Sunday, July 06, 2008

Catching up

I've been busy and I need to catch you up with my doings. Let's start a couple of days ago.

On Tuesday, I had plans to meet John and Sharon, friends of my father's, for lunch. I decided I'd stop by the police station first on my way to meet them. I checked out a Velib bike (I had to visit three stands before I found a useable bike!) and rode about a mile to the station. I'd gotten a late start and didn't arrive until after 11am.

About that line…when I got there, a line of about ten people had already formed. The people queuing up behind me asked if they were in the right place. Eventually, I figured out they were. A lady right behind me was not happy about this and grew even more worried when her husband, toddler and baby showed up. She asked to get in first, but no luck. I asked her how old her baby was (in French!). Fifteen days was the answer. Geez louise, police, let the lady with the newborn babe in first, please!

I gave up around noon since my lunch date was at 1pm.

After stopping for a soda, I checked out another bike, and rode leisurely towards my lunch date. Or at least as leisurely as possible under the circumstances--Paris traffic doesn't really allow for slow riding.

I was making good progress and trying to stay on smaller, less trafficked streets. All of a sudden the street I was riding on changed to a one-way, the wrong way. If I continued, I'd be going against traffic. I didn't want to turn left because I would then be on a main boulevard. It was too late to turn right…so I turned right on to the (very wide) sidewalk, planning to ride a block until I got to the next small street (hopefully) going the right way.

Halfway down the block, I was stopped by a policeman. He demanded, in French (of course), "What are you doing?"

I understood the question but couldn't answer. He asked where I was from and for my passport. I gave it to him, since I happened to be carrying it (I needed it for the visit to the police station, I haven't been carrying it otherwise). He said, "180 euros, that is the fine for this! You are not a person, you cannot be here."

I got off the bike and said, "Now I am a person!" then I apologized a lot and tried to explain that I was trying to avoid going the wrong way on a one-way street (in retrospect, that would have been the better option). I apologized some more. He looked at me sternly. I promised never to do it again. He handed back my passport and I walked the bike to the corner and rode away down the next street. Scary! But, 180 euro fine for riding on the sidewalk? Seems a little extreme, no?

I got to John and Sharon's apartment in good time. They fed me a very large salad with meat, cheese and olives for lunch and we had a good time talking. John has just retired so they're taking an extended trip in Europe this summer. I may have talked their ears off but they didn't seem to mind.

We had plans to take a walk but after all the eating and talking, we were tired, so we settled for coffee at a nearby café. It was quite hot that day, so taking it easy seemed the right thing to do.

I left them around 5:30 and continued on my way. I had sort-of plans to meet a group of strangers for a picnic at 8pm.

I decided not to go home first and instead moved slowly towards the picnic spot. I got an ice cream cone and sat in a sunny park. A man sitting not far from me on the same low stone wall scooted closer…closer…then started speaking to me. He asked if I were French and didn't seem to believe it when I told him I wasn't. His English was sparse but he tried out a few words on me. He was from Egypt and said his uncle had a shisha bar on the Champs-Elysees. He asked me if I wanted to go eat (he meant smoke) shisha. Even though he was very good-looking, I wasn't tempted. I told him I had a boyfriend (un petit ami). He said, where is he? I said, not here, he'll be here tomorrow. He said, I can be your boyfriend today. I said, no thanks.

It continued like that for a while and then he moved even closer to me and started muttering things in French that I was quite sure were inappropriate. I said, "That's not nice," stood up and walked away without looking back. Hey, at least he didn't follow me. French men (or men from other countries living in France) do seem to be able to take no for answer.

Next, I went in search of a sandwich for my picnic. It took a little doing since I was right near the Louvre and most places in that area are ridiculously overpriced and serve unappetizing looking food. While I'm usually happy to get a prepared sandwich at the bakeries in my neighborhood, I decided against it in this case because it looked like most of the sandwiches, many of which contained mayonnaise, had been sitting out all day.

I ended up getting a grilled ham and cheese at a tiny lunch counter run by a friendly but abrupt lady who was willing to speak to me in French, English or Spanish. The food turned out to be quite tasty, much to my surprise. I carried it gingerly (it was hot!) to the Pont des Beaux Arts, the picnic spot. It turns out that this wood-plank bridge is a pedestrian-only spot, and mobbed with picnickers--a great number of whom were speaking English. Hmm, Pont des Tourists was more like it! I could not for the life of me identify my group. Plus, it was very sunny on the bridge (even at 8pm) and I craved shade. I went down to the pedestrian way under the bridge, found a bench and got to work on my sandwich. Then I took the bus home.

On the bus ride, on a street near the Opera, I spotted a couple wearing hotel bathrobes get into a cab. One taxi drove off but the second one they hailed took them. The woman was fully clothed under her open bathroom. The man was wearing slacks under his closed robe. I exchanged a glance and a raised eyebrow with my seatmate Odd.

A couple of minutes after I got home, my landlord (husband component) showed up to make a small repair. It was around 9pm and he was about an hour late--it didn't matter since he was supposed to get there when I wasn't home. It's normal, I've realized, for him to be so late, so I wasn't surprised to see him.

He got to work in the bathroom and I chatted with a friend on the computer. When the landlord was done, we talked for a while. He asked if I were making any friends and I told him about the Egyptian guy and some of my other adventures. He seemed impressed with my popularity. I said it was hard to meet women, though, and make actual friends.

Sad but true! I resolved right then that on Thursday I was definitely going to the meeting of the Paris knitting group I'd found online.

Wednesday, instead of going to the police station again, I wrote to my landlord (wife component) asking for some documents from them that I was pretty sure I would need to get the card. I hung around the house most of the day only leaving to do laundry and get some lunch. It was raining hard most of the day, so that was fine.

On Thursday, I thought about going to the police station again but decided I needed to make some extra photocopies of various documents and wait to hear from the landlord before making another try.

I went for coffee late to my regular place. The proprietor seemed delighted to see me and patted a place by the bar where he wanted me to sit, the location of the only stool. I sat and talked to him, haltingly. He asked what I was going to do that day and I said go to the movies. He said we should go together (!). Please nice bar man, don't start asking me out because I would really like to keep coming here.

I left and went shopping. Later, I did try to go to the movies but the trains were running slowly and I left the house later than planned, so I missed my show. Instead, I stopped for a snack and then walked to my next destination, the knitting group.

In fact, I went to knitting group the week before, but got an attack of shy and didn't introduce myself. This time, I imagined how I would react if a person who spoke basically no English were to show up at my knitting get-together in DC. I thought, not only would I be happy to see such a person but also I'd be impressed that she bothered to come out at all. I had to periodically remind myself of this on my way to the meeting place, a small café, so that I didn't turn around and go right back home.

When I got to the café, there were two women there with knitting. I didn't recognize either of them from my spying the week before. My courage failed me and I walked past the café and into the grocery store next door. After a few minutes, I went back and a few more women had arrived and they looked more familiar. It turned out that the original pair were just there by chance and were not part of the "formal" group! How random. "My" group went inside and staked out a huge table in the empty upstairs section of the restaurant. I introduced myself and they were all smiles, though most of the conversation was in French. This was a pretty serious group and knitting was the focus. Fine, because it's not like I could say much even if I had a lot to say. I ordered a drink by pointing to one someone else had and asking for the same thing (it was a very tasty--and pricey--raspberry lemonade). They did ask me the basic questions: why I was there, where I was from, where I'm living in Paris…and I answered in a mix of English and French. Before I left, they asked if I would come back and I said if I could…if I were free. I actually haven't decided yet, but maybe I will. I am very glad I went and that I didn't chicken out again!

After knitting, I stopped for some Japanese dinner nearby. Right near the knitting café, in the general neighborhood of the Opera, I found a street that had almost 100% Japanese restaurants. And, even though it was Thursday, four or five of them had lines out the door. I skipped those places and found something a little quieter a little further from the center of the action. Still tasty…but I'm curious about those very popular places. I may have to go back.

Friday, I was resolved to make another try for the police station. Running late as usual, I made it there around 10:15. I stopped by my coffee place first and chatted, as usual, with the proprietor after he got me my coffee. A man at the bar offered to translate for me…and I said no thanks, we were just making conversation. At least that's what I tried to say. I don't know how to say, "we're just making conversation" in French.

When I got to the police station, the line was huge. Maybe…50 or 60 people. I waited anyway. I waited and waited and waited. The line was generally orderly, except for the man behind me who crept up to stand to my side and then the man who was behind him, but was now directly behind me, who kept bumping me with his briefcase even though there was plenty of room.

When we got on the steps near the door, all order was lost. The briefcase man got in front of me, along with three or four men behind him. The guy in front of me ended up behind me--he later complained about this and the people between us wouldn't budge. I did let him enter before me when we got to the door but probably five or six people behind me went in before I did. This was after waiting for, oh, about FOUR hours.

When I finally got inside the building, I took a number from a number-dispensing machine. I was number 249. Number 180 was being served. After about another hour, I finally spoke to an official.

I said "bonjour" and handed over my passport. I opened my file of papers and she took my birth certificate, which was resting on top. Then she asked for a lease or deed, which I don't have. She kept asking. I showed her what I did have, which wasn't sufficient. She spoke to a colleague and I heard the word "bizarre" a few times. The colleague asked her if I spoke English. She said, "un petit peu." Indeed.

What I needed, and what I'd requested from my landlord, in lieu of an actual lease for my apartment, is an original copy of the electric bill, a letter stating I live at that address and a copy of the landlord's id (and a photo, my birth certificate and my passport--all of which I had). The encounter took about five minutes.

Interestingly, I wasn't angry, merely exhausted. It's tiring standing for almost four hours. I did have the ipod to keep me company and I'm getting good at doing nothing, so I wasn't too bored. The worst part was the rudeness of my line-mates who pushed their way in front of me, but that probably only cost me 20-30 minutes, not much in the grand scheme of five hours of waiting.

I'd told myself to assume I wouldn't get the card that day, thus it was easy to accept when I didn't. Now, at least, I know exactly what I need to make it happen. I don't have much confidence in the landlord coming through with the documents, though. She still hasn't answered my email. (Real time update: just got word from the landlord that there won't be a problem providing the documents! They're just late as usual.)

The same evening, the Fourth of July, I had plans to go to a "meetin" with strangers. That evening, a party was scheduled, but someone was kind enough to organize a pre-meeting (dinner) for people who'd never done anything with the larger group before. ("Meetin" is kind of like "meetup" but for purely social gatherings--a little easier to use and a little more low-tech.)

After lying on my bed for a while after getting back from the police station, I roused myself and got ready for the evening. I found the restaurant easily and was surprised that most of the other folks were British. A couple of other Americans did show up, but we were outnumbered--not that I minded. Dinner was good, if on the pricey side, but a little splurge was acceptable. It was a friendly group, though I don't think I hit the friendship jackpot with anyone. The organizer was my favorite, but who knows?

Around ten or eleven we made our way to the Hard Rock Café (ugh) for the party. When we arrived, a fellow came right up and introduced himself to me, "I'm Xavier. You're [Jamy]?" Why yes, yes I am. I guess he'd picked me out of the list of rsvps and recognized me from my photo on the site. Flattering, yes?

He was friendly and French (we spoke in English) but he didn't have too much to say for himself. He offered to introduce me around but didn't. Someone else came to talk to us and then he made his exit from the party. Ok.

I talked way too much to the next guy, who eventually left to smoke with his girlfriend (it's ok, I knew he had a girlfriend the whole time--might explain why I was more comfortable talking to him).

I reunited with some of my dinner-mates. They didn't like the Hard Rock (who does?) and were decamping to an Australian bar down the street. I went with them. The next place was much worse, in my opinion, than the Hard Rock. It was very crowded, loud and full of people very close to age 20. One fellow asked me what I wanted to drink and I said a rum and coke. Much later, he arrived with a bottle of wine for our group of four. Whatever.

I drank a glass of wine and observed the mating rituals and awkward dancing of the twenty-somethings and tried to avoid being stepped on.

I danced a little, by myself, and was grooving to a salsa tune when a complete stranger scooped me up for a dance. That was ok since the fellows in my group were completely ignoring me. But, I got bored with my new dance partner and his friend who exclaimed several times (in English) "I'm gay! I'm gay! No I'm not!" I said I had to get up in the morning and my dance partner kissed me on the forehead and said goodnight.

I said goodbye to my group and then asked the fellow working by the door where the nearest metro was. He said, "Oh, the subway?" Yes, the subway. Instead of answering my question, "where?" he told me it was closed (it was 1am). I told him he was wrong and he seemed surprised. I left and saw a metro station almost in front of the club! I went in and got home about half an hour later. No problem.

It took a while for me to sleep because I'd had coffee after dinner--it made it a little hard to get up at 8am the next morning, but I managed. I was still late, though. Full story tomorrow…

Grateful for: a life.

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