After my typical lunch routine this afternoon, I headed off to the 1st arrondisement for my foot massage at a Thai spa. These foot massages are the single thing I enjoyed more than anything else from my time in Paris; I simply cannot find an equivalent experience anywhere back home in the States. Put it this way, if I had one hour left to live, and you asked me how I wanted to spend that hour, I would want one of these freakishly strong 50-year-old Thai ladies going to town on my feet. I used to get them every other week or so when I lived in the 1st, so most of the staff there knows me. Some of them call me “Monsieur Reflexologie”; at least to my face that’s what they call me, I’m sure I’m “that weird-ass American with the foot fetish” when they chat in the break room. The spa is largely in a basement, so it’s quiet and eerily dark, lit entirely by candles. Someone’s job must be to light dozens of candles every morning. I wonder if it pays well. After you get situated on a massage table with your feet hanging off the edge, your therapist takes a seat and goes about spending 50 minutes kneading, stretching, and squeezing every part of your anatomy below the knee. The highlight is when they take some object [I always have my eyes closed, and honestly I like to keep the mystery going] that feels like a pencil made of stone, and push it – hard – into the sole of your feet. It hurts a touch for a split second, then your whole body relaxes. It’s some magical shit. You really need to try this before you die, folks.
I leave the spa feeling like I have big puffy clouds under my feet, and head over to a café to get some writing done. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, no one gets trapped in the bathroom this time.
After a decidedly unremarkable dinner, I journeyed up to the northeast section of Paris, the part that is almost completely devoid of tourists, since there’s really nothing overly noteworthy up there. All the ‘typical’ tourist stuff is actually concentrated fairly tightly in the center of Paris : you could walk from the Louvre, to Notre Dame, to the Eiffel Tower, to the Arc de Triomphe in about an hour if you were really hauling ass. After the ‘Big Four’, Sacre Coeur is probably the next most famous place to visit, and that’s in the north central area, actually surrounded by [relatively] sketchy people and places. Of course, the red light district sits at the foot of the hill where the city’s most beautiful cathedral sits atop. As far as red light districts go, by the way, Paris is terrible. I’ll leave it at that. It’s like a stretch of twenty adult toy stores in a row interspersed with barkers trying to get you to go in to their shitty crooked strip club.
Anyway, I ended up in a tiny, divey bar a few minutes away from the Republique area. The atmosphere, in the literal sense, was very typical for a Paris bar – about 93% humidity and somewhere in the uncomfortably high 70’s. There’s always a glasses-fogging adjustment period when entering a Paris bar. I couldn’t help but smile when one of the people at our table surveyed the crowd that night, which appeared to me to be packed and shoulder-to-shoulder, and remarked “I wonder why it’s so dead tonight”. Between the tight quarters and the high prices – a pint of beer will routinely run you $9 or so – I really think Parisians wouldn’t bother with the bars if their apartments weren’t so small. I don’t think they’re every really happy to be there, they look like they’re more begrudgingly there to drink and talk to friends. Also, one other cultural tweak between Americans and Parisians : they go to the bar to talk with existing friends and existing friends only. There is very little meeting of new people. You don’t just roll up to a group of strangers or even one stranger and start chatting. They will be at best uncomfortable and more than likely suspicious. Consequently, dating usually springs from groups connected by a common friend, almost exclusively.
The group I was attached to for the evening consisted of one friend I’ve known for a while, and a group of new people. They were pleasant enough, fun to talk to, although one girl in particular struck me as amusing. I was introduced to her as someone who also was from Detroit. I asked her the standard question you ask another ‘Detroiter’ that you meet anywhere outside of Michigan – “where are you from, really?”, knowing that the answer is a suburb of some sort. I told her I’m from Warren to exemplify the answer I expected.
She informed me that although she has been in Paris for several years now, she did live, in fact, in Detroit proper. Southwest Detroit. That’s nice, I thought, always nice to see people moving in to the city instead of the other way around. What became odd though, is how among a table of residents of Paris, none other of which hail from Detroit, and only one of which hails from America, she directed her angry defense of the city of Detroit towards me.
- Girl : “You know, what people envision of Detroit isn’t what it really is…”
- Me : “Yeah, totally, I mean….”
- Girl : “…because I haven’t ever met nicer people…”
- Me : “Yep… I live…”
- Girl : “… and it was much safer than people from out of town assume…”
- Me : “…right there… 37 years actually… kind of my home…”
- Girl : “…and people really need to give it more of a chance”
- Me : *sigh* “right”
She then proceeded to completely invalidate and expertise she might have claimed regarding southeast Michigan, when she asked where Warren was. “Is it near Dearborn?”, she asked. No, actually. It’s the third largest city in the state, and it’s immediately north of Detroit. Shares a border and everything. It’s called Eight Mile, you might have heard of it.
That aside, it was a nice evening of conversation and reflection on life in Paris. I had to get out before 1am to catch the Wings game, though, so I excused myself and walked to catch the Metro home before service stopped for the night.