Paris : Day 4 – Meet Hermione

The day started off like just about every one of them over here; awakening to the clatter of keys immediately outside my door somewhere around 8am.  I don’t know who is living in the flat next to me, but I can only assume they stalk the streets of Paris at night, murdering innocents, and adding their house keys to their KeyRing of Death as trophies.  Because that shit is getting louder every night.  I’m also launching a formal scientific investigation into how my door can be both 143 pounds and close with the thud of a piano falling off a building, yet lets sound waves pass through to the point that it sounds like my neighbor is jingling their keys above my head in bed like a mobile over a baby’s crib.

I drift off to sleep again, muttering to myself I’m going to get up at a ‘decent time’ today, finally, before waking again to the alarm I set for 11:37am, which I then hit snooze both consciously and unconsciously until roughly 1:52pm.  My consistency in this seemingly random timeline is as impressive as it is frustrating.

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Anyway, up and at ‘em!  As a budget-saving measure, every day starts with a ready-made microwave meal or pre-made sandwich from the local grocery store.  The secret to good food in Paris isn’t the expensive stuff – a fifty dollar steak will taste as good in Nebraska as it does in Paris – it’s the cheap and convenient stuff that is markedly better.  Next time you walk by a popular attraction in Paris and see Americans sitting nearby eating paninis, kebaps, or jambon-emmental sandwiches, tune in for a second and you’ll surely hear them exclaiming to each other “but this sandwich is so GOOD… I don’t know what they do but it’s so GOOD!”

After washing it all down with some Coke Zero Lemon [available in Europe only, for some reason] and a few Pringles [a bit o’ home], it’s off for a twenty-minute walk down rue Monge to the Starbucks.  Walking the streets in the daytime is one of the best things about Paris – the mix of people and the mix of their activities is always interesting.  Old people ambling along with their tiny dogs, wannabe business types in their late twenties scrambling between the slower pedestrians and holding their earphone microphones to their mouth, and the occasional homeless soul and mystified tourist thrown in for spice.

I could talk about what happened when I get to the Starbucks to write, but I’m pretty sure that would open some tear in the space-time continuum as you read this, so let’s play it safe for the sake of continued existence and move on.

Somewhere in the early evening then, it was time to pack up and go for a stroll down the Seine to unwind.  Well, I mean further unwind.  This whole thing is kind of one big unwinding.  Snap some pictures of Notre Dame and the Seine, because, well, you just can’t stop doing that.  That speaks to the omniscient beauty of Paris – you can visit the place twenty times, see the same thing forty times, and on the forty-first viewing, you’ll reach for your phone and say “oh, I need to get a picture of this.”  This is my 19th visit to Paris – and remember each ‘visit’ averages about a month – and I can’t stop myself from taking pictures that are both essentially identical to ones I’ve taken before and certainly of a lower quality than what I could find online.  Yet, you can’t not do it.

For dinner, I go to one of the hundreds of tiny Turkish doner joints that dot the city.  I suppose the easiest way to describe them is as a rough equivalent of McDonald’s for these cultured city folk.  Ironically, the actual McDonald’s that are here [and there are many], actually have a very slight youthful/hipster edge to them.  These Turkish places have essentially the same menu : a mix of sandwiches, pizzas, and simple salads.  The staple is the doner kebap, which is a sort of mix between a gyro and a submarine sandwich.  Closer to the gyro though.  Let’s say its brother is the gyro and its estranged step-brother is the sub sandwich.  Always served with fresh made-to-order fries, it is, of course, delicious.  See above.

An even more serpentine walk home to drop off the computer and recharge my batteries, both literally and metaphorically, and a few hours after sunset it’s time to go find a bar to belly up to.  On this night, it was a charming little dive on rue Moffetard, a street inhabited mostly by drunk Sorbonne students at night, with a handful of irritated folks trying to walk their dogs through them.  There were only seven or so folks in the bar at this hour – a couple lazily picking at an entrée towards the back, two animated French youths in the front window drinking red wine, and a couple older Greek gentlemen at the other end of the bar from me.

Twenty minutes after I started sipping my Grimbergen, two even-more animated French youths [seriously, I don’t know how the French can stretch a cigarette to twenty minutes, I could go five minutes, tops] come back to stand at the bar, accompanied rather surprisingly by a French gentleman near sixty years of age, wearing a loosened tie and a cheapish looking grey suit.  He is, let’s say, enjoying the alcohol of the evening.

About this time I go to change out the battery in my phone, and the bartender, an attractive thirty-ish year old blonde, asks in English if I need to use a charger.  She says she has the same phone.  She smiles nicely and seems to enjoy the chance or excuse to speak English.  I politely decline and get back to the disassembly of my case.

The scene is very typical of every small Parisian bar I’ve been in.  A seemingly thrown-together combination of beer signs, a lonely stretch of Christmas lights dragged across the ceiling above the bar, a menu of the day’s food choices scrawled in multiple colors of chalk on a beer-sponsored chalkboard, and of course, a large flat-screen television on the wall playing a countdown of French hip-hop videos that is on mute.   It’s always on mute.  Even in bars playing a two-hour stretch of Edith Piaf classics, there’s a TV somewhere silently beaming images of French guys trying to look like American rappers, and always succeeding… in looking like American rappers from ten years ago.  Must be a satellite delay.

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After lazily watching a few videos that appeared to have stolen their storyboard from Notorious BIG videos circa 1995, the older French guy returns again from the street where he was enjoying another cigarette.  Only this time, he has a gift for the bartender.  The gift is – I shit you not – a baguette.  He is hitting on her with bread.  At the same time, I was entertained, mortified for him, and even a little impressed.  I mean, what if this worked?  What if I was way over-thinking this whole hitting on French women thing and all along I should have just been getting down on one knee and offering croissants like wedding rings?

The bartender covered her mouth and laughed, and put the stick of bread on a cutting board, presumably for later use.  After the drunk bread deliverer went home for the night, we spoke some more.  Her name is Hermione, “like in Harry Potter,”she says.  She is Greek, it turns out.  This explains a lot of things, from the Greek men at the bar who turned out to be the owners, to her preference for speaking with me in English as opposed to the others in French [she barely spoke French, as it turns out], to the lack of romantic affection for the man giving her bread.  Because that will totally work on French chicks.

After finishing my last pint, it was time to walk home, in the lazy quiet Tuesday night of Paris.  It could be alcohol related, but the walk home at the end of the day is always slower.  You always want to take a few more seconds to soak in the view.  Because even though you’ve seen it a million times before, you just can’t help yourself.

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