And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

Parisian vignettes

Here are some things I saw in Paris on a recent trip. I really enjoyed the weekend and found it a beautiful and fascinating place, and these are some of the moments which stood out to me as different or unexpected. Positive or negative, they’ll stay with me as memories.

On the Metro, taking line 12 through Jules Joffrin station, looking out of the window to see two homeless people lying at the far end of the station. A man and a woman, they were both surrounded by a huge array of equipment: blankets, sleeping bags, boxes, bags, containers. The man was asleep surrounded by his things and looked like he’d been there for a long time (days, weeks, more). The woman drank from a fizzy drink can and maintained eye contact with me the entire time we passed through the station.

The Eiffel tower, lit up “like a vajazzle”, after the laser light show was done at the end of the night. Why on earth did Paris’s rulers decide turning one of the world’s most famous structures into a giant disco ball was a good idea?

Sitting in an almost apologetically bad fast food place opposite Gare du Nord, exhausted after a day of carrying a heavy bag around Montmarte and still with two hours to kill before the train. Laughing at the succession of people trying to enter the restaurant via sealed-shut emergency exit door, until one man stood swaying like a zombie in front of it, eyes blank. He then appeared in front of our table minutes later, young and unblinking, simply holding his hand out wordlessly for money. He shuffled away and was gone like our appetites.

Young, attractive Parisians in a tucked-away wine bar in the 1st arrondissement, eating expensive cheese carelessly from the end of sharp knives. The perspiring waitress taking our wine order in terms of how many Euros we wanted to spend. A mid-thirties Frenchwoman gently mocking me in English when I pretended to understand her friendly aside and she overheard my “dunno” when Maddy asked me what she’d said. Drunk on good wine we didn’t know the name of.

Casually throwing ourselves into the Metro with the cocksure confidence of Londoners abroad only to find ourselves struggling to locate the exit (any exit) in Chatelet station, as we circle around the warren-like tunnels following multiple conflicting signs marked Sortie.

Turning off the buzzing Rue de Rivoli, like a French Oxford Street, into a silent court with enormous wooden doors, to find our Airbnb accommodation peaceful, quiet and wonderful.

Snarling “non!” with rapidly-increasing annoyance at persistent and aggressive trinket sellers surrounding the park below Sacré Coeur, whose stalking and surrounding forced us to unwillingly ascend the hundreds of steep concrete steps to the summit, rather than linger amid their desperate salesmanship as we decided how best to reach the top in comfort.

Pacing around Saint-Germain on a Friday night looking for a bar that wasn’t a restaurant, stumbling upon the perfect candidate, only to hear loud Brits abroad braying from the outdoor seating and reminding us guiltily of our hypocrisy. Finding somewhere much better instead.

Noting the succession of scam artists surrounding the Eiffel tower playing variations on the three cups game, with each “winner” receiving their €200 note with blank-faced “delight”. Each player was by sheer co-incidence the same ethnicity as the ruddy-faced eastern European gamesmaster so bravely grinning despite his losses.

Nipping into a mini supermarket to buy coffee to find it stocking a better selection of cheeses than many British fromageries.

Watching six dozen tourists fight one another for elbow space so they could take photos of the Mona Lisa behind bulletproof glass and two security guards. For the first time in my life, I see people turning their backs to great artworks to take self-shots of themselves with a classic in the background.

Going for breakfast in the café from Amelie and despite our attempts at being subtle fans on a homage, feeling our cover completely blown by the multiple Japanese couples each performing a full-scale photoshoot complete with professional-grade SLRs all over the venue.