Paris Discoveries

Written by admin on February 18, 2010 – 11:59 am -

To really enjoy the city, all you have to do is open your eyes and allow sufficient time to get lost, because when you do, you’ll discover something new. This past week has been a testimonial to that premise. I kept finding myself in places I didn’t expect to be and I’m continually amazed there are so many areas I barely know, even though they’re within minutes of my apartment.

During a trip to Neuilly-sur-Seine, I got off at the wrong Métro stop and ended up walking through the commercial area of Paris’s bedroom community.  In spite of the fact it’s just outside of the Périphérique and about four miles from home, this town is completely different from central Paris. Come to think about it, the last time I was there was to visit a friend in the American Hospital of Paris.

All of the stores are très BCBG, and the women and children certainly weren’t wearing tattered jeans. If they were wearing jeans at all, they were crisply pressed, and the women sporting them had dressed them up with high heels and fur coats.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Neuilly’s residents are rich. If they’re not, they’re probably housekeepers, nannies, gardeners—or inherited the house.

The apartment buildings are grand—many built in the mid-1980s and have balconies that go on forever and not only are landscaped but have (often red) awnings protecting them from the midday sun.  The majority of these low-rise units are set back from the road and gated. Inside the gates, you can spot the types of cars owners don’t want parked out for all to see because they’re magnets for vandals.

Neuilly has some drop-dead beautiful houses (pardon, villas), and you know that captains of industry must own them—and you wonder if anyone can make so much money and be honest.  After being somewhat dazzled by Paris’s version of Beverly Hills, it was time to get going or I’d miss my appointment.

Even though I’ve lived in France all of these years, I never remember that the French refuse to give directions—either because they don’t know where you want to go or because it’s going to take too long to explain how to get to my destination—or give the most detailed instructions waving their hands as if I’ll understand more quickly.

Then there’s always someone who gives directions, but they happen to be the wrong ones. In this case, I hopped into a cab and paid the driver and chalked it up to being born without a sense of direction and forgetting my plan de Paris or printing out directions from Mapquest.com.

Rationalizing a taxi ride is a way to see more and faster, I also like to use the captive driver as a French teacher. How I wish the use of cell phones (even with earpieces) were banned.  I want to speak French and not be subjected to someone’s private conversation—and frequently in a language that has zero resemblance to French.

Getting home is generally less chaotic if I don’t have another appointment. I can intentionally use getting lost as a means to see another neighborhood that’s beyond the usual limited bounds of my neighborhood.

When I moved from Washington, DC, to Boston, I ended up knowing Boston much better than the District.  My routine wasn’t set in stone as it had been back home. The way I initially came to know Paris was by hopping on and off the Métro or the bus, walking until I was ready to drop and then hopping on another bus or subway.

Each and every neighborhood was a new discovery. Now that I’ve lived on the same Paris block, I realize I’ve lost some of the feel of the City of Light. In a couple of weeks, I have a houseguest coming for a visit. I’ve already informed her she’ll be on her own during the days while I’m working.  I hope she’ll understand that when I tell her to get lost, I’m actually trying to encourage her.

But the more I think about it, I think this is the time to take a refresher course in Paris 101. We’ll get weeklong RATP all-purpose transit passes and explore the city the same way I did when I was a newcomer here.  And what makes wandering and getting lost interesting is that Paris is also changing.  It seems to me that, if Bonjour Paris is going to write about Paris, we shouldn’t be recycling press releases and stories from other websites.  Much better, I think, to get out and see for ourselves, even if we have to ask for directions.  D’accord?


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