It’s been quite some time since my last entry and we have a lot to catch up on: lunching with countesses, oven-less Thanksgiving, castles galore! Indeed, there are many posts to come. But first, I must share with you a tale from yesterday. I feel I owe you a warning in case you ever find yourself at a French Christmas market.
I spent yesterday working in my apartment with the curtains drawn, only to find that by the time I finished, the sun had already set. Determined to leave my couch, I took myself on a walk to the nearby Christmas market where I wandered through the warmly lit stalls, surrounded by overjoyed children and vendors selling handmade ornaments. Although the trees were a tad smaller, the Christmas lights glimmered not with a golden glow but with a bright blue tint, and the Santa was certainly less plump, I concluded that French Christmas markets live up to the joy of their American counterparts, perhaps with just a bit more angst.
But as I stood admiring the seasonal baked goods of a particularly jolly boulanger, I noticed that the odd music drifting through the market was getting closer. Naturally, upon hearing such a clatter, I turned to see what was the matter, only to find that I was within an arm’s reach of my worst nightmare: dancing mimes on stilts.
Suppressing a shriek of terror and nearly knocking over a stall in my clambering backwards, I ran from the most unsettling thing I have ever seen: three winged mimes with white painted faces swaying on stilts to the eery mechanical music of a sound system pedaled along by a fourth swaying mime. From my pitiful hiding spot behind a scraggly French Christmas tree (American Christmas trees are much better hiding spots) I marveled at the fact that the nearby Parisians seemed entertained by this sight and regained enough good sense to whip out my camera. So here you have it, a French Christmas market complete with dancing mimes on stilts. You have been warned:
Here’s a fun game to play the next time you’re in Paris: find a Parisian and tell them that you’d like to purchase monthly metro pass. A look of distress will shoot across their face and the color will drain from their cheeks. They will throw up their hands and gasp something along the lines of, “Ooh, le Navigo! But you will never return!”
Obtaining a monthly subway pass in New York City is simple. You stroll up to any of the automated ticket machines, select a 30-day pass, and part begrudgingly with your hard-earned $112. So I was perplexed when several even-tempered Parisians nearly fell from their chairs when questioned about the dreaded Navigo Mensuel. I now understand:
15:00. Ticker: 446. I locate the Navigo office easily: it has a line of 30 people stretched out of what appears to be a very complicated door system. I head to the back of the line. I look like I know what I’m doing.
15:15. Ticker: 453. I notice that newbies to the line are pulling numbers from a machine near the doors. I quickly snatch a slip of paper from the dispenser: 508. The ticker inside displays 453. I once again head to the back of the line. I no longer look like I know what I’m doing.
16:00. Ticker: 479. An employee emerges from behind the mysterious sliding doors and begins presorting the line dwellers. In French. I try to decode the numbers she is reading off her list.
16:05. Ticker: 483. The employee approaches and I mutter something that sounds vaguely like, “Navigo Menseul for one, please.” This is not the magic password as I had hoped.
16:10. Ticker: 487. After a lengthy display of my French ineptitude, I am bumped from the line dwellers and emerge from the station. I must obtain a letter from my company stating my employment, address, and honorable intentions.
16:11. Ticker: unknown. I stop mid-step, pondering the probability of my returning to the office, obtaining said letter, and returning to the metro station before the ticker reaches 508. Mission accepted, I take off in a mad dash, searching my pockets for crumpled number 508.
16:20. Ticker unknown. I burst, disheveled, into the HR department, startling several quiet Parisians. I quickly babble, “I tried to get my Navigo…” and was treated to a chorus of French empathy. Frantic work begins on my letter.
16:30. Ticker unknown. I fly across La Défense, scarf whipping in the wind, a still-warm letter clutched in my fist.
16:39. Ticker: 506. I skid to a stop in front of the Navigo office, my letter now rather wrinkled. The ticker displays 506. I squeeze my way through unfamiliar line dwellers and examine the overly complicated door system.
16:40. Ticker: 507. I squeeze through the doors behind Mr. 507 and emerge in a waiting room complete with brochures displaying model families glamorously using their Navigos. I am envious of their perfectly coiffed hair.
16:42. Ticker 508. I move to one of the ticket windows, placing my passport, cash, all-important letter, and dictionary on the counter. The woman laughs at my attempted humor and begins entering my information.
16:50: Ticker 511. The woman suddenly snaps my picture and prints the precious card. I look like a content chipmunk in the photo, happy to have successfully navigated the maze that is Navigo.
You can buy a baguette without being a real Parisian. You can wear a scarf without being a real Parisian. You can even rent a Parisian apartment without being a real Parisian. The mark of a true Parisian? Le Navigo, of which yours truly is now a proud owner: watch out world!
Je suis arrivée – I have officially arrived in Paris! After a fairly confused taxi ride with a well-meaning driver, (who didn’t speak English and then got lost) my two overweight suitcases and I have beat all the odds and made it to France in one piece. So as soon as my current novels were neatly stacked on the bedside table, I donned my most Parisian outfit and ventured out to explore the neighborhood.
My first stop was La Défense, the business district. As it’s Sunday, this maze of glass towers, tunnels, dead-ends, and bridges was eerily deserted. I assumed everyone was home eating cheese. Luckily, my tower is easy to find, as the company name is displayed proudly right across the top! The second stop in my exploration was Île du Pont, a small island park in the middle of the Seine. When a surprise rain shower hit, everyone took cover under the still-green trees. From under my willow tree, I watched several French couples peek out from under the branches, planning their escape routes. It was a delightful moment and I’ve decided to hide under trees more often. Last in my exploration was Neuilly, my soon-to-be stomping grounds. Filled with tree-lined streets and gorgeous old architecture, the neighborhood is in every way Parisian. And I discovered that my apartment is directly above a supermarket – let the fun begin!
Then in preparation for my first Parisian dinner, I wandered the streets, searching for the perfect baguette. This proved to be a challenge, as there is a boulangerie glowing warmly on every corner, each more delightful than the next. I selected a small bakery with a line curled around the counter and a happy couple munching on baguettes in front of the window. Buying a single baguette (in French, mind you), I tore off the end to eat right away, as instructed my darling sister. And as I strolled down the leaf-covered sidewalk, the baguette peeked jauntily out of my bag, seeming to hum happily: “Bienvenue à Paris!”