Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

France 2008 - Paris, May 13

Still the afternoon and fading into evening:
In retrospect, our first day in France was totally successful. After we arrived, we got on the right train, made the right connexions ('correspondence'), walked short distances, found the hotel first try, had beer. At 4 pm we got up after a much needed nap and set out to see what see could see. Our hotel was on a tiny street called Rue d'Austerlitz, off the Rue de Bercy. We oriented ourselves using the Rue de Bercy and headed west toward a canal off the Seine, between the Boulevards Bourdon and de la Bastille.

We saw lots of activity and canvas awnings lining both sides of the canal but when we went to walk down what appeared to be a sort of flea market lining the canal wall, a man stopped us and asked for 8 Euros each as an entrance fee. I still don't know if Peter was acting innocent or jet lagged or just being provocative but the first word out of his mouth was, "Pourquoi?" and this just cracked up the entrance guy. He said the equivalent of "Good one!" and let us in for free. I have no idea if this tactic would ever work again.

It turns out it was like a flea market and everybody in there was selling something, from paintings to books to huge pieces of furniture.
Outfits I made that I wore in France
Here I am, pretending to look at picture frames. Every tenth vendor had their dog with them, some snoozing in little baskets under tiny cafe tables.

Later, we walk further west, into the Marais district and have a beer at a cafe, to rest and look at the map. We finish our very small draft ('pression') beers (at 250 ml, not very big at all) and continue on, just looking at things. Finally, we stop at yet another cafe, this time for a glass of real French wine (not to be confused with that stuff we get at the LCBO). It sounds like all we're doing so far is drinking but don't forget we were terribly dehydrated on the flight over.

We people watch and develop our theory of the Parisien. Peter takes a photo of a woman with a small black dog of indeterminate breed and she comes over to chat with us. She only speaks French and so we have a real conversation entirely in French with a real Parisienne. It turns out she is from Normandy, but she has lived in Paris for the last 30 years so I count that as being Parisienne. We are amazed by how our French comes back to us and how we are able to make ourselves understood. If Peter can't think of a word, sometimes I do or we just describe whatever it is in other words. No one seems to mind that we lapse into English in order to think through what we want to say and then launch back into high school French. We speak slowly, with a smile, make an effort and are rewarded by Parisiens being nice to us.

Finally, it's time for dinner so we find a place that looks inviting and have something light - not a whole three course meal or anything. It's still light even at 9 pm. I don't remember where we walked exactly but we ended up walking alongside the Seine. Apparently we walked fairly far west because when we turned to walk home, we were past the Ile Saint-Louis (the one without Notre Dame) and so we stopped there for coffee and dessert. And met an American woman artist who struck up a conversation with us, which was quite friendly. She was from New York City but spent a lot of time in Paris. She wondered where were we from since we seemed to be mangling both English and French (not what she said! but what I felt was happening). We told her it was the jet lag and we were Canadian, so that explained a lot.

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