paris, pt 3: ego-tourism, notre dame, and vinyl nerds

it was time to leave paris.  i had a few hours that i could kill before i needed to catch an overnight bus up to northern germany. luckily, before i had left the US, a friend of mine named kristen had tried to  connect me with some friends of hers in paris.  she had lived in the city for 2 years before eventually returning to the US last year.  the last minute nature of my arrival had not done me any favors in meeting up with these folks, as they were busy with work and their lives, but luckily for me, one of these contacts had made a little bit of time for me on my last day to grab some lunch. 

i met david right as i exited the corvisart metro train stop in the 13th arrondissement.  i stepped out of the doorway and looked at my surroundings. it felt nothing like the rest of paris that i had been to.  this neighborhood was quiet, and almost hidden, except it was up on a hill.  i got the feeling that this sort of an enclave off the beaten track, and david confirmed this for me.  i was immediately engaged.

we parked on a steep hill and walked up to a crowded little café called gladines.  there was no seating except a small 4-seat table that was already occupied by 2 women. david humorously and conspicuously hovered over one of the seats and said something to one of the girls in french and charmed his way into getting permission for us to share the table.

david is one of those guys you want to have on speed-dial in a pinch, in case you need something cool to do next weekend, or you have a girl you want to really impress and want to take her somewhere really cool, because he always has the lowdown on everything.  if it’s a cool underground concert or an off-the-beaten-path coffee shop, or some badass burger joint (harder to find in europe than one might think) that people don’t know about yet, david knows about it. coming from chinese descent, he has a self-deprecating sense of humor but not without a sharp wit and a confident sense of his own style.  david has a deep love for vinyl (another thing he can help you find a hotspot for), and he has a fashion style that hints “casual hip-hop,” which enables him to always wear a hat without looking like a douche.  think less like pharrell and more like mos def.  to put it coolly:  david is cool without being “too” cool.

we talked a bit about my experience in paris, but eventually the conversation started straying more into where i was headed next, since i was bound for germany in only a few hours.  david lit up like a christmas tree when i mentioned berlin, stating that it very well might be his favorite city in europe.  about a year ago, david had been considering a move to amsterdam (obviously we connected on this topic as well, since we both love that city), as he was ready for a new location, ready for a change, etc.    as he was starting to prepare for this relocation, he took a quick trip to berlin to check out the scene and almost overnight he fell in love.  i’ll spare the details for now because berlin will be a future topic for this blog, but for david it appeared that he now had a bigger decision to make:  amsterdam or berlin? 

unfortunately, that decision is still up in the air, as some opportunities presented themselves to his consulting business in paris and they have prevented him from leaving.  but someday, it sounds as though berlin may be the city that steals david away from paris.

david enthusiastically gave me about 10 places to go check out, including burger joints, coffee shops, vinyl shops (even though i don’t have the capacity to take records with me right now), cool unknown bars, and lastly he awakened me to the gloriously delicious doner kebap.  i’ll explain what that is in later posts, but trust me, it’s a cheap street eat that is worth every cent you spend on it.

eventually david had a meeting to get to and I had a bus to catch.  but first, i decided to try and squeeze one final sight in before i left paris. david volunteered to drop me off at the cathedral at notre dame.  i thanked him graciously for everything and promised we’d keep in touch, especially if it was possible for me to pass through paris again.

i didn’t have much time so I was in “hurry up” mode while i systematically made my way around the historic cathedral.  The structure is magnificent. construction began on the building in 1163 and has been in all sorts of conditions, as one can imagine after nearly 900 years (its hard for an american to even fathom this, as my country has been in existence for roughly 28% of the time the cathedral has), but today it stands brightly and majestically above the senne river, nestled neatly in the 4th arrondisement of paris.  

i didn’t have much time, so i hastily made my way around the grounds, snapping photos at anything that caught my eye.  out back behind the cathedral is a quiet and quaint garden that i recommend anyone whom is looking for a break from the city check out.  i would have enjoyed drinking a glass of wine and sitting on the lawn for a few hours.  very relaxing.

 

the side of the cathedral at notre dame smiles back on a sunny day
the side of the cathedral at notre dame smiles back on a sunny day

 

no man, the cathedral is over there. idiot.
no man, the cathedral is over there. idiot.
flowers behind notre dame resist the autumn weather urge to wilt
flowers behind notre dame resist the autumn weather urge to wilt

an hour later i was on my bus, bound for bremen, germany.  it was going to a long ride, 11 hours, but it was an overnight journey and i was saving money by not renting a hostel bed for the night.  as the bus pulled out of the station, i began thinking of my travels so far, and my experience in paris.

paris had been a little difficult for me.  it was the first time i had been truly tested with a real language gap.  on most of my travels, even before europe, i have been able to get by with broken spanish, or other locals have spoken enough broken english for us to communicate.  but whether by spite or by apathy, paris had not embraced me as a traveler the way other places have.  and why should it?  i’m just a tourist,i am gifting nothing to it other than my visitor money, and for a short period of time at that.  i am only traveling on a selfish errand, to take in the sights and experience things for myself.  at worst, i add to the congestion of the city, i am taking someone’s place on the metro who uses the train every day for commuter purposes, i am sitting in someone’s seat at a café, i am clogging the beautiful gardens all around the city and subtracting from their attractiveness simply by being there and snapping photos. and i do all this without speaking a word of their language, forcing their everyday lives to be interrupted and making them go out of their way to accommodate me.  it is a very selfish thing that i do.  my good friend, micah, has a term for this that he coined.  it’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek witticism, but it fits:  ego-tourism.   when you are an “eco-tourist,” it means that you are staying in environmentally friendly sleeping arrangements, your activities all do their best to minimize their impact on the environment around, and you are conscious of the footprint you leave behind.  but when you are an “ego-tourist,” you are going about your trip in a mindless consumer fashion, where everything you do is about your experience and what you can take back with you.  to be clear, an ego-tourist is not the opposite of an eco-tourist, as the two are not mutually exclusive, but these two terms focus on different things.

nevertheless, i am aware that i was an ego-tourist while in paris, and therefore, it makes sense that i should feel a little lonely about my time there.  luckily in my last 24 hours, i had two parisians in david and anaelle who helped me feel a little more comfortable and understanding of the culture, for if not for them, i would have no desire to come back.  but they awakened my eyes to the layers that paris has, layers which cannot be peeled back in such a short time.  and were it not for the lack of time that i have, i certainly would have allowed myself to try and give back to paris in some way, that i might connect with it on a deeper level like i had with amsterdam and iceland.

i will return to paris someday and i will do things very differently.  i will rent a flat in canal st. martin, i will sit on a sidewalk café, i will drink white wine and eat bread and cheese, i will watch carelessly as people walk this way and that, and i won’t have a damn thing to do.  And it will be perfect.

as these thoughts did laps around the inside of my mind, i had a sudden desire to have one last look at the city of lights.  to glimpse the man-made wonder of paris, but alas, this bus had been rolling for at least 20 minutes, and had already departed from the outskirts of the city.  i franticly looked out the window, searching for anything recognizable off in the distance, a structure, an arc, a tower, anything.  but i couldn’t see anything.  i settled back into my window seat and settled for the streetlights along the highway, minorly depressed that this was how my parisian holiday was ending.  i sat in disappointment for a few minutes when suddenly the bus changed trajectories, following the road as it winded to the side and climbed up a small hill.  i was still dejectedly staring out the window at the large wall and lights lining it unexpectedly dropped away and revealed a long, lazy view of the urban sprawl of paris.  Surprised, I refocused my eyes and gazed out into the twinkling expanse in the twilight.  and there it was.  among the darkening sky rose one monolithic bastion of the romance of the city, finally extending a tiny grace to me in a way that only i could hope for:  the eiffel tower stood glowing and shimmering far off in the distance, barely perceptible among all the other illuminated structures, but still standing firmly as if to simultaneously bid me adieu and tease me at the same time.  What a perfect farewell from paris.

———————–

 today’s track is a little late to be appropriate for it’s namesake, but it’s a fun little jam to throw on before you venture out for some fun.  priory hails from portland, oregon and boasts a fun electronic sound with a folksy base for songwriting.  enjoy…

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