Aug. 29th, 2015 11:07 pm
keresaspa: (Seagull)
[personal profile] keresaspa
Hello you *waves*. Yeah, just back from Paris and that, which, of course, means I have to go on at length about the last week. Apologies in advance if this gets a bit incoherent but you should all be used to that by now.

I had booked an afternoon flight but, given that it was flying from Middle-Of-Sodding-Nowhere Airport ("Belfast" International to give it its official name, despite it being nowhere near Belfast), I still had a fairly early start. In the end I was too early and had a lot of faffing about to do before the good people of Easyjet deigned to permit us onboard. The flight itself was rather unpleasant, marred by a combination of my weak stomach nearly giving up its contents and a slew of noisy children and their woefully irresponsible parents sucking down the bevvies before the horrors of Eurodisney and thoroughly spoiling my attempts to enjoy Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Call me a killjoy if you like but booze on aeroplanes really needs to be given the elbow and if you can't go a few hours without getting rat-arsed maybe you should have more pressing priorities than going on holiday anyway.

Nonetheless I eventually made it to Paris Charles de Gaulle Roissy Airport (pick one name and stick to it, you gits) and got myself a ticket for the Gare du Nord, involving a bizarre conversation in which I spoke entirely in broken French and my cashier spoke entirely in broken English, both of us refusing to yield our attempts to accommodate one another, despite both being rather poor in our second tongues. I chose Gare du Nord because it was apparently close to the hotel but I promptly found that anything that appears close on a Paris map actually isn't given the enormous lengths of their streets. In the end I got myself lost (not for the last time) and had to endure a bit of a soaking before finally stumbling across my hotel, the Hotel Monte Carlo on the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, a meandering backstreet linking the fleshpots of Montmartre to the more sober environs of the 10th arrondissement.

By this point rather exhausted and thoroughly soaked, I flopped into bed and drifted off watching some terribly naff and terribly French extravaganza, featuring washed-up Europop stars trotting out karaoke versions of their only hits. Between the singer of Opus not being sure whether to act his age or try to be cool by teaming a sombre suit with a snazzy t-shirt or the now-shaven headed Desireless trying to halt the advances of middle age by wearing a Paul Gaugin painting as a smock it was cringe-tastic stuff.

After a rough first day I awoke determined to milk it for all it was worth, notwithstanding the bizarre early morning offerings of dubbed Scooby-Doo in which he is assisted by Fred, Daphné, Véra and Sammy. Bloody Sammy, I ask you?! Having secured vague directions I went down to the nearby Boulevard Poissonnière and drank in the sights of huge streets, trees galore, lawsuit-dodging pubs and shoddy discount shops whose advertising seemed to follow me the entire week. Wandering off my planned route I stumbled upon Rue St-Denis, the main prostitution area of Paris. Good God, what a sight! Just after ten in the morning it was and yet the place was crawling with an entire volume of trollops. Twice one old woman appeared to do an impression of a pigeon in an attempt to lure me up to some sleazy upstairs dive whilst another mature lady decked out in ill-fitting leather attempted to attract my gaze despite looking like a much rougher version of the hardly demure Liz McDonald. With respect, ladies (and I'm no harsh critic of prostitutes, a group of people towards whom I am generally sympathetic given the degrading and dehumanising lives they are forced to live) I would have been looking money off you before anything, not the other way around! In general though the Parisians lived up to their stylish reputation and certainly the ubiquitous blue jeans that everybody wears constantly in the British isles were conspicuous by their absence, not to mention the scabby tracksuits that too many here just toss on. A lot fewer big beard and tattoo sleeve combinations as well, although I suppose they maybe have just got over that fad already and the rest of us will look like them several months down the line. In which case tattoo removal services must make a fortune out there.

My first official port of call, the Musee Carnavalet, proved an absolute bugger to find, being hidden away in a backstreet but I got there in the end. "I don't know much about art but I know what I like" runs the old cliché so it was a pity that it focused so much on paintings as I much prefer sculpture. Still the building itself was a peach, even if some of the figurines will live long in my nightmares. And the busts.

My wanderings took me down the Boulevard Voltaire, a mighty thoroughfare full of mostly wholesale women's clothes shops and one that would eventually become almost like home to me, despite, or perhaps because of, a generally seedy vibe that seemed to dominate. I had researched in advance some of the better record shops in the town and was happy to find that the first I had been looking for, the eclectic Souffle Continu, proved fairly easy to find. It was to be the last I could say that about though as I got lost again several times, including one that defied the laws of physics as I headed north and somehow ended up half a mile to the south of where I started. I must say the supermarkets were unimpressive too, most not even selling bread and some not having proper milk whilst for some reason every one of them has an aisle that smells of keech. Mind you the fruit markets that spring up here and there are jaw-droppingly cheap and apparently the French share my legendary love of greengages.

I made my way to Belleville, an area that was a bit on the rough side but rather characterful with it, although the two places I was aiming for didn't happen as one was, like so many places in Paris, ferme pour août (as something of a slothful man myself the near total lack of a work ethic in France is something I really do admire) and I couldn't find the other. C'est la vie. A quick hop on the Metro took me to Jules Joffrin, where I visited the somewhat meh Exodisc, which, like most Paris record shops, was a little too heavy on jazz for my liking. The metro itself proved a little on the confusing side and involved a few too many three train trips for my liking although as time went on I started to get the hang of it. And time was the underground in London used to boggle my mind too and now it's second nature so I suspect it's something I could easily get used to. Mind you some of the lines need their stock overhauling as they are a bit on the run-down side. Still, it is dirt cheap so swings and roundabouts.

After recharging at the hotel for a while (a fine place, it must be said) I spent the evening wandering about the nearby Boulevard Haussmann, one of the more obviously Paris-y parts of the city. Kudos for their major fast food chain Quick, whose Bacon Long is one of the best burgers I've ever had what with it's spicy mustard and odd shape. Haemochromatosis be buggered, I could live on those very easily.

After a mixed day weather-wise I woke up to beaming sunshine, which eventually gave way to a scorchingly hot day that proved a bit stifling. I had intended to do a bit more of the tourist-y stuff although not all plans were ultimately fulfilled.

A visit to Notre Dame was first on the agenda so I made my way down the handily placed Boulevard Sebastopol. A nifty street it was too, filled with what looked like some mighty fine bookshops although unfortunately reading the sort of dully intellectual fare that I favour is well beyond my rudimentary French language skills so I was forced to leave empty-handed. I took a while to find Notre Dame (I'm shamefaced to confess that I wasn't sure what it looked like) and didn't go in as the queue was a mile long but it's an impressive sight and as good a place as any for a nice sit down. Mind you I'm not sure who was more disconcerting, the thieves with clipboards doing the rounds (having been genned up by [ profile] queenmartina in advance, I dispatched them with a "va te faire foutre") or the machine gun totting soldiers.

Rumours abounded of English language bookshops but after a lot of meandering I only managed to find one and it was overpriced with a less than stellar selection. But there was plenty round there to keep me amused anyway, be it the serendipitous discovery of Crocodisc, where, bizarrely, Wolfe Tones albums abounded or the delights of the Boulevard Saint-Michel, which managed to combine the right mixture of glamour, decay and tourist-friendly frolics. I even broke my earlier embargo on French language books and nabbed a few albums of Yoko Tsuno, being drawn to the kitschy artwork and the possibility that its relatively simplistic writing might improve my language skills.

Having managed to get my spluttering tablet working the night before I had managed to pinpoint where I went wrong the day before and so I returned to Belleville via the Metro and found my initial destination, Music Please. It gains rave reviews but I found it nothing special, far too full of crappy hip-hop and dance stuff. Still it wasn't a wasted trip as I stumbled upon a far superior effort, Penny Lane, just a few streets away. My work there done I tramped off for what seemed like several miles in the scorching heat with my feet screaming under the strain of my immense girth. Still, that's what holidays are all about as far as I'm concerned. Born Bad's shop on Rue Saint-Sains was my last aim and I eventually found it (having blew it yesterday when I made yet another wrong turn) but it was dogged by the French fixation on American hardcore punk, something that long-term readers will know I consider to be very much the poor relation of its British cousin. To each his own of course, although to me it makes about as much sense as rendering ninety-six and four twenties-ten-six. What, seriously? D'accord.

Making my way back along Boulevard Voltaire and the rest I even found time to stop and help some old man who had lost his shopping, something for which he gave grateful and profuse thanks. Indeed, despite their reputation for haughty aloofness, I must say I found the Parisians to be very well-mannered and approachable people who always call you "sir", try to speak English if they see you floundering, happily give way to you on crowded streets and always apologise if they get in your way, even when it's a group of young guys. Maybe they don't have that phoney-baloney, painted-on-grin, have-a-nice-day, American style thing but for me they certainly weren't rude and that sort of in-your-face niceness is very annoying anyway.

Tired by the day's exertions I crawled into bed, half-watching Police Judiciaire (which is just Law and Order: New York broadcast in English without subtitles) when suddenly everything went dark. Yup, a power-cut had struck and the whole city was plunged into darkness. Giving up the ghost I went to bed, although the following day I suddenly noticed loads of external wiring and generators everywhere so it must have been a big one.

After a day in the furnace we were given a day of torrential rain as the heavy stuff fell non-stop for well over twelve hours. Still I'm not made of sugar and I still had a fair chunk of my Metro carnet left over so a day of riding the rails and seeing the sights seemed in order.

To begin with I headed off to Ecole Militaire in order to finally see the Eiffel Tower. I had assumed it would dominate its landscape but I had assumed wrong and, sure enough, I took the wrong turning. But of course if I hadn't I would have missed a square named after the mighty Salvador Allende and we sure as hell couldn't have had that. ¡Viva la Revolución! But then I found it anyway and yet my reaction was a simple "bof". Rather like the time I first saw Buckingham Palace I suspect its sheer familiarity made it seem as nothing but, were I Shania Twain, I would have shook my head and declaimed "that don't impress me much". Actually were I Shania Twain I would probably spend about 23 hours a day gazing at my beautiful self in the mirror, spending the other hour asking myself what sort of stupid name "Shania" was.

But I digress. Making my way to the Alma-Marceau metro I took off to Argentine for to view the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Well, where La Tour left me underwhelmed this lot lived up to its billing. L'Arc is a mighty structure, commanding its area like a titan and a real impressive sight even for one such as me who isn't normally swayed by architectural gigantism. In one of the more surreal moments an African guy approached me looking directions and, despite never having been there before and my awful French, I managed to show him where to go by a combination of gestures, a bus stop map and my unerring ability to identify the location of the Avenue de la Grande-Armée. With my own little triumph completed I strolled on from the arch and touched upon the Petit Palais. I wasn't sure if I was in the mood for an art gallery but the rain was getting a bore, it thankfully eschewed that odd French practice of not opening until two in the afternoon and it was free entry so the deal was sealed. A fine place it was too, focusing its attention on the two great cornerstones of sculpture - nudie ladies and outstanding moustaches. Now that's what art is all about!

Metro-ing over to Place de Clichy I took a decko at the Moulin Rouge before wandering down to Rue la Bruyere on a wild goose chase to find a non-existent music shop. Quel dommage. Menilmontant was another revisit to find another shop I had missed although L'International Records was a fine establishment and well worth the diversion into an otherwise nondescript area. A metro back to Charonne ticked off another previously missed outlet, Music Fear Satan, which again overemphasised US hardcore (don't like) and stoner rock (it's OK, but the French overrate it), but still had plenty worth seeing. By now I had got into the swing of Metro-hopping, although seeing trains approach from the left struck me as weird throughout as did the strange practice of a disembodied voice announcing the next station with a raised inflexion as if a question before repeating it more forcefully as a statement. "Colonel Fabien? [pause] Colonel Fabien!" Still, they're a fun ride and somewhat friendlier than the tube as I made the acquaintance of a delightful little Vietnamese girl and her mother on one and a cat in a box on another. It has often struck me as weird that people render a cat's call as "meow" as they don't really sound like that to me. This bugger did though and I'm now fully convinced by those occasional silly season pieces about animals having accents depending on their country of origin.

I made a final trip back to the Boulevard Saint-Michel and Gibert Joseph book and music shop, the basement of which is a delight with a metal section to die for. The growth of downloads has more or less killed off sprawling CD shops that seek to cater for all tastes in the British isles so to find one in France was great and more than worthy of a second visit. Still with that done I had had enough rain for one day and hopped back to the Grands Boulevards before, by way of a swift Bacon Long, getting my tired self back indoors.

Homeward bound, so it seemed only right to make one last trip along my own Boulevard Voltaire where, once again, I was called on to deliver directions and, once again, my mission was accomplished. I finished on the Haussmann again before time beat and I bade a final farewell to the Hotel Monte Carlo that had served me so well.

It was to be but a hop, skip and jump to the Gare du Nord but could I find it? Could I heck as like! I fannied around the streets of Paris for what seemed like forever looking for the blasted place before stumbling upon it by dumb luck. Paris, take a lesson from London and add a lot more signs to places people will want to go to, a lot more maps and arrows on the maps showing you what direction you are facing whilst reading them. Joining the queue I requested my ticket to the airport only for Mademoiselle serving to tell me she couldn't sell me a ticket with a lengthy explanation as to why that was the case, not a word of which I understood. I tramped around the huge station for a good ten minutes in panic mode before I suddenly remembered seeing the letters RER before. It finally dawned on that the bit I was in was for trains to southern France, Belgium, Germany, Vladivostok and the like (well, maybe not Vladivostok) and that it was the suburban RER lines I needed. Charging down to their section I requested my ticket to the airport only for Madame serving to sell me it no problem. I really must remember that. The train was a bit of a rumpus to say the least, not least having to haul my heavy case out of the way of a beggar who insisted on arse-walking up and down the aisles in the manner of the the Devil in Cow and Chicken.

On the positive side the delays meant I only had a short wait at the airport although I got lumbered beside a pair of canoodlers on the plane who got very old in a hurry, sitting on top of each other and flailing around like a couple of prannies. At one point I seriously considered firing a stray elbow into matey-boy's kisser but fortunately I resisted my murderous urges, lest I got dumped off in Brittany and told to swim home. But to look on the bright side my quietly brooding rage made me forget completely my aviophobia and I have never had a flight in my life when that was less of an issue, leaving me free to read William Beckford's outstanding Vathek whilst grinding my teeth. Psychologists take note: keep your relaxation exercises and focus on shield-biting rage as a means of overcoming the fear of flying.

In some ways though I suppose it was a fitting end for what was a chaotic ride from start to finish. Despite my near total inability to find my way about, the crazy extremes of weather and my aching feet Paris was a marvellous place, fully deserving of the high reputation in which it revels. Time well spent and my return to its grand expanses can't come soon enough. Formidable!
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