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Monday, 16 January 2012

The way we were: Down and out in Paris, not London (Ελληνίδα στο Παρίσι)

Next stop for the Greek girl who went to London is Paris, the first place down-unders usually headed to from London when they began their continental travels. But it's a totally different world across the ditch, especially when you're a SWF.

 Thursday, 6/7/91 - 4pm Like another planet on the other side of the Channel. Got off the ferry boat on time, then got onto the train for Paris. Didn't leave on time. It's really really slow. Stops at every station and stays there for ages. Still on it. Best thing I've seen all day is the white cliffs of Dover. Hope it's not going to be pitch dark when I arrive in Paris.

paris march 2010
On stepping outside Gare du Nord (Paris's Eurostar connection), you will be greeted with pollution, congestion and filth, together with the masses of emigres that congregate here. It's quite a different picture from London's St Pancras Eurostar station.

Friday, 5/7/91 - 6.05pm Haven't hit it off well with Paris at all. Probably due to the fact that big cities everywhere around the world are plagued with pollution, emigre workers, a fast pace, and impersonal charcater. None of this interests me. I can see right through their tourist traps. If you don't go and see them, there's not much else to 'see' in the city without a local showing you around. London would have been the same kind of tourist trap for me if it weren't for Q. 

paris march 2010
Screevers, pavement artists, at Centre Pompidou, Paris: "The derivation of ‘screever’ is mysterious. It must come ultimately from scribo, but there has been no similar word in English for the past hundred and fifty years; nor can it have come directly from the French, for pavement artists are unknown in France." (George Orwell, 1933, Down and Out in Paris and London)

Almost ended up not getting a room. The North African at the accommodation help desk singled out the first five people in the queue and then closed the window  - I was one of the five. He gave us the address of a hotel that had five beds free, gave us directions for the metro (en francais, of course) and then left us at God's will. We took the train to Poissonerie. My friends were luckier than me - they all had small change for the train ticket. The cow at the ticket counter was screeching her head off when I gave her a large note. She wouldn't give me the right change, even when I explained that I didn't have any other money. I was ripped off. As we all walked to the platform barriers, a man ran past us a the speed of lightning. I thought he was a pickpocket or something and got a little scared. He jumped straight over the turnstile barrier.

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Motorcyclists protesting about their rights on Paris roads - we all need to vent at times; interestingly, this lot vented at the weekend - it's less disruptive that way (Greek strikes always take place on a weekday - that way, protesters and strikers can enjoy their weekends).

Sharing a room with two sisters. The two boys among us got the other room. They were all from the US. The landlord spoke to us in French. He explained the use of the bathroom, that it was on another floor, but if we stayed more than one night, then we could use the bathroom on the same floor as the room. He asked us if we understood what he was saying, and we all nodded. Then he asked us in English to translate everything he said into English. The Americans looked at each other shitting themselves. I was the only one who understood. He complimented me on my French. TG for Mrs Goddard. 

sacre coeur
As we climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur, we instructed the children (in Greek) not to be noisy while we were in the church. No sooner had we spoken than we heard someone who was kneeling near the entrance whispering "Vo-i-tia parakalo" ("Help, please" in Greek) as we passed him.

Walked to Sacre Coeur this morning. Taking photographs can be controversial. An artist spat 'merde' at me when I took a photo of the view from the church. I wasn't even taking him! Visited the Montmartre cemetery. Full of tourists. Feel like hiding, but I can't because I'm one of them myself. What the hell was I doing in a cemetery anyway? Weather's better than London, but the sky looks covered in smoke. View from top of the hill not clear at all. So different to Wellington, when it's not raining. The parks aren't as nice as in London. People aren't as nice either - was served badly at a restaurant (why did I bother to tip?!) and was given wrong directions. Finally got back to hotel and had a short rest - the atmosphere is so stuffy in the city! Or maybe I was exhausted. Later visited Arc de Triomphe. Let's Go tells me the view's worth it - couldn't see anything different from what I saw at Sacre Coeur! Walked over the Seine. The bridges are really romantic.

 View of the Champs Elysses from the Arc de Triomphe: it all looks better from up high; the beggars, mendicants, supplicants, tramps and other transients aren't visible from this point. 

Walking around all day makes you tired, but I can't get any decent sleep because the beds don't have proper pillows, just long thin hard ones that make your neck sore. Ended up throwing it off the bed. 115F B&B, 100F lunch and dinner.

Saturday, 6/7/91 - 7.00pm Began using my Eurail pass today. Took me ages to get it validated. French prats sent me from one office to the other. Then it took another eon to get to the right train platform. Went to Fontainebleau. Glad to get out of smoggy stuffy Paris. The palace was a bit wasted on me. I expected to see something ancient, but got gold-tinted furniture instead. Spent most of the time wandering around the park and forest areas. Came across a couple of weddings taking place in the grounds. No need to go to Versailles now. I think I've seen it all. 

raclette aux epices, camembert and cured meats 
Bread, cheese and cured meats: these items created lasting happy memories of our trip to Paris.

115F B$B, 13F palace, 100F food which should last a few days - bread, lettuce, cheese, fruit. The landlord was really friendly. I think he appreciated that I spoke French. He said most tourists say they speak French but don't understand when spoken to.

Sunday, 7/7/91 - 7:00pm What a day! Went to church this morning, rue la Ferriere. Arrived too early because I thought the service would start as early as in the London churches. Mixture of peasanty-urbane Greeks. Most are French-speaking. Didn't talk to anyone because no one showed the slightest interest in talking to a foreigner. The priest was the worst of the lot. He wanted to leave the church as soon as possible after the service because he was going on holidays.

paris march 2010
 "S'il vous plait monsieur, merci monsieur." There were a lot of Roma gypsy women hanging around outside Notre Dame. Interestingly, these women looked different and dressed differently from the ones we see in Greece.

Strolled around Ile de la Cite. More cemeteries, a lot of people gawking over JM's grave. Took the metro just before dusk to cross over to the Eiffel Tower, just to see it lit up. While I was browsing through the postcards stand, a man approached me. I caught the words "prendre du cafe" before I walked off. At least that one looked clean-shaven. As I was walking up the Tower, an grubby-looking porky middle-aged man with a hairy chest tried to pick me up. Kept asking me if I was 'romantique'. Can't have been French, had a strong accent. I was walking faster than him, so he lost me eventually once I got into the cinema. Great little film on the history of the tower over the ages. Glad I went to the Eiffel Tower after Sacre Coeur and Arc de Triomphe. No need to go right to the top - saw it all before.

paris march 2010
The gorilla wouldn't go away until we took a photo of him (and paid him his dues, naturally).

More station crap - took me 1 1/2 hours to book a ticket to Luxembourg because the silly girl at the counter didn't know how to do it. Metro is great for people-watching. Everyone here is over-sexed. They're all doing it  in public - young, old, parents, etc. That's probably why men view me as attractive. They can see that I'm completely alone. Most people around me aren't.

Monday, 8/7/91 AM  Getting to Gare de L'Est was an experience in itself. So many beggars all over the place. Weird experience on the metro: nearly all the people were black on the Pere Lachaise line. A lot of women begging, even children. They call out to you ('Madame'), then they show you a card which says something like 'Spare the change' en francais. Lots of people checking bins. No wonder - tourists throw out a lot of stuff. On my way to Luxembourg. 

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Monday, 8/7/91 - 10.00pm Finally, a clean city! Ultra-friendly people, both French and German spoken. No room at the YHA tonight, so had to find a room elsewhere. VERY expensive. Can't believe how much one city changes from the other in so little time. Language, attitude, services, everything. Paris seems so inhospitable compared to Luxembourg. Can't wait to get to Athens to start writing up all these notes more formally* - so much changes so quickly every few kilometres.

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When you're alone, the megapolis can be rather daunting. The story depicts what I saw when I visited Paris for the first time in July 1991; the photos were taken nearly two decades later (March 2010) during a family holiday.

paris march 2010
The way I like to remember Paris. It doesn't seem to have changed so much from George Orwell's time: the down-and-outs are still surviving, but screevers have also appeared.

(to be continued)

 *I can't believe I actually wrote this in my diary, but since it's my own handwriting, I suppose I really did.

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The above excerpts are based on the diary I kept of my travels, while the photos all come from my second trip to Paris with my family, two decades later. It was quite a cultural adventure for the Greek girl left who left antipodean Wellington in mid-June, passing through subservient tourist Bangkok, swinging London and romantic Paris, before arriving in Athens three months later. By the time I left Paris, I was a globetrotter rather than a Greek girl.

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