Thursday, October 8, 2009

Surely Was a Great Day (...sorry...)

Today was another day with my former guide. Today was less guided, and more a random stumbling through the various places we'd not seen yet. It was a day of tourism, with a more relaxed pace than the day before.

After a most – ugh, well at least it was free – breakfast I headed off to meet up at the column outside of Bastille station. Great. Super. Fun. Did you know that said column is in the middle of a five lane roundabout full of traffic looking to turn you into a smear of grease? So after circling it for a few minutes, while my nebulous partner searched in the same direction – thus preventing us from ever seeing one another, we met up at a traffic light. Time to start the day.

Twice a week an open air market meets outside the station, and it is here that cheap jewlery, hair care products, and other trinkets (such as a plastic gun screaming “fire fire fire!” every time the trigger is pressed – it was hard to resist this simple pleasure) are sold to the public at large. However, the markets true heart and soul lays in the fresh produce, and the god awful number of fish heads (fish heads, rolly polly fish heads, fish heads, fish heads, eat them up. Yum!)

The fresh prawns, urchins, and other amount of aquatic once-life are all overshadowed by the sheer number, and mad variety, of fish. Those flat pancake fish that swim sideways? Yup you can get them here. Giant salmon? Sure if you have the money. Tiny little salty guys? If you're up for it. One swallow, all gone. This is the type of market that gets you thinking, “man, I really wish I had a kitchen. And money. A kitchen and money. Such a combination could lead to a glorious thing right now.”

And so, with such temptation looming, it was best to pull away before any items were purchased. Well – eye liner may have been bought. But not by me. I assure you that.

[authors note: when I started to write this, the hostels wifi was up and running. It is now, of course, down again.]

So where to next? Why the metro of course. The hot, sweaty, overstuffed, god awful, metro. People say that they wish Toronto had a metro to rival the other big cities. Let me tell you, people in Toronto would be so upset if the TTC turned into this can of human, sweat greased, madness. Give me my limited options, and a comfortable place to sit or stand, any day. And air conditioning. I like that too.

The metro would whisk us away to city hall. Beside which a post office stood. Waiting, perhaps, to sell me an envelope so I could finally send off a letter I wrote on the night train, all that time ago? No – of course it wasn't. How foolish for one to assume that a post office would sell an envelope. You could buy ten international postage pre-paid envelopes, at quite a discounted price. But if you wanted one, it wasn't simply expensive. It just did not exist.

Why yes the idea of making my own has crossed my mind a time or two.

Hmm, so the city hall – very nice, and all. But it's just another big impressive building. If it were in any other city it would be magnificent. But it's not. It's in Paris, and so it's just another brick in the wall. Time to move on. Day light a wasting. Lots to do. No time to dilly dally. And so, with that, we headed off to -

Quick Burger! Time to get my strawberry milkshake at last! “Milk Shake au Fraise.” I said. Once again, confusion. You want a milkshake, she seemed to say, but what flavour? Had I not just answered this? Before I could say anything she listed them. Chocolate, vanilla, banana, strawberry. “Fra...” I began. “Wait, banan?” “oui monsuir.” “ah! banan! Banan c'est bon!” And thus the secret flavour, left off the menu on the wall, was revealed to me. More than making up for the terrible juice the day before! They're back! Oh yes – they're back!

After that deviation, we ended up at the Pompideau centre. O.K. I need to look to my guide book to spell this one. Make that Pompidou Centre. Not too bad on my part, I feel. Who knows how these foreign phonetics work.

And it was there that I discovered a magical wonderland of anger, and hatred, and building design that is so utterly French. Let me take you on a trip, shall I?

[authors note: what the heck? Thirty nine year olds just emerged from the basement of my hostel! What type of places am I ending up at?!]

So there you are, at the from of the Pompidou Centre, with a guide who is too busy trying to sit down, and relax, on the sloping concrete because she is all tuckered out from the day before's big adventure. And you walk in the front doors. You are now inside, on floor 0. This will become important, so stick with me, alright? Now the first thing you see is a boutique that brings the internet to life.

You know those ice cube trays that are shaped like Space Invaders? Yeah they sell those there. And would I not have bought one, were this near a drop off point in my trip. And they sell the usb keys shaped like cute little dangerous cartoon characters – the cross between happy tree friends, and garbage pail kids. Not only this, but they also have biospheres, certified by NASA, inside of which the ecosystem will never die. Inside glass orbs, there are sea monkey type things which die off to feed the plants, which – well look, I don't know how they work. But apparently if you buy one, it will last forever! (For-eh-ver. For-eh-ver. And he did! And he liked it!)

The problem with this store is that everything is ot of your price range. Still – it makes a nice way to see all those crazy things that only the internet could, before, provide. And then you can go off to the website and buy them cheaper. The company Fred? Fantastic products, they make.

So when you're done your rounds here, you head on out to the other shop on floor zero. The book shop. And inside, you spend the first thirty minutes looking at all the post cards. And you see shapes, sizes, and art that you'd only ever dreamed of finding at post card prices before. And once again, you think – wouldn't I buy so much, if I had a drop off coming up?

I wrote down the website of the company whose work looked promising. I've not checked it yet though, so I'm not sure what sort of thing lies at the other end of this click.

Once you've managed to drag yourself away from the stationary, you should find yourself entering a world full of all the art books, and big beautiful coffee table texts you could never have dreamed of. An entire table is set up about street art. One such book there is all about the I [space invader sign] Paris work! All the space invader tiles started here. And at the back of the book? A map to all the locations. There are hundreds of the hidden in this city. One right outside the centre, in fact. At one point a giant pixelated Imp from Doom existed here. That would have been something to see.

And as great as the book store is, you know there's more to the centre. It has six floors up, and a floor -1. So you leave, and you head up to the library. On floor 1 you find that you can not enter the library here. Interesting.

So you head down to floor -1. Here is nothing but a maze of red carpeted chairs, renovation work, and other such things. So you head back to floor 1 to make sure you didn't miss a hallway.

(see what's happening now?)

It turns out there is no way to floors 2 – 6, or any access to the real heart of floor 1 from the main entrace. So what do you do? Walk through the back doors, and get in there? No, of course not, because only the front doors are open. They are manned by security guards doing a more lax bag check than at the Jay's games. Truly, men at work.

So outside you go, and you walk and you walk, and you walk, around this rather imposing building to the back. And then you are allowed access to the up-scalator (as opposed to the down-scalater. Not the centre's official terms, I might add.) And next thing you know you are in the library. And what a library it is. Had I not seen the one in Amsterdam, I would have been most impressed.

There was a section on flip books. I flipped through all twenty hanging in the art exhibit. The best was a man who used a car wash to make a car smaller, and then skated it to hang on the line. Trust me on this. It was good. And a large one with a girl thinking, looking, and almost moving a chess piece. Exploiting the action packed flip book form, you could feel the silence with every passing, stagnant, page.

Up you travel to the land of music, where listening booths are set up to educate the populace on what is considered to be good music. I listened to the french album Flow: L ame de Fond. And let me tell you – track three? Pretty great. I bet if I translated the lyrics it would falter, but I enjoyed it and would like to track it down. (Red Windmill. I mean, really?)

Then up once more, and TVs are set up, with head sets, so you can watch channels from around the world, in their own languages. Fantastic!

And then, down down down you go, so you can explore the art galleries, and other installations in the centre. So you step out of the library and – wait? What?! You're back in the main entrance hall! You can see the elevators at the back of the building required to venture higher, but you're in the main hall. No access back. The only thing to do – exit, and walk around the building once more.

I don't think so – thank you very much! We had more important things to do! We had a Tower to see!

Taking the subway to Trocadero on the 9 line, you are afforded a most wonderful view of the tower, as you walk towards it. Rather than standing on the park, as I did yesterday night, I was now looking at the park as background to my journey. And, of course, my photos. My too too many photos.

Standing at the bottom of the tower, I decided that we must go up. My guide, now potential-follower, had never been up and I would not go up alone. Far too touristy. But together. Me and her, standing on the Eiffel Tower, that was something I never could have predicted in all the years I'd known her. It was too fantastic a moment to pass up.

But the lines! The lines for the elevator were terrible! I would wait in no such thing. And she had things to do. Wait, what was this no line area? Was this – yes it was! For the stairs. So we forked over our four fifty each, grabbed our tickets, and began our climb seven hundred steps up to the second platform of the Eiffel Tower.

Elevators are for chumps!

Let me tell you – if they sold down elevator tickets from the second platform, there would definitely be a market for them! From the first platform, I could feel my shirt soaked through. This is why I hate wearing backpacks. And that was only half the journey. Up to the second platform we ascended. There may have been some complaining.

And my loyal trooper made it all the way, despite her waiting until half way to inform me of her fear of heights. What a champion, people. What a champion! Standing up at the highest point one is allowed to trek to (950 steps from the real top – but only an expensive elevator will get you there) looking out over Paris, it was all worth while.

I had all the notable buildings that I had seen over the last two days, pointed out to me. And once more, many pictures were taken. But – as I may have said a time or two before – I have a hard time trusting other people to shoot pictures for me. So what could I do? Holding the camera away in my hand wouldn't do justice to this moment.

What were my options? Tiny tripod? No I don't want it aiming up. Asking someone and getting a terrible image? No – I climbed too long for this. Ah – two pipes stuck out of the wall, which looked like a fire hose Y connection. It seemed I could rest, just barely, my camera on the pipes. It took three or four times to get the balance working in my favour, and so when I had the set up, I pulled my travel companion into frame, and instructed her on the various images we were to create (my camera being set to photo booth mode, and taking nine pictures in a row. The resting was too precarious to press the shutter button more than once.) This supposed wackiness proved to be of much delight to another family who was watching our shenanigans. And when the last photo was taken, I grabbed my camera, and issued a silent pray that the pipes had held, and my camera was not smashed on the floor of the Eiffel Tower's second landing.

I was then instructed to take a few pictures for the voyeuristic family. I was told they were professional. Take that couple from yesterday who waited until I walked away to re-shoot what I took!

And then – the crux of the situation became apparent. We had walked up seven hundred steps. We now had only one option before us.

Walking down 700 steps.

Strangely this was accomplished quite fast, and we were at the bottom in no time. Although not before seeing a worker hanging on the outside of the steel supports, grinding it for whatever reason these posts and ground by men hanging on to the outside of the steel supports.

Ahh. Success. A tourist moment checked off, and a story to last a lifetime, or something like that. But it's true – whenever you share something like that, you can spend years without talking and then all of a sudden, “Hey, remember when we were in Paris, and we climbed the stairs of the Eiffel Tower?” And the friendship is returned, as if it was never ended.

Back on the ground, I was glad to be – excuse me sir, do you speak English? - No! I'm sorry to tell you, but I do not, in fact, speak English. Leaving the “beggar” confused, and without response to my brash statement, I wandered off.

Chimays Red, Apple Juice (Is this normal juice. No surprises? - it's Paris juice. There will always be surprises!) and Kinder twinkies purchased at the super market. And then quickly consumed. And yes, kinder does make the best twinkie ever!

Right there, before the day was to end, there was just one quest left. You see, all the people walking by us had the same tote bag. Something was amiss! One boy walked by bragging about having the full rainbow colour set of said tote bags. Wouldn't it make a great end to grab that before parting ways?

And it would! So, mustering my courage, I asked – in french – if the woman holding one of said bags, spoke English. She said a little. So I asked where they were from. She pointed behind her, not far away. Success! We would away! But – no – she said. They just closed. There would be no bags for us.


Very well. I was saddened, but returned to my apple juice, so close to being normal – but yes, surprise! And it was just then that the woman took all the pamphlets out of her bag, and held it out to me. “You want?” she said. “You can have.” I tried to say no – no. But she kept offering, and who am I to turn down said kindness? I imagine her though process was along the lines of “Look at that poor homeless man. I have so much, and all he wants is this bag. I shall help him.” Though I'm also told, it was because she felt pity for my terrible French. This is what I get for trying, apparently.

So that was that. I had a bright yellow tote bag. And as much as I tried not to, wasn't I smiling ear to ear? I had a tote bag! Wait – I have a tote bag. I can't get rid of it either, not after such generosity. Now I have to carry a yellow tote bag around Europe with me. And what will I do with it at home? Yellow tote bag...

I tell you, weeks from now, I'll probably post how that bag saved my life!

And that was that. We parted ways. Said our good byes. She, off to Oslo (fantastic!) I for a few more days in Paris. City of Lights – they tell me. Who knows when paths will cross again. But paths, as they so often do, find a way to mingle.

The rest of my day was spent in McDonald's trying to upload videos (thanks for making your upload speed so slow!) I uploaded all but the final one of the Eiffel Tower climb. I wanted to post it after this, but that will clearly have to wait. I'll try to find a hot spot tomorrow. I hear the P.Centre has a great one. Maybe buy some postcards. Try to navigate my way to the top too. McWifi is smart, you see. Yeah they'll let you download all you want – but if you want to upload your pictures to something – gigs and gigs worth as travellers often do – oh they'll make you pay. Welcome to hours of your life.

It also didn't help that I accidentally recorded the final video in HD. Were it not, it would have been up and running in no time. Oops.

[authors note: hostel wifi is back up! Their upload speed is even slower than McDonalds though – so no pictures or videos just yet. But soon. Just you wait. Soon.]

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