After the completion of our first Oxford course, we were rewarded a ten-day mid-term break before the actual start of Michelmas Term. One of my roommates and I elected to the tour the continent, spending two days each in Paris, Zurich, Vienna, Prague and Berlin, glittering 48-hour (or less) vignettes strung together on a slender necklace of train tracks, train stations, and train food.
Notre Dame stained glass
We spent two days in the famously-romantic ville lumière—trotting along the Champs d’Élysées, licking gelato outside Notre-Dame, scaling the Eiffel Tower, evading the hawkers in Montmartre, and sucking in smoke in every restaurant, metro station, and public park. As much as I’m sure you’d enjoy an exhaustive play-by-play of our twenty-miles-in-two-days Paris experience, here are some highlights, things we should have known, and things we definitely know now:
1. When Asian tourists ask you where the macaroon shoppe is, it’s ok to point them confidently in the general direction like a seasoned Parisian. Until you pass them half an hour later and they still don’t have macaroons. They don’t know the difference between an American and a French accent, right?
Inside Notre Dame
2. The American truism that if you drive a big truck you must be compensating for something is not an original one. Not surprisingly, we borrowed it from the French—who figure if you’re otherwise unimpressive you can always build an emasculating palace. That’s sure to keep the peons in line.
3. Proposing to someone from the top of the Eiffel Tower is just about the most romantic thing ever. I do not care how cheesy it is, I wish I was German.
View from the top of the Eiffel Tower
4. French waiters are primarily employed to smoke picturesquely and with contemplative brow in the streets outside your restaurant. If they take a break to bring you your food this is only an added benefit and should be received with the appropriate gratitude, and a heavy tip.
Lunch on our first afternoon
5. People stretch naked in windows in the Montparnasse at noon. Do not be surprised. Do not look away. This is Paris.
6. Do not bet 50 or 100 euros on your ability to watch a counter with a white bottom move wickedly fast across a cardboard box between the counters with black bottoms. This is not follow-the-cap at the baseball game during the seventh inning stretch. This is a man’s game. Also, a word of advice–there is no white counter.
Le Pont Carnivale
7. If you walk into a cathedral and a dozen Catholic nuns are singing high mass, sit down and listen. The only words you will understand are “Jésus-Christ” and the occasional “Alleluia,” but you are in the presence of the sacred. Also, you can offer a prayer of thanksgiving that you did not get ripped off too badly by the swarthy Africans on the front steps tying prayer bracelets around your wrist. It is perfectly acceptable to throw these away—God will not smite you.
8. Crepes and ice cream for breakfast is always a good idea. So are slimy things that slide across the ground until they are dumped in butter and garlic and presented to you on a platter for dinner. Just don’t think about it too much.
Louis IX Crepes
9. Before remarking too loudly on the number of adult shops and gentlemen’s clubs, observe your surroundings. If you are a block from the Moulin Rouge, this is probably to be expected. And in this locale, do not place your ATM card in any suspicious-looking receptacles. If it looks sketchy, it probably is.
Le Moulin Rouge, Place Pigalle
10. French baby-strollers are remarkably sturdy. If you derail your child off the edge of the sidewalk and into the street in the rain, there is no need to panic. He is complacently no worse for the wear. Right the carriage and keep walking as though nothing has happened.
Ernest Hemingway was right (did you really think I could resist?)–if you are lucky enough to experience Paris as a young man, “then wherever you go for the rest of you life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” We consider ourselves lucky indeed.
Shakespeare and Company Bookstore