster – tolerable on thickly padded scalp, excruciating on, say, nipples.  tried to soften the spray during first shower by turning the taps way down – resulted in sinusoidal temperature fluctuation between pleasant and antarctic, about once a minute.  an additional problem of the high-pressure head: the shower curtain is quite flimsy, tending to blow inward and stick clammily to the bather, but also does not reach the edges of the tub, so keeping shower spray contained while in holding-the-head mode requires extreme concentration.  finally, a stream of searingly hot water dribbles constantly from the tub spigot exactly where one’s feet are normally positioned.  did get the general hang of this by the end of the week, but the first shower (after the 46-hour trip from nz, lest the importance of this shower be overlooked) was pretty much spent frantically hopping around, and required a large number of the helpfully abundant pink towels for post-shower mopping.’

paris is for louvres

most of my sightseeing in paris was confined to the evening hours, so i had occasion to see many things in their illuminated states, such as this nice little place near rue mouffetard

and the pantheon.

this also meant that i returned to the b&b under cover of darkness.  although it was quite pretty during the day

it became quite magical at night.

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désolé, je suis idiot

one of the few things i don’t like about traveling is the knowledge that sometime (or many times) during the journey, i will look like a complete idiot.  it’s inevitable and i have to accept it, but man, i hate making an ass of myself.  this is why i try to stumble along in french rather than demanding immediately that everyone around me speak english – if they take pity on me and switch to anglais (whether because they really don’t understand me, or because they’re laughing too hard – i recommend reading david sedaris’ story ‘me talk pretty one day’), at least i tried.

i have been missing the pebbles in paris, for many reasons.  (primarily, of course, because i liiiiiiike him.)  it would be great to ooh and ahh at the impressive buildings together, to hold hands along the seine, to marvel at little strange things, like the woman in a business suit carrying her pet ferret in her handbag.  he has also been to paris before, so his local knowledge would be handy.  but the time i really miss him most is at meals.  eating alone is never particularly nice, although the true excellence of the food here helps.  but the whole eating process is probably the one regular daily event that causes me the most anxiety – will i inadvertently order snails?  (i tried to make sure before arriving that i could recognize the words for things i definitely didn’t want to eat, but it’s alarming how often completely unheralded ingredients turn up in what i order.)  will the waitstaff understand me and/or (please no) ask me complicated questions about what i ordered?  will i inadvertently perform some heinous breach of table etiquette?  i have taken to ordering take-away food and eating outside, partly because the weather is surprisingly nice and partly to minimize contact with the sometimes kindly, sometimes snidely onlooking staff and fellow customers.

one thing that eases the sting of mealtime idiocy is the knowledge that the encounters are brief (even when dining in), and that your faux pas will likely be forgotten shortly afterward.  unless you do something really memorable, and then you might get laughed about over someone else’s dinner table later.  but you never see them again, so it’s ok.

well, yesterday i packed a goodly amount of incompetence into one such brief encounter.  first i ordered from the blackboard menu, which presented its own challenge, since the sandwiches didn’t have names.  i tried le deuxieme sandwich traditional, s'il vous plaît (‘the second traditional sandwich, please’ since the heading was sandwich traditional), then began reading the ingredients off when the guy turned around to look at the menu.  he turned back, shook his head, said something and pointed to the other end of the bar, where a few deli sandwiches were left in the glass case.  so i headed that way and picked out one labelled mozzarella & tomato (discovering later that smoked chicken had also mysteriously been included), and headed back to the register with it.  the price on the label was listed as €5.90, so i had exact change ready and was even waiting to hear cinq euro, quatre-vingts-dix (and please don’t get me started on french numbers, because who thought ‘four twenties plus ten’ was an efficient way to say ‘ninety’?!?) but by this time the guy was speaking english to me, albeit quite softly in a noisy room.  so i didn’t quite catch what he said, but dutifully handed over my €5 note and about fifteen coins totalling €0.90, including a bunch of one and two-cent pieces.  he looked at me somewhat askance as he counted them meaningfully, one by one, into the register, so i smiled apologetically for handing over all my shrapnel. 

then he pulled out four twenty-cent pieces and gave them back to me, along with a receipt for €5.10.

i fled.

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i went to that famous big metal thing. 

there's a lot of weird rugby stuff around it at the moment.

and i get to walk through the jardin des plantes every day, since that's where i'm working.

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notre dame

my luck strikes again. 

last year when i visited the smithsonian, it rained so hard the natural history museum flooded and i lost 4 days' worth of research time.  so it really shouldn't have surprised me to learn, when i turned up at the museum yesterday morning, that there was an alcohol leak in the zootheque (where the collections are), so there was no access all day.  tres bien.

i used the morning to go through the catalogue of the collections and make sure i had a list of everything i wanted to see, then toddled off in the afternoon to take in some more scenery, this time walking along the left bank of the seine to the ile de la cité, where notre dame is.  it truly is very impressive, so i won't say much more about it, letting the photos speak for themselves.  except, i have to say the 7800-pipe organ sounded pretty fabulous.

for the record, my love affair with france continues – the keyboards here are driving me crazy.  here's the problem – if i type 'normally' (i realize how subjective that is), here's what comes out:  the auick broan fox ju,ped over the lqwy dog.  not to mention the punctuation – every punctuation key is different.

oh, and a pigeon shat on my head.

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as threatened, greetings from paris.

i arrived yesterday on a high-speed train (maxing at 320 km/h!!) from frankfurt, dazed after a full 54 hours of travel, to find that my extremely rudimentary french was not anywhere near sufficient to figure out by myself how to get where i needed to go.  oh, i can talk up a storm, probably curling the ears of all within a 50m radius, but understanding the responses?  not so much.

i did eventually make it to the bed & breakfast where i’m staying (worth its own entry – it has a bidet for cripes’ sake), and then, like any sensible person, heaved a sigh of relief, dropped everything and went straight to sleep.  wait, no i didn’t – now i remember, i went back into town to look around.  because we’re glutton for punishment, me and my enfant-level francais.  mais oui.  so we strolled from the arc d’triomphe along the champs elysees to the louvre, whispering sweet nothings to each other, which i unfortunately can’t report here because if i had to pick one particular french language weakness of mine (difficult, because they are all nearly tied for dead last), it would be the spelling.  so i’ll spare you that.

as night fell, i managed to find my way back to a train station and head in the right direction before extreme fatigue finally caught up with me, causing my head to loll comically on the ride home and my ticket to slip from my narcoleptic fingers about ten times.  on the walk home from the station, i stopped it at a chinese restaurant (oh, the irony) and had a within-budget bowl of hot-and-sour soup (‘potage pekinois’ in case you needed to know), staggered home and died for about eleven hours.

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