Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lost and Found

Lost

As I mentioned in one of my posts from Warsaw, I bought an umbrella there. It was inexpensive but quite nice. Navy blue, full-size, rubberized handle (the hook kind--essential for ease of carrying) and sturdy but not too heavy. I used it in Vienna and even in my four hours in Munich. I did wonder when, exactly, I was going to lose the umbrella because it didn't fit into my luggage and I kept sticking it into overhead bins in train compartments near but not attached to any of my other possessions. Still, as I got into the train at Stuttgart, where I had my last transfer, it was still with me.

However, when I got off the metro at my stop in Paris, I did not have the umbrella. I'd left it on the train, finally, after arriving in Paris. I even remembered taking it down from the overhead rack and putting it in between two seats. And there it remained.

I resolved to go back to the station the next day and see if I could find it. Heck, even though I have two (!) umbrellas in Paris, I don't have a full size one and I'm sure it will come in handy.

Bright and early on Tuesday morning (ha ha ha ha), I made my way to Gare de l'Est. I asked (in French) at the info both where the lost and found was (I said, "I lost something" and she knew what I wanted). She sent me downstairs and almost without having to ask, the staff knew what I wanted. Again, the transaction was entirely in French.

"What did you lose?"

"An umbrella."

"What kind?"

"Excuse me?" I hadn't understood her.

"What kind of umbrella?"

"Oh. Blue, large…" I held my hands a couple of feet apart.

"Yes. We have it. Nine euros."

"What?"

"Nine euros."

My umbrella was being held hostage for nine euros. The umbrella cost approximately three euros. I was angry. I walked away, muttering in English, about how ridiculous it was. I turned around to look back at them and a man working there gestured to me to return. He tried to explain, unsuccessfully, why they had to charge. But, I'm sorry, I won't pay nine dollars to retrieve something from the lost and found! It's not like they had to ship the damn thing anywhere. Clearly, at the end of the line, they sweep the train of all left items and bring them to some central spot. Of course, if it had been my luggage or something of value, I would have paid, but I sure would have been pissed off. Given that I have two umbrellas in my possession in Paris, I was able to walk away and not pay on principle. But, can you imagine having your valuables held hostage in such a way? Wow.

Found

The rest of the day was kind of a blur. I took the bus home and appreciated the scenery. The light in Paris is amazing--it's a shame I'm not a painter. It was a little cloudy on Tuesday and the play of the shadows on the buildings--well, it's just like in every (well-shot) film you've ever seen of Paris, almost ethereal.

I was relieved to be back in Paris where French is spoken--a language I at least partially understand. Imagine! I wouldn't have guessed that I would have missed hearing and speaking French, given my minimal competence. But minimal is more than zero and it's good to be able to make myself understood without too much trouble.

By the end of my first day back, I had heard from A. and no one else. This left me surprised and sad. A.? Really? I keep thinking things are over with him and he keeps popping up. The text I sent was the least communicative possible, simply, "I'm back. Had a great trip. Hope you're well." He IM'd me later and we got together that evening, though briefly. It was good to see him but I'll wait for him to make the next move (famous last words).

Oh, and I told him the story about my stolen credit card and he was extremely amused by the prosaic nature of the thief's purchases. (Also, it turns out that what I thought was a purchase of lottery tickets was actually another a small grocery store! This thief spent a lot of money on food.) He said, "Why didn't they just go to FNAC [a book/music/electronics store--people pronounce it F-knack] and load up on iPods?"  Why indeed! He also said, "Someone should write that story. That would make good idea for a novel."

I said, "Yeah. Maybe I'll get around to that someday."

"Oh? You want to write a novel?"

"Well, in theory…" All I need is an idea and some motivation and I'll be right on that. And how did we not discuss this before? "...actually, I did write about it already…"

"You did? Where?"

"On my blog?"

"You have a blog?" Whoops. I KNOW I mentioned the blog to him. Apparently, what I took for indifference was simply inattention. I've wondered why he never asked me about it…now I know why.

"Yes! I told you. I know I told you." His response: completely blank expression followed by a look of bafflement. "That's why I even responded to your stupid craigslist thing! [His ad specifically mentioned reading blogs!]"

"Oh, well, oh…I, huh."

I told him a tiny bit about it…but mostly that I have several blogs, though most are static holding places for stories (the "worst dates" blog and the Peru and Israel travelogues). I didn't mention content but I think it was clear that I write about my personal experiences rather than some overarching them. He did not ask to see it and I did not volunteer the address. If he asks for it, well, I'll probably give it to him but here's hoping he doesn't. I'd rather not expose the full extent of my craziness to him--the amount he's seen so far is more than sufficient!

You know, now that I'm thinking about it, I told him that I had a blog during our initial email exchange! Ha. I do so like to be right. (I just read the piece of correspondence in question and I mentioned it in my second email! So, it wasn't that he was inattentive, he just doesn't remember everything like I do.) It's tempting to forward him that message but why would I do that? I'll just tell him the next time I see him, if I remember. Or, maybe I won't, since, ideally, he'll forget all about it again (though it's rather unlikely).

By the end of today, I'd heard back from everyone I contacted. Smile! Plus one more person who knew when I was getting back and took the initiative. I really was going to email him today…

A la carte

On Wednesday, I had to go to the doctor. Not the regular doctor (not even sure what that means), but the doctor who would approve me for the carte de sejour. This was the next to last step in a very long process. I was still a bit on the fence about the whole thing--was it worth paying? But I'd come so far and the appointment itself was free so I went.

I was a little worried about communicating in French but it was just fine. When I didn't completely understand words, I got the gestures and I stood where I was supposed to stand and waited where I was supposed to wait. They weighed and measured me and then stuck my finger to get my blood sugar. (Aside: I know they did this because of my weight. It made me think that it does a real disservice to "normal" weight people who may have diabetes and who don't get tested! Also, when I have blood work, I always score exactly in the desired range. I have high good and low bad cholesterol. My blood sugar is on the low side, but not too low. My blood pressure is normal, etc., etc. Aside from all my sports-related aches and pains, I'm ridiculously healthy and meet no criteria for diabetes EXCEPT being "overweight." Luckily, it's not enough to keep me out of France and the boys don't seem to mind.)

After the weighing, measuring and the sticking, I had to get a chest x-ray. I sat in a little ante-room and was told to get naked from the waist up and pile my hair on top of my head (good thing I was wearing it in a pony tail--thus I had a rubber band to do the job). No sheet or other covering was provided so I sat exposed and pretended that I was French and, thus, no big deal.

I was called into the x-ray room and unceremoniously pushed and shoved into a large, flat wall-like part of the machine. The techs, two women, said, "don't move!" (in English) before fleeing from the room and zapping me. When it was over, I dressed and went back to the main waiting area.

A man called my name next and it turns out he was the doctor. We spoke English. He asked me the usual medical history questions and I managed to tell him I had a hietal hernia and a sore knee and shoulder from past sports activities. Why not just keep these finer points to myself? Please talk to the honesty/oversharing gene--it actually seems to be out of my control. He'd seen the results from the blood sugar test, which were on the high end of the acceptable range because…I'd eaten breakfast. (Another aside: in one of the letters I received about the appointment, mention had been made of fasting. My read was that I didn't need to fast. Um, guess I got that one wrong.) The nurse said I should get it test again in six months, just to be safe. The doctor asked if I "was active in sports". I said yes! He said to keep up with the sports and that was the best thing to do. I have to say that even though the only reason they tested me was because of my weight at least they didn't tell me to lose weight. Interestingly, I've never gotten that lecture in the States either, mostly just questions about my activity level. When they find out I'm active, they drop it or encourage me to keep with it. I guess when you encounter someone with as robust and healthful appearance as I (good color, clear skin, strong teeth, good hair, etc.) and who has perfect health according to all the tests, you don't get a lecture about losing weight. Good thing, too, because I would not be amenable to hearing one.

After that, I was cleared to go and sent to the next office. The one where I had to pay. The lady there found my file and sent me to the Tabac around the corner to purchase the tax stamps (all 275 euros worth). So, I went. I felt committed at that point and I had the cash, so I just did it. I went back to the office with the stamps, waited awhile next to a very impatient man, who turned out to be a very frustrated man. He had some kind of argument with the two ladies working in this office and they seemed to blame the misunderstanding on a third colleague who wasn't present (isn't that always the way?). Finally, my lady caught sight of me and I handed her the stamps. She glued them on to the letter I'd received specifying the amount owed, stuck it in my file and handed me a laminated official looking "titre de sejour." Wow! Upon closer examination, it's actually "temporaire" but it'll do. I figure the permanent one will come a few days before I head back to the USA.

I'll admit to being a little impressed with myself for making it through the whole process, despite the quixotic nature of the enterprise. Was it worth paying for the experience? I'm not so sure about that, but I did it and I have to live with it. At least today, I don't have buyer's remorse, so that's something.

Trip

I'll fully update you on the last days of my trip tomorrow, but overall I had a great time. Berlin was fascinating. Spending time with Johanna was terrific. Meeting other folks in the hostels where I stayed was really fun and like revisiting my youth. In fact, since I was mistaken for a 28-year-old that's true in more ways than one. When the guys guessing my age saw I was flattered I was they revised upwards to 33 (I'd had a long talk with one of them and he did some math to come up with that). When I was still flattered, they reacted with astonishment: "how old can you be???" Very, very old, indeed. But, like I always say, my immaturity more than makes up for it. (For new readers and those that have forgotten, my current age is 39. And no, I'm not posting a picture so you can decide for yourself how youthful looking I actually am. Let's just say that I definitely look like I'm in my 30's and 35/6 would be a reasonable guess. But then again, so would my actual age!)

Last, I made one new friend while I was in Warsaw. We've stayed in touch by email over the last several days and he'll be coming to visit soon. Should be great fun.

Grateful for: home.

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