Monday, April 26, 2004

France: Simply, "Le Bomb"

Who knew being "French" could be so damn fun?

For the past two weeks, I had been giving Michelle a preview of what exactly I was going to do once I got to Paris; transform into the stereotypical Frenchman who doesn't care about anything else but to try and make everyone else around him feel his pain of being a proud, yet stricken, man. At random, I would let out a short, but distinctly French laugh to let Michelle know of the impending situation she was in for once we left for Paris:

"Ho, ho, hurr!"

And it was then that I ceased to exist as you know all know me, and a new version had arisen; Ray, le Heartless.

Of course, Michelle really hadn't fully comprehended just what kind of trouble she was in once Giselle arrived from New York on Thursday. She suspected Giselle was going to follow along with the whole "French" theme, but I don't think she could fully fathom just how far we would go, or how hilarious we would be.

Gis arrived early on Thursday morning, and, after experiencing a horrible flight on British Airways, where she was forced to sit next to one of those people who don't fully grasp the concept of the daily shower, the first thing she did was puke after about two hours or so in London. (No, London isn't so horrible that you want to puke the minute you get here after seeing it) So, she was pretty much down for the count on her first day.

While Giselle went about getting to know the insides of my toilet real well, I was on a mad dash to try and get as much work done as I could before I left for Paris the next morning. Work had piled up, and it was imperative that it all get done before I leave, or else I would suffer the consequences the next week. (Well, basically, in a nut shell, I didn't succeed all that well, and as a result, I'm sitting here now, still inundated with school work.) I ran back and forth around London, paying some visits, getting some books, and conducting the research I needed to finish some of my papers. Michelle was in the same boat, struggling to get all her work done in time before our pending self-imposed deadline of Thursday evening.

Well, Friday came, and, despite our fruitless efforts to meet our deadline, we woke up mad early to meet up with the bus that was going to drive us into Paris. We opted to take a coach tour with this student travel organization called "Travel and Treats," mostly because the prices that they were offering for the weekend (including accommodation) were pretty good when compared to other options. Paris is about 6 hours driving away from London, so that would be 6 hours that we would spend cramped on a bus, but nonetheless, it was actually a good way to go. We got to see the beautiful and unparalleled French countryside as we were getting deeper and deeper into the country. To get across the English Channel, the bus went to Fauxton, England to hop on the EuroTunnel, a train that travels to continental Europe via an underwater tunnel. Now, instead of us getting off the bus and hopping into a passenger area, instead, our bus driver actually drove into the train. It was crazy. It's a unique feeling being inside of a moving vehicle that is inside yet another, much larger one.

The bus ride was decent. The only upsetting part of the entire ride was when, after Michelle, Gis, and I tried to sit across from each other, I was promptly knocked away by these American bitches who were completely anal about sitting in their "assigned" seats. I'm like, "you fucking bitches. There are 56 seats on this bus, and there are only 17 people who are going to Paris..." But, I got up, and sat in my "assigned" seat, which was one row ahead of theirs. I made sure they saw my displeasure, and I also maintained by conviction to keep on conversing with Mish and Gis. So, I talked over them by leaning back and invading their space. The stupid part was that their friends were across from my assigned we could've easily switched or something. But, no. Bitches gotta be anal.

So, when our bus made it to the Paris area, our tour leader, an English guy named "Bob" started informing the group about Paris, giving us the heads up on the most common French phrases and little tidbits of history here and there. We eventually made it to our hotel, which was just outside the Parisian city limits. The hotel was decent, and the plus for me was that I had my own room with a king size bed to myself. It was beautiful shit. I turned on the TV to get a sense of French TV, but after about five minutes, I gave up and switched to BBC World, and promptly fell asleep to the sound of that good ol' "BBC English." I was too tired to concentrate on trying to pick out French words I knew. It was all about comfort, baby.

The next thing I knew, I was getting knocked out the bed by the girls, who freaking beat down my door like they were the freaking police. "We gotta go!" I got dressed in five minutes, and ran downstairs to rejoin the bus tour for that evening. I got a couple of stares here and there from the people on the bus, who were probably saying to themselves, "fucking colored people, always gotta be late." It was 6:00, and I was getting grilled because I got there at 6:01. And I thought this was supposed to be a mini-vacation. (Subsequently, Bob asked the girls about something with regards to where I was from, and they replied that I was Latino, and he made a comment to the extent of, "oh, well, that explains why he has such a relaxed attitude about life." They should've just said, "nah, that's just Ray." I guess our stereotypes reach beyond the American shores)

We headed back in the Paris area, and were dropped off in the Monmontre area, the 42nd Street of Paris. The Moulin Rouge was there (which really wasn't anything like all of us had imagined in terms of splendor. And the price to get in certainly was prohibitive. Fucking 80 Euros. To that, I was like, "Le Fuck You!!!") We abandoned the tour group, which was off to a restaurant that was serving nothing but fish and escargo. I'm like, "chill doggy." I'm all about trying something different, but fuck that shit. I don't like fish, and I wasn't about to eat snails. So, off they went, and we went about our own way down Rue de Clichy searching for some good, cheap food. We eventually ran into an Italian restaurant that proved to be pretty good. We got mad full off the food, though, and neither of us could finish our plates completely. Our waiter freaking looked at us like he was getting ready to kill us all. "What?! You're done?! You didn't like it?! It wasn't good for you?!" We were just like, "man, we're just full." The waiter freaking looked like he was about to go "le bonkers." He returned to the kitchen looking like he had the conviction to go and riddle the chef with bullets for serving sub-par food. I think that's the last time I ever leave a morsel of food on my plate in Europe. (unless I legitimately do not like it)

While we were on our search for something edible to eat, I ran into a small menswear boutique, looking for a new shirt to buy while I was out there. I figured, "hey, I've been wearing the same shit for awhile now, so it's time to spruce up the wardrobe a little bit and add some style and flair to it." So, I walk in, and this Parisian guy starts whipping out all these shirts after I told him in French that I wanted one suitable for clubbing and one that didn't have a breast pocket. After pulling out these nasty looking colors and styles, I finally saw one I could roll with, so, I let him know that I wanted that one. At least I thought I did. I meant to tell him in French that "I want that shirt; it looks real good." Instead, I told him, "I want that shirt well-cooked." He looked at me, and said in English, "are you sure?" I realized my mistake, and corrected myself, but he understood what I really meant. Still, imagine, though. He must've been like, "le stupide." So, yeah, that was French faux pas #1.

Now, throughout the entire weekend, Gis and I just walked around and talked in pseudo-French accents. Basically, the formula was to add "le" in front of everything and sound like we were constipated. Highlights of our craziness include us running across the streets screaming, "Le Charge!!!!" and us saying, "We are French!!" There were times when actual French people would see us and hear us, though I don't know if they realized what we were up to. For them, though, we already had an answer; "We are the REAL French, not you! Sacre bleu!" It was more than just popping up with the accent than every once in awhile. For us, it was a way of life while we were there. There was barely a time when we weren't in character. We went above and beyond even our own expectations and in some instances, our characters took over our personalities. Best example was when we were on the French Metro (the subway system in Paris), and I was trying to tell Michelle to move her legs so I could put my feet up on a chair. Except, I didn't ask her that way. Just out of nowhere, I barked, "Open your twat!" Even I was shocked that I said that. Michelle was like, "Well shit, you couldn't even sweet talk me? You're just all about getting right to the point? Damn son." It was surely a moment that the girls won't let me forget for a long time.

The rest of the first evening was spent taking a nighttime bus ride with Bob and the Gang through the major sites of Paris. It was a good opportunity for us to identify the major attractions we wanted to hit up whenever we had time of our own. During the ride, Bob tried to play comic relief for us, but his British humour wasn't working too well with us, or really anyone for that matter. (True Brit humour is all about making fun of yourself to the point where at home, we'd just be like, "God damn, man, fucking go see a psychologist." I didn't know whether to laugh or to feel sorry about the dear old chap.) But, he did crack a funny at one point that had me in tears. We were passing by Les Invalides, which is an old-folks home for prominent military people. It also doubles as the burial ground for Napoleon Bonaparte, and houses a well stocked museum for the French Army. Bob had mentioned that Napoleon was placed in there after he died a lonely death on the island of St. Helene, but his countrymen were in a tizzy over what to do with him. At first, they wanted to place parts of him throughout the corners of France, so that way, all of his people could have a "piece" of him (pun intended). So, they chopped him up into seven pieces and spread him throughout the country. But, then, after a little while, they realized that this wasn't the way a great Emperor should be treated, so they tried to bring his body back together again in Paris. They placed each part in huge, well-made coffins of different materials, such as mahogany, onyx, marble, and other precious building materials. And then, the French then placed those coffins inside Les Invalides for all to see and behold the former grand Emperor of France. There was one problem, though. Not all the body parts returned. Some Saudi Prince thought it would be cool to bribe someone into giving him Napoleon's 2-inch "dinky wink" so he could store it within his own personal collection of treasures. Bob told us to imagine the Prince inviting people over his place, and while they were there, he showed off his pride and joy; Napoleon's penis. Talk about owning the "seeds of an Empire..."

After our nice little night tour, we headed over to Champ du Mars to visit the Eiffel Tower. Now, we all know it's the most photographed spot in Paris, but the thing is, pictures don't manage to convey the sheer magnitude, size, or marvel of the Tower itself. Pictures really can't do the work, justice. The Eiffel Tower is indeed a sight to behold. I think it's cool how every hour at night, for the first ten minutes, the Tower's lights begin to flash little bulbs of red, white, and blue. Someone else from SU who headed to Paris before I did described the event as "the Eiffel Tower going gay," but in all seriousness, it really is marvelous, and lights up the Parisian skyline like nothing else. We didn't go up the Tower during our stay because the lines to get into it were ridiculous. Besides, as I pointed out, Paris itself doesn't have a captivating skyline without the Eiffel Tower, so, once you're inside of the Tower, what else is there to see? We were told one of the best vantage points of Paris is on top of the Arc du Triumph, where the Eiffel Tower is in plain view, along with the rest of the city. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to experience the view.

We chilled around that Eiffel Tower area for a little while longer, and then we opted to take the Metro to our hotel. Wow...the Parisian train system is gangsta. Basically, you get down into the station, and you hop on these double decker trains...but here's the thing...the trains are no where near as long as the station. (like, the station is 16 car lengths long, and the trains only have 6 cars.) So, on the first night, we're sitting at the end of the platform, and the train pulls into the station and whizzes right by us. We all look at each other, like, "what the fuck?" Finally, I see the train slowing down to come to a stop at the freaking other end of our platform. So, I scream, "It stopped!" and I just start booking it to the train. I basically left the girls behind as I sprinted over to get to the train doors. The girls caught up a little while later, but shit, man, we had to WORK to get to the damn train. The next evening, when we were taking the train back to our hotel again, we knew better and made sure to look for the signs that told us where the train was going to stop, but we saw some people on the other side of the station who didn't, and when their train pulled in, all you saw was a mad dash by 20 people to run to catch the train on the other side. It was freaking hilarious, and considering I knew all about their plight and pain, it made the experience that much funnier.

The rest of the weekend was spent visiting some of the other touristy areas of Paris. The boat ride along the Seine River was a nice little experience. We walked up and down (and up and down again) the huge ass Champ du Elysses, the most famed street in all of Europe. We saw the flagships of a couple of stores, such as Coach, Fendi, and others. (I remarked how it's weird seeing those labels on the side of stores that mark where they have other locations around the world, and seeing Paris on there without realizing that we actually were in Paris.) We almost got run over at the Arc du Triumph, trying to take a cool pic in front of the damn thing. We also hustled over to the Louvre (it's freaking HUGE!) to try and see some of the museum's famous works, including the Mona Lisa, but, by the time we got there, the place was closed. We still managed to play around in the museum area's gardens, where we played a rudimentary game of "Hide and Seek." We got to see tons of monuments (or "erections" as the French call them...insert your own joke there) and freaking walked everywhere. On a morbid note, we also walked over the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed. (though, not on purpose; it's right by the Louvre) Paris is a huge city, though. It's certainly far larger than any other city I've visited outside of London and New York. Considering how much we walked, we barely covered the main Paris was crazy...

On our last day, the three of us left with the bus group to visit Versailles, the famed home of the palace of Louis XIV. Wow...while Leeds Castle in England is charming, Versailles simply is "grand." Gold trimming everywhere, manicured lawns, silks lining everything; you can tell Louis was all about spending money. We ran through the entire palace, trying to absorb everything as fast as possible so we could grab some French pastries and head on back to the bus so we could leave on time. I would've loved to spend more time at the Palace, but we were definitely were restrained by time. We did get our pastries, though. I had the best damn eclair I've ever had out there, and I also had this oh, so tasty Frases du Creme strawberries were so fresh...yum...I'm getting all hungry just thinking about it right now...

With utter sadness, we departed for London and we waved goodbye to Paris. There was so much that we did and experienced that weekend, that this entry doesn't even do the time justice. So many inside jokes, so many laughs, and certainly a whole lot to see. That was Paris. And we all loved it. Outside of London, Paris is by all means my favorite city, thus far, in Europe. Paris itself is not as grand, clean, or easygoing as London, but it certainly has a personality on its own that cannot be replicated anywhere else. I certainly would make it a mission to head out and visit again (and to certainly get a little bit more involved with the people there...god, those girls were good looking...) .

Ahhh, t'aime...


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2:52 PM  

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