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Kicking It: A Month in Paris Day 3

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal

Special to The Village News

Oct. 4, 2012: After walking back to our apartment last night in the drizzly rain from the market, we made a simple meal of grilled chicken breast, a butter leaf lettuce salad, fresh spinach tortellini with pesto, and a bottle of red table wine. Quick learners, in just two days, we know not to walk up the 59 stairs unless we carry a fresh baguette under each arm.

Sleeping erratically last night, we seem to still be on California time; no doubt, it’s gonna take a few days to adjust.

That said, we do have errands to run this morning because our Waterpik crashed and melted last night. For whatever reason, the wall-converter plug didn’t convert the 240v electricity down to 110v. Instead, it surged through the plug and caused irreparable damage as evidenced by the blackened wall plug in VJ’s hand. His devastation is without bounds. Oh, well.

Now we have two things on our ‘honey-do list’ on this sunny day. We’ll need to find a new Waterpik, but first we need to get a bus pass for each of us.

It’s still too early to go anywhere (it’s not even 07:00 – see how quickly I’m adjusting? The French use a 24-hour clock), so we are enjoying our morning cup of robust Arabic coffee.

As VJ goes in the front bedroom to practice his violin, I lean back to take a closer look at our space. Between two of the front-facing tall windows along the street wall sits a beautiful 18th century walnut writing desk I somehow overlooked before. Its drop front is inlaid with exotic woods and appears too delicate to use, yet lovely to look at.

By 10:00 a.m., we are ready to find a nearby metro station. As it turns out, metro stations are easy to spot. Every one of them is marked by an ornate, filigree metal work arch above the stairs at the entrance. We walk over to our nearest station on Boulevard St. Germain at rue de Bac and down the steps. It so happens, we are greeted by Paris’ friendliest person standing behind a wall of thick glass. Stephan informs us we can get help from any office located near the turnstiles. He is so pleased to be talking with actual Americans, he greets us like his long-lost cousins. Gosh, I hope everybody is this friendly.

Surprise. According to Stephen, we qualify for the cheaper 30-day Metro Pass because we’re staying so long in the city. That means we will need a photo to put on our pass cards. Not having extra pictures at hand, our new best friend Stephan directs us back up the stairs to a nearby post office. We return with new pictures in hand and copies of our passports. We had to confirm our senior status before he could officially process our paperwork.

Apparently, we can use these cards on buses, local trains, and subways. Sixty (60) euros each. Such a deal. This seems like a good decision.

After the Waterpik debacle last night, we need to find a store with the French equivalent. Well, French stores do not carry the same inventory as ours do back home.

Therefore, with our new bus passes in hand, we set off to the FNAC. We couldn’t locate the store, even after being told it was right at the bus stop, which it wasn’t. Stopping several people on the street for directions, some pretended not to understand by answering with that infernal shoulder shrug before striding away, before a young man took mercy on me and showed us where it was around the corner.

Bang. While many things differ in the way stores are organized here, the help is the same as the U.S., they are all invisible. Strolling up and down the aisles, I finally flushed out a fellow wearing a name tag. Mathew takes us to the display shelf. Well, damn. Compared to what we paid for our travel size Waterpik, the French replacement costs four times as much! At 200 euros for the smallest one, we vow to use more dental floss.

This bus pass is looking better and better. I must be a genius!

Naturally, now I have to pee. Lucky for me, the French have even figured this out. Located near the entrances to the Metro stations and costing about twenty cents to use are public toilets. Of course, I make VJ go in first. For the most part, it’s pretty tidy.

Standing outside in front of the “convenience,” reading my city map, yes, my map, VJ has a proclivity for refolding maps to the precise bends set by the printer, ergo, we never share. Resulting in his and her maps.

Flipping the map around, to get my bearings, a well-dressed lady pauses long enough to ask, in perfect English, if I “need directions”? Her impeccable English is better than mine, so pulling out my best manners, I thank her for being a thoughtful citizen.

She then adds that her English has improved after making many visits to her sister in Redding, California. Further adding, she goes when she can to help her sister with the kids because the lady was deserted by her military husband. He left her behind with seven children. Well, that’s an ugly American story. Wow.

It’s now well past lunchtime so we pop in for fresh baguettes to make chicken sandwiches. We just get the dishes cleared away when Sonia stops by to show us how to reset the TV, how to dial out for local calls, and how to sign on the internet.

When Sonia leaves, VJ decides to stay back and practice, so I head out on the bus to the nearest tourist office. While there, I load up on doubles of everything like maps of the city and surrounding areas, discount coupons, excursions, and buy us each a 4-day museum pass.

We head out again before dark to the Mon Prix to scrounge for supper. We’ve been told often enough that Paris is the first city across France to get the best of everything. That said, it does too often come at a premium. As if that could explain away why eight shrimp cost so much. Ok, they are large and look like they may have swum into the store, but isn’t $20 U.S. a bit much? Really? We get sticker shock every time we go to the grocery store.

Now that we can turn on the television…it’s still a bust. The English-speaking stations continue to cycle through the same tired world news and even when I finally do find two movies “Top Gun” and “The Terminator,” they are both over-dubbed in French and neither one has English subtitles.

I flick it off and call it a day.

to be continued…

Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected].


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