The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pete in Paris

Chapter 10:
Almost on European time, only because I have to, I depart for Copenhagen at 8:45 am. Mum, who wants to see me off, see the fast train, and go shopping (I suspect the last reason weighs heavily), comes along to the Central Station. Much to my chagrin, only because dad has been so horridly pessimistic about the train, it’s delayed thirty minutes. I have plenty of time to spare, so it doesn’t matter one bit. I’m so happy I didn’t have to leave the house at 4 am!

We roll out and I am giddy over the legroom, space and sense of freedom. A hawk circles above. The landscape is breathtaking: forest of fir, Christmas trees and birch; snow-covered lakes, and fields, dotted with tiny red or yellow farm houses with gables matching the white snow. So picturesque and idyllic! Of course, I happen to know how much work it involves.  Passing through Smaland, the sun illuminates the snow and hoarfrost and the treetops glitter like they are covered in millions of tiny diamonds. The journey is delightful. Peaceful. Drifting snow and fog makes the landscape look eerie and dreamlike. Neverending beauty. Three deer carefully crossing a brook, frozen over, in their difficult search for food. A rainbow arches across the blue skies in Alvesta as I listen to ‘Home’ by Donavon Frankenreiter. I smile. Every branch and needle, clad in thick frost against a clear pale blue winter sky. The light softens as the day moves toward late afternoon.
We have a new conductor, announcing the few stops and many route changes with a strong southern drawl, impossible for most, Swedes included, to understand. Between the accent and the rerouting of passengers, is a miracle that, or should I say if, anyone arrives at their correct destination. Somehow, I manage to decipher enough to understand I need to change trains in Malmo, the final destination of this train, in order to get to the Copenhagen airport. For me, travelling with just Pete my Pet Rock, my extraterritorial PegLeg (due to knee surgery two weeks ago) and plenty of extra time, these detours become opportunities to experience additional, unplanned segments of a journey that otherwise would not have been. For other travellers, I imagine it’s perceived as an absolute nightmare, bringing not only regular luggage but Christmas gifts too.

Admittedly, the train from Malmo to Copenhagen is crowded. People packed in, standing room only, not unlike a can of sardines, with a few babycarriages and suitcases thrown in for good measure and variation. At the airport, I disembark, or get pushed out by the crowd, not sure which, and continue to check-in, to rid myself of my backpack as soon as possible. 

Taxfree is not what it used to be, after the induction of EU and since I only travel within the union, I have no advantage at all. Regardless, it falls in the same category as sales and marketing campaigns and disinterests me beyond belief. Having had nothing to eat, I convince myself it would be a good idea, especially since the flight is delayed. Again I’m reminded of why I typically don’t eat airport food: it is horrible. An hour late, at 10 pm I arrive Orly airport and Lo is waiting for me at the gate. The last time we saw each other was in August, at her house in Hamilton, so this is a totally different experience: She and I, like two sisters, reunited and on vacation in Paris (of all places) for two and a half days. I’d thought that Charles de Gaulle airport had better access to Paris but I quickly realize Orly is far closer and only fifteen minutes from the airport!

My friend, Lo had found a studio in the Marais district, well known amongst the gay population, incredibly well situated with an unimaginable, wonderful small neighborhood atmosphere. Boulangeries, cafés, patisseries wherever you turn your head… On our way to the studio, we stop to grab a bottle of red. We catch up a little on life over a glass before crawling into a most comfortable bed, staring up on the old, natural wooden beams in the ceiling.

Chapter 11
We wake up at 11 am, taking in Paris on our time, as opposed to letting Paris take us over with a list of sights to see. This approach serves us very well; we take breakfast as people finish their lunch, and we always seem to move in the opposite direction of the crowds. We set out on foot. And walk, and walk, and walk. Which is good rehab for PegLeg, until the end of the day when it’s had enough. Our big plans of a late evening with live Jazz and wine turns into wine, cheese, bread, and greek delicacies. On our way back we stumble onto a Nepalese exhibit, which we browse before getting comfortable at the studio. Life couldn’t be better. Ice and aspirin bring happiness to PegLeg. We make tentative plans for tomorrow to visit the Eiffel Tower, le musée Quai Branly, a whimsical store called Pylones, Montmartre, and take a touristic bus tour around Paris.

Chapter 12
We wake up at 11 am. Idly, we revise our plans and somewhat prioritize according to geographical location. What we do matters much less than the time spent together.  The museum and the Eiffel tower are put together at the top of the list, however with each step on our way to the Tower, my interest fades a little to end with a sudden POOF, just like a magic trick, as we turn the corner and see the line!

Instead we go to the Primitive Art exhibit at Quai Branly Museum: thousands of artifacts from the great geographical regions in which the Musée du quai Branly’s collections originated: Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas. The exhibit is truly outstanding and we cruise slowly through masks, jewelry and tapa in Oceania, Asian costumes, and African musical instruments and textiles, experiencing the major crossroads between civilizations and cultures: Asia-Oceania, Insulindia (maritime southeast Asia), and Mashreck-Maghreb (low rainfall areas of North Africa and West Asia). It’s dark when we leave, pushing to make the 6:30 pm bus tour around Paris.

Fortunately, the clock ticks faster than PegLeg can hop along and instead we end up on Rue Cler (or was it Cher? = expensive in French). Packed with gourmet shops, have we perhaps stumbled on heaven itself? Lo disappears into a honey store and proceeds to get as high on honey tasting as the bee probably did on the pollen he collected. There is honey with ginseng, honey mustard, honey with herbs de Provence, lavender honey…  We follow our noses to an “éspicery”, located next to a chocolaterie, a truffle’s throw from the fruit and vegetable stand where we buy lychees from Madagascar, which is located two baguette lengths away from the charcuterie. 
An hour is easily passed in this Mecca of gourmet boutiques and we make perfect timing for the 8 pm bus touristique. In one and half hours, we are educated in Parisian history and architecture without fighting a crowd, or taking a single step. Once more, our plans of a Big Evening are dismissed in favor of another evening in the studio with wine and cheese on the little metal picnic table. With our time in Paris coming to an end, we commit to getting up at 9 am.

Chapter 13
Sans alarm, I wake up at 9 am – a miracle! We meet Laure, a college friend of Lo’s, for lunch in a Greek restaurant and I feel like I’m in Cyprus. Delicious food is accompanied by lots of laughter as they share stories about life at the apartment four girls in their 20’s shared in the Alps.

We have shopping to do. After all, we are in Paris! But, instead of heading to Faubourg Saint-Honoré district, the pulse of Paris design and fashion, we head back to le Marais where we have each spotted one store each we’d like to visit. Lo, a sewing supply store, and me, a whimsical house ware store. Big spenders we are; our combined spending is less than the cost of lunch… Alas, absolutely for free I hatch ideas at the sewing store regarding how I will spiff up my kitchen. Before dashing to the train station at Montmartre, we visit Place de la Bastille, where the Bastille prison stood until its physical destruction between 14 July 1789 and 14 July 1790 during the French Revolution, and la Place de Vosgues, constructed 1605 – 1612 and the prototype of all the residential squares of European cities that were to come. before quickly grabbing our bags and dash off to the train station. The Parisian subway is the second busiest in the world, after Moscow but was not designed in 1900 to accommodate any persons with disabilities. There are no escalators and no ramps - only stairs. With a need to beat the system, I make Lo my second handrail for descending and hop down, one or two steps at a time. Going up, I simply double –step it with my now iron strong other leg. By the time we reach Montparnasse I have had an excellent but one-sided stair master workout and am hot and exhausted. I can’t imagine being in a wheel chair.

Pete on the TGV

The TGV (Train Grand Vitesse) swiftly swishes us through the French countryside and contrary to the Swedish equivalent, which got stuck behind normal speed trains, the TGV goes at 200km/hour, and Bordeaux is reached in three hours and fifteen minutes. Lo’s husband, Claude and the daughters, Charlotte, 5 and Jeanne, 7, pick us up at the station. It’s a happy and lively car going to their home in La Maine, where Patrick, a friend of Lo’s and Claude’s is waiting. He speaks no English.

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