I had contacted Jim Hayes in Paris and made a reservation to join his “travel” dinner party at his gallery in Paris on Sunday. There could be up to 65 strangers from all over the world who pop in while passing through Paris to meet each other and share his hospitality at 25 Euros a piece. That is about 1650 Euros for one night’s hospitality. Not bad Jim. He is semi retired and why not when he takes in around 6000 Euros a month in “donations” to prepare four meals with wine and conversation. Louisiana born, traveler, teacher, actor, etc. His gallery is featuring a popular cartoonist, Peter van Stratten, for the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool. I have enjoyed this man’s cartoons and sense of humor for years and look forward to seeing the exhibition as well as meeting Jim and his guests.
The train pulled into the Gare de Lyon in Paris on time at 5pm. I don’t know why the Paris station is called Lyon…I just left Lyon but there are lots of idiosyncrasies the French have. I got up with my computer bag and went to get my suitcase but couldn’t find it! When I boarded the train I got on Coach 8 and placed my bag nearest to the seat next to the door so I could watch it. Then I realized I was in the wrong seat and the wrong Coach so moved down one to Coach 7 and the proper seat. Now I swear I took that bag but it was no where to be found and people were getting off the train ahead of me possibly with MY bag. I charged ahead of the line and watched for someone carrying my bag but didn’t see anyone. I ran down to the other Coach, thinking I may have not moved the bag from where I originally put it. There was a bag, just like mine and as I went for it, someone started yelling in French…NO! I took a second look and he was right, it was not my bag. Now I’m starting to think of all the things of value in that bag…my camera, my medicine, my camera, my medicine…shit. I have to find that bag before the train takes off. I jumped off the train looking for a conductor but there were none so jumped back on and started frantically running back and forth through the empty cars when I encountered a porter checking for any things left. I told him about the bag but he only spoke Swahili. Then he started yelling at me as if to say, you have to get off the train. I refused and kept looking and then I heard him yelling and pointing so I ran back and sure enough, there was the bag, right where I left it and ran by it two or three times. I almost kissed him.
There are four or five train stations in Paris and one of them, the Gare du Nord is the one nearest my hotel according to the directions. I have to catch a Metro after a badly, now needed, trip to the loo. Thank God I had change.
I bought a 2 day Metro pass and after looking over the Metro Map, I found the train and made it to Gare du Nord. The directions said the Hotel Prelude was about 1.5 kilometers from the station…that is a mile. The directions said go East until such and such a Rue. I noted the sun and headed East. The “brochure” on the internet about the Prelude, said it was in a multi-cultural neighborhood. This was like Calcutta! I pulled my 70 pounds of souvenirs ( just kidding folks…the last thing I want to be hauling around is souvenirs) East down the street I noted I should be on. All the while dodging dog shit and looking over my shoulder. After a mile and a quart of sweat the Boulevard du Chappelle turned into a street that I wasn’t supposed to. I realized East was not where I was supposed to be going but WEST. Two miles of backtracking brought me to a street I was to turn on. It was downhill thank goodness. Walking into the Sun on a hot day in Paris toting luggage is not fun. The directions said turn left on Rue du Geronimo but there was no Rue du Geronimo and when I asked some drunk Frenchmen hanging out on the street corner they started discussing it but after 10 minutes I thanked them and walked UPHILL to where I began. Meandering around the neighborhood I actually came the to street the Hotel Prelude was on. I hope this is not a prelude to the next few days. I checked in and they informed me that even though I called and cancelled my first day’s stay yesterday, I didn’t inform the booking agent and therefore was charged anyway. Something I already knew and could give a shit about at this point. Judging from the looks of this place, I did well to pay not to stay here.
She checked me into room 106 on the first floor. We were on the ground floor. I asked if there was an elevator as climbing another set of stairs didn’t excite me. She said yes but it too is on the first floor! I climbed the stairs to find my room was not Air Conditioned, no fan and was located with the window, on the first floor, overlooking the street below. It was great. I could ease drop on passing pedestrians and still see and hear every passing car. They even supplied instant coffee for in the morning. Not bad for $85 a night. Well I got naked and paraded around unpacking with the window wide open, took a shower and now am going to try and find a place to eat. The one saving grace about the location is there is a major hospital right down the street. If I get knifed, I don’t have far to crawl for help. I’m off!
The first place I find is a French Café with tables on the sidewalk so I sit down to a table clothed, candle lit table to read a menu all in French and starting at 25 Euros. I leave and walk to the next Pizza Café and sat next to two Australians from Sydney. Surprise. They recommended the Pasta and I bought it with a well needed carafe of red wine. I finished the meal with a Patisse because they accepted Visa.
I then stopped at the local bar on the way back where I met Joseph. He was from some Island 500 miles from Senegal and had worked ships to Venezuela as well as Mexico and most of the world for 8 years of his life. We played a game to pick up an upside down ashtray without touching the sides. Nobody could do it until I did. I explained to Joseph that he had to wipe his fingertips on his pants first and he succeeded. Everyone was impressed. Joseph was the only one that understood English and spoke it fairly well. There was a Foosball game going on that everyone was serious about. I watched that a while before trying to strike up a conversation with some of the others. Did I mention that this was an all black bar. I was the only white person in there but it was only a block from where I was staying so felt safe as long as I stayed sober. I offered Joseph a beer but he declined. He had two female children…one born here in France a month ago and another 11 year old daughter back home with his wife.
I returned to the hotel and requested a room higher up away from the traffic. The new night desk clerk nodded and smiled then mumbled something. I went to the room thinking I am stuck here for another night.
Today I wanted to visit the Museum D’Orsay but the subway that I had to transfer to was closed. It gave me an excuse to walk Paris. Paris is a nice walking city. I got off at
Notre Dame the walked down the Seine to the Louvre and on through the Tuileries Gardens to the Place du Concord. I had a picnic lunch in the gardens then crossed the bridge to the Museum D’Orsay but it was a serpentine queue that was at least an hour or more just to get in. Everything except restaurants and museums are closed on Sunday so everyone goes to the Museums. I was HOT and tired to took the subway home for a siesta before embarking out for the dinner party at Jim Hayne’s place.
It was on the end of the subway line that starts near my hotel . I got off a little too soon so had to walk a distance to arrive there. Quite a crowd had already gathered in the courtyard and were having drinks. I stood in line to greet Jim and give him my envelope with 25 Euros for the dinner. He gave me a warm greeting and introduced me to another David T from the States. His name was David Turner and then he directed us to go get a drink at the self service bar across the courtyard. I took a few pictures then started meeting people.
There was a businessman from Paris that is going Scuba Diving in Madagascar next week.
A man from NYC that lives in Paris and has a friend the owns a ballet dance school in Scottsdale. He visited her once but seldom goes to the states. She is involved in some “good Samaritan” program to assist illegal immigrants in Arizona. He is on his way to visit a city in Northern Africa that was built by the Italians and is all Art Nouveau. His Dad was there in World War II. He needs a Visa to get in but I don’t remember the name or the country where it is located. He visits NYC occasionally and Quebec region of Canada.
I sat with two French people eating with our plates in our laps. One man commented that though he comes here often, he has never got used of eating in this manner. The French dine at tables! He eat everything on his plate. When I was bidding goodbye to Jim Haynes, he was also there and mentioned the food was very good. I mentioned that he ate everything including the last piece of rice so I can attest to him enjoying the food. He said when he was young his father wouldn’t let him leave the table until he cleaned his plate. We were about the same age and I too had the same upbringing.
Then there was David a bar owner from the lower East side of NYC. He and his partner just opened a place 6 months ago after working on it for over a year. He is visiting another black friend of his from NYC that is a travel writer and has been living in Paris for over a year. I met him. His name is Eliot and he said he loves Paris but can’t afford to live here anymore. He took his visiting Mother out to dinner at a fairly nice French Restaurant and without being extravagant spent 280 Euros. He said he had to pay 8 Euros for a Coke that would cost .50 in the states. He is moving to Buenos Aires this year and is a big fan of Bill Bryson, the travel writer. He takes a lot of his style in writing from Bryson.
I later met another Frenchman that went to school at Berkley and loved the States. He asked if the Americans still have animosity toward the French and I admitted they still did. There was a week long music festival in honor of the late Billie Holiday. The musicians came from all over the world to celebrate it. A large number were from New Orleans and while they played, the screen behind them projected pictures of New Orleans street scenes from the past to the present after Katrina. The musicians asked the crowd if France would consider taking back New Orleans because America wasn’t much help to them and they all cheered YES. He introduced me to his friend from Brussels who is has been in business for himself as a caterer for 20 years . We had a nice talk about the business and seafood. He used to run a restaurant in Beirut that served Maine Lobster. He said it cost an arm and a leg here but to have it shipped live to Beirut made the cost there outrageous. I carried on with a lady and her husband from Chicago that travel quite a bit. He brought 20 American college students to this dinner party as part of a travel program from Chicago.
There was ample beer, boxed wine , bottled wine and later I saw a bottle of Brandy floating around. Our dinner was Moroccan lamb with mushrooms, rice, lentils, cucumbers with yogurt, spinach, chutney and carrot cake for dessert. Most ate standing up but it was served on plates not paper.
I met a man from San Diego that now lived in San Francisco. He has been to these dinners 9 times. His mother lives in Paris and he was with friend from Paris. Another man from Washington, D.C. lives in Paris and his ex-wife lives in Geneva, Switzerland. I could go on and on with the American students, and others that I met but lost track. There were over 60 people from all over the world. Blacks, Asians, French, English, American, etc. I bid goodbye to Jim. He is leaving form Edinburgh next week on holiday. He was born in Louisiana then moved to Venezuela before coming to Scotland and Europe. He hasn’t visited the states since.
I took the subway home and think I will return on my next stop over in Paris, if I return. It was so hot that the man next to me on the subway, took his shirt off then pretended he was going to take his pants off. I hope to be on the train tomorrow with the caterer from Brussels. We are leaving on the same train.
Thunder woke me in the night and I opened the curtains today to discover rain and wet streets. It is cool and after over two months of sunshine, I welcome walking in the rain.
I’m off for Belgium. The light rain was enough to warrant the use of my umbrella. My 48 hour pass that I purchased at 5 pm two days ago was supposed to be good for another 6 hours since it was only 11am , but it wasn’t . It says forty eight hours but I bought it Saturday evening and Sunday at midnight it expired. Thank God I left the party before Midnight.
The Gare Nord has ticket machines for convenience but not mine. If you are leaving the country you have to purchase your ticket from an agent. I stood in line for about 15 minutes only to be told I had to carry my luggage upstairs to purchase a ticket. I did and waited 30 minutes to be told the place is down the hall and not here. The line down the hall was over an hour and none of the ticket sales places made it clear what tickets they sold. There were 4 agents with ten registers. The others were closed of course. That would be to convenient for the tourist and we don’t want to make things convenient for those foreigners! Make them stand in line next to the worst smelling person in the Gare Nord and then when he buys his ticket charge him 74 Euros for a second class ticket on an hour long train to the next city! I couldn’t believe it. I asked about the bus or for that matter you would think I could find a taxi for over $100 to take me on an hours drive? He did say that if I was willing to forgo the next train and wait two hours for the 2:30 train he could get me a Senior’s discount on that and the ticket would only cost me 54 Euros. I took it then went up to the balcony to get a coffee. The service person told me I had to sit down and the waiter would take my order. 45 minutes later the waiter showed up and charged me $4 for a cup of coffee but couldn’t give me change for a $20. They act like your crazy or insulting them by asking them to make change. That was the last straw. I will not come back to France.
This is a beautiful country and Paris is special but not for these prices and the all the barriers they create to make your stay so unpleasant. I have to say I was treated very politely by most everyone and felt welcomed but the facilities available are not comfortable. Expensive Hotels with no air conditioned rooms but hair dryers. Beautiful Boulevards but your dodging dog and horse shit all the way. A great subway system full of people that don’t wear deodorant. Great train system that makes you wait two hours in line to get a ticket on a high speed train that only takes ½ hour or so to reach it’s destination. A massive train station that is packed and no where to sit. Roving Black Berets with automatic weapons and hand at the ready. They march in formation like on a jungle patrol. The point man, one in between and one facing the rear with there eyes darts over the crowd. Going up an escalator with one facing the top, one looking over both sides and one behind facing the bottom. They walk a few feet then stop and look around then walk a few feet more and do the same. There are teams of them combing the station along with teams of police doing the same without the automatic weapons.
I don’t even want to go to Belgium now. I should have got the ticket for Amsterdam…the Capitol of Freedom…my second home. Well I can’t say it hasn’t been interesting.
….to be continued