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Sunday, April 15, 2012

My First View of Paris

   After all of the planning, all of the speculating, and all of the advice offered to us, we are finally in Paris, France.
   Leaving in the late afternoon from Houston, Texas, we were encouraged to sleep for much of the flight so that when we arrived in the morning, which would still be the middle of night for our internal clocks, we would already begin to change over to the local time in Paris.  Jennifer had no trouble doing this.  I was not as fortunate, and slept only a little.  I spent most of the night in the darkened cabin, surrounded by my sleeping fellow passengers, watching the in-seat monitor display our location over the great blue sea.  It told me we were 1800 miles out from Paris.  That is about as isolated as you’d want to get from civilization.  But Air France carried us safely across, and we did not have to test our safety devices that were stored under our seats.
   We arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport without incident, having flown 5000 miles across an ocean that was once the bane of many a world traveler.  Getting a bird’s eye view of Ireland and Great Britain, we crossed the English Channel and landed quite safely on a cold, windy morning.  After joining in with the rush of morning arrivals, we slipped through check-pointe Charles and found our luggage riding a slow, black roller-coaster.  We had arrived.
   After making my first coffee purchase in French, and handing the cup to my wife, we then made the shuttle/metro run into the city.  Our goal was simply to make it to the apartment.  The Air France Shuttle dropped us off at Gare Montparnasse, where we were a bit perplexed to find a complete lack of taxis.  So we bravely entered the Metro system with all of our bags, the one thing we had been warned not to do for fear that we would be easy pickings for the pickpockets.  Now, despite the long walks through the many tunnels, and our need to portage our luggage up and down many flights of stairs, we did indeed ride the metro to our metro stop without any trouble, and when we came up the steps at St. Sulpice, we were just a few steps from our apartment.
  Just a note on the Metro and Parisians.  We were helped by a young man at the entrance gate, when one of our bags became stuck in the ticket gate.  Also, when I was busy carrying luggage up one flight of steps, and Jennifer was waiting for me to come back for the last big bag, three different men offered to carry the bag for Jennifer.  At no time did I think anyone around us was rude or full of ill-intent.  Certainly no more than one might find in Chicago or New York City.  (In fact, so far, the only rudeness I have seen was from the many Americans at the Houston Airport who were anxious to board the plane and did not care who they pushed out of the way.)  However, we have made an effort to speak the language, no matter how limited our knowledge is, and we will not begin a conversation by saying "do you speak English?"  It puts the burden on us to communicate, but it also seems to earn us some sympathy.  Unfortunately, the better we speak, the quicker the local response, since they assume we speak the language well.  But I get the feeling it would not take long to pick up much of what is being said.  If any of you world travelers out there have any advice for us on this subject, please don't hesitate to leave comments.  I would especially love to hear from readers in France who can give me some local insight.  Merci, merci!
   As tired as we were, we made a quick tour of the nearby Eglise St. Sulpice.  It is stunning.  As our first European cathedral, it was a great place to start.  Even as familiar as we are with St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, there is no comparison.  I'm not sure I can explain what I mean.  Its stone edifice is so much more substantial that what I have seen in the United States.  You can feel the weight of the years upon it.  This is no recent construction.  And you don't need a guidebook to tell you that.  (For those interested, the original building was begun in the 13th century.  Most of the additions were added by 1732).  The square in front of the church was nearly deserted, and there was a service being performed inside, so we did not explore the interior.
   And now, as night falls over the city, and I settle down to begin Hemingway's Paris memoirs, A Movable Feast, I will say, bonne nuit and au revoir.

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