Although I was a bit too touristy about it, wandering through Paris today was a great time. It seemed nicer overall than London, but this may have been all a new city gimmick effect. Yeah, I probably brought a prejudice that Paris was artsy, but little things still seemed more stylish than in London. Cool crosswalk icon guys, colorful graffiti near the Eiffel Tower, chic street signs, and even minimalistic green garbage cans showing off the trash inside all seemed nicer than their London equivalents to this wide-eyed tourist.
For most of the day, we just walked around random Paris streets. I might have had to go lunchless if I hadn’t lucked into traveling with 2 Canadians fluent in French, but that was basically the extent of the language barrier. Most people I dealt with were selling stuff, so they were used enough to tourists that they knew at least sufficient English for making sales to Western visitors. Speaking of selling, some vendors went about it with a vengeance. Mostly they’d just get in your way with mini Eiffel Towers and postcards, but portrait painters were more ambitious: eye contact seemed to count as asking for a caricature. Worst were the braceleteers they literally picked up your hand if it was anywhere other than in your pocket and started weaving a bracelet on your wrist.
I didn’t get robbed or anything serious, but 3 Parisians were definitely more than a little pissed at me. First came the painter, who was trying to convince Mike that he needed him to sit as a model for his work, “for me to develop my portfolio.” I told him we were rushing to the Arc d’Triomphe before Mike began rejecting his offer, so the guy yelled at me. It’s all good: I got his picture right as he was finishing yelling and waving us away. Secondly, I angered the bracelet makers because I told some friends they’d caught that the sooner they walked away the better. One in particular was none too happy, following me a few steps to tell me “you are bad, man!” Last was the waiter at dinner. Maybe it had to do with my inability to speak French and audacity in ordering water instead of too-expensive wine, but he eventually stopped responding to me. I asked for bread, Tabasco sauce, water… he’d look at me, nod if I was lucky, and then just kinda drift away to a different table. I could swear he muttered something at me in French as I left; would have been really cool to have hidden some serious French-speaking skills and busted them out then for a snappy comeback, but I pretended not to hear him (is that half true half true if I didn’t understand?) and just walked away instead.
The Louvre was lovely. Even the museum itself was a work of art, with the main entrance underground below a futuristic, glass-and-steel pyramid. I was surprised to see the Mona Lisa without a long wait: just kind of wandered upon it. In a hall full of massive, impressive masterpieces, I have no idea why the Mona Lisa is so special. Same goes for the Venus de Milo: in the same room were more impressive statues, even complete with arms:) I still prefer the craziness of the Tate Modern, but the Louvre did groove.
Paris: a liberal stronghold, right? Vast protests against Le Pen’s intolerance, tearing down the Bastille, nude beaches? Yeah, but not: le police made me put a shirt on! Mike and I were running to the Arc d’Triomphe, as we had a bus to catch in a little and an arc to see a lot away. Halfway there, one of many cops motioned to me as if he was putting a shirt on. I begrudgingly obeyed but made up for it with some many-laned jaywalking and baring my American belly in the open once again on the run back to the bus, sweaty and disillusioned but on time and shirtless.
Eiffel Tower offered a great view from the top at night, bright lights of Paris unfolding for miles around, but the real highlight came on the way down. Another ambitious tourist and I wanted to take the stairs for as much of the descent as possible; ideally, this would be the whole lower half. Unfortunately, we got down a few flights of that half to meet a blocked stairway. I don’t know which felt better: not being the first one jumping over a barrier for once or running down a closed corridor in an uber-landmark. Didn’t even get in trouble, either: when we reached the bottom and found the doors locked, the worker who responded to our yells just asked to see our tickets and then let us out!
Rest of evening = hardcore touristy. We didn’t even go to tourist bars in the city; we were so bad that we drank at our hotel in the outskirts. I tried to resist, but Pete the bus driver was on the freeway before I had a taxiful of co-explorers to stay in the city. small consolation = drinking French beer all night:)