We board our A330 Air France Jet, begin to acclimatize to French culture: The language is French and secondary instructions and directions are given in English. The crew is professional, crisp-looking in their uniforms and attend to us quickly when we have questions. There is only one child on board, a lovely five-year-old girl who seems not to have any inclination to be anything but be perfectly content and self-controlled. A miracle.
My seat is meant for someone half my size, and I feel sudden kinship with sardines and contortionists. I have no other complaints, but this one impacts me for the next nine hours. I wish I wasn't tall; I wish I was only five feet and 90 lb soaking wet. Better yet, I vow to fly first class next time I go to Europe, but also know I'd better rob a bank first.
We are served a fine little dinner including pain (bread) served from a basket. Bread is the greatest source of French culinary pride besides wine. Before the meal, we are asked to choose an aperitif. My choice is champagne. Mostly because I would normally have had to pay extra for alcoholic libations on a coach-class flight, but also because I am on my way to France and I am trying to be French, even if I am a sardine at the same time.
We arrive safely at Charles de Gaulle Airport, a very odd airport indeed because of multiple scattered and sometimes experimental-looking buildings, The outskirts of Paris look leafy and green, somewhat foreign, somehow not. I am addled. I have missed a night and a day but lived a span of time in midair traveling at 550 mph from continent to continent. I am interested in my surroundings but don't give much thought to them either, feel a little surprise at this. The shuttle bus arrives at Montparnasse train station where we descend into the metro station. A musician is playing a marimba while seated on the ground. The music is fantastic. We rush past smiling.
This is a flow of humanity coming and going from their various destinations. We are swept up in the clatter and clang of rushing and chattering students and workers streaming along the deep corridors of the metro. The halls are brightly lit, but there are occasional steps that interrupt the turns and sweeps. We keep our pace and arrive at Line 4's platform seconds before our train halts in front of us with squealing brakes. Doors whoosh open, we are engulfed, doors close again and the train rumbles and shrieks. It feels like I am a part of a swirling river whose energetic current never stops.
Ascending the final steps with clunking suitcases and sweating faces, we are suddenly in St. Germain, our neighborhood for now in Paris. There is nothing American here, but it is not really so foreign. The boulevard is tree lined and civilized but again the energy of a busy Saturday morning is present, less so than down below in the metro's halls.
What is it that tells you This Is Paris? It seems similar to San Francisco with the buses accelerating and braking along the street, people walking with lightly sounding footsteps and low conversations, but of course it's French. There are a lot of curving surfaces, wrought iron grates and balcony fronts. But those are first impressions. There is so much that is Paris that if anyone or anything might feel ambiguous, the environment around it influences it to be Parisian. I don't know how else to put it.
I'm tired. We find our hotel, a nearly invisible establishment that does not advertise itself at all and yet is up to its neck in a busy cafe-lined area of the Sixth Arrondissement very close to the Latin Quarter. It is Hotel La Louisianne. We are early to be checking in and are allowed to leave our bags until later. The hotel host is friendly and - what? - French. Yes, French and kind, and I am grateful for his kindness. He is a young man and laughs when we ask where to have lunch. It's 11:30. There's no one thinking about lunch yet in the area, he says but coffee is every 20 meters. About 30 seconds later we have found a cafe we feel satisfied with on a lively corner. We have been whisked here in a time span that seems both long and short. The tired energized feeling of jet lag knocks on our brains. We must pace ourselves somehow. But first, this lovely petite dejeuner (breakfast). Ces't bon.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way