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14 May 2005

the difference between

i walked out of the hotel this morning and it was raining lightly. weather has a profound impact on one's perception of a place. a raining city is always less inviting and i think it's hard to erase the first impression burned into your mind. despite the rain this morning, i was in a great mood. an incredible mood in fact. almost happy it was raining, walking around with my umbrella feeling very warm and sheltered from the wetness and smiling. i remember it clearly, observing other people experiencing the rain. the rain in spring in paris. i planned to go to the musée d'orsay today, but i walked slowly through the falling water which was keeping many people inside on this weekend day, enjoying the openness on the streets. step by step with no hurry.

ha. a raining weekend day in paris. blah. what was i thinking? of course everyone is going to go to the museum today. i exited the metro stop and saw a long queue twisting back on itself and twisting back on itself some more. a man at the top of the stairs leading out of the metro was selling umbrellas, without much success as most were already carrying one. a lone line of umbrellas, queued, in the rain, twisting. i guessed that they weren't much in a rain type of mood that day, and i was, so it took me no more than two twists of the queue to decide i'd go to the museum another day. i had more walking to do.

down along the seine. i saw two people without umbrellas who were very wet, the bottoms of their pants the heavy dragging sort of wetness.

i crossed over to the île de la cité and descended to the northwestern point and stood there for a long while watching the nearly empty tour boats slosh past. standing there just thinking about being there with the rain coming down.

then over to a walking bridge. i saw a girl carrying a black umbrella and a guide book walking slowly. wondered if she was enjoying herself as well. almost said hello. i stood and watched a long barge carrying sand travel underneath the bridge. narrow archways. thought about the catastrophe and wondered how quickly a barge could be stopped if the course were wrong. the captains must be very skilled and experienced. rain doesn't make for good pictures.

slowly the bottom of my pants became the heavy but not dragging sort of wetness. it was about three in the afternoon and i decided to return to the hotel. i'd sent vadim an email the day before letting him know i was in paris and asking if he and nico would want to hang out. i got off the metro stop near my hotel and went to the internet cafe to check my email. no response from vadim. i had nico's phone number... decided i'd give him a call a little later. i packed up after about 40 minutes and the man told me the price was four euros.

[in english]

me: 'but i've only been here 40 minutes.'

computer guy: 'one euro per 10 minutes.'

me: 'or four euros per hour according to the sign? so i could go back up and use the computer for another twenty minutes for the same price?'

computer guy: 'if you want.'

i felt he could have volunteered that information. he tried and failed, broken. guess i should always clarify before sitting down. all of these cafes have different ways of charging for internet service. i went back up and scanned the web for another twenty minutes.

how to call nico. none of the payphones accepted change, only phone cards [but where to buy a phone card?]. before i hit the hotel i swung by a mobile phone store to check out prices on prepaid sim cards. before i left on this trip, i'd intended to buy local sim cards in various countries so that i'd have a phone for emergencies and a way to call hostels which couldn't be booked on the internet. a sim card would also give me a stable french phone number so that i could be reached by my family and friends if necessary. above all, it was a stupid electrical gadget and would enable the full functionality of my treo and despite my best attempts i just couldn't resist. there, i've said it. so... how much. thirty five euros. [cringe]. thirty five euros? the man explained that twenty of that was for the card and the phone number and the remaining fifteen was airtime credit. he seemed honest. i could resist no longer.

back at the hostel i played around with my new toy. i tried calling the informational line to get my phone number. all in french. [sigh]. i should have known. the second i should have known today. after calling the same number and listening to the prerecorded message five or six times, i was finally able to translate the message and my phone number. i called nico; he answered and remembered me [yay]. he told me that he already had plans to meet up with some friends that evening but that i should join them. what a nice guy. we planned to meet up at one of the metro stops at around 8:30 that evening.

the shower. fairly small, but steaming hot. ah, i forgot. we didn't have a seat on our toilet. une siege. i told the gentleman at the front, who was a very nice and friendly sort... 'nous n'avons pas une siege pour notre toilette.' the first day he said he'd talk to the owners who would address the issue promptly. when the probably hadn't been corrected the second day and i told him we still didn't have a seat, he kindly said that there was another toilet on the first floor. i would guess that there hasn't been a seat on that toilet for at least six months.

some guidebook reading and then it was time to meet nico. the rain had stopped. metro -> metro -> metro, switching trains to arrive at the proper station, gare d'austerlitz. i was supposed to give him a call when i got there... the metro rides had taken longer than i'd expected and i was about fifteen minutes late. he answered and said he'd be right down. hmm... would i remember what he looked like? yes. i apologized for being late. no problem he said... he never gave his friends an arrival time because he was always late himself. more metro. much more metro.

in one of the metro stops a woman asked nico for some change. 'désolé.' AH. i logged that word into my french vocabulary.

finally at the last stop... some walking... and then arrival at benoit's house. very nice guy. i scanned his apartment and could tell immediately from the various technical books scattered about that he was a computer guy. we spoke briefly about my background and i learned he was currently unemployed and looking for a job in the technical field. after fifteen minutes or so, other guests began to arrive. i tried to absorb as much french as possible but usually was only able to pull out a few words from each sentence. at one point, benoit was speaking to nico and clearly said something along the lines of 'how much french does he understand? do you think he knows we're talking about him right now?' and then both stopped and looked at me. i hadn't been concentrating on their conversation but picked up what they'd said from context. i think, anyway. ha. this is exactly what i was looking for... i considered myself lucky to have been invited to this intimate little gathering of friends [merci nico et benoit!].

throughout the evening: accordian music streamed by an mp3 player running on linux. dancing. singing. a discussion about american politics and the war in iraq. a ricco-chet marker tattoo. the difference between france french and quebec french; example: radiohead. haribo. nico with glasses in the foreground. benoit against the far wall. elise a blur in red. anthony to her left.

the metro had stopped running. nico and i got a ride with anthony and elise to nico's apartment. portishead. god. we stayed up until the metro started running the next day at approximately 6:15. a zombie walk through the trees closely cut, to the metro, to the hotel, to sleep.

posted by paul on Sat 14 May 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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