Monday, July 07, 2008

Treasure Hunt

A week or two ago, I saw a notice on craig's list posted by a French guy looking for people, English speakers specifically, to join him on a "treasure hunt" sponsored by a few of the local town halls (Mairies) of Paris. (Paris as a whole has a mayor but each arrondissement also has a mayor. No, I don't really get it.)

The treasure hunt was actually a kind of scavenger hunt (and not really that either), though I wasn't quite sure what to expect. All I knew was that I didn't have to pay and that we'd have a group of around six people.

I was out late on Friday and didn't fall asleep until 2am or so. (My mistake: drinking coffee after dinner. I think I can get away with it because that's what people do here. No such luck.)

Arriving late.

I had to get up by 8am so I could leave the house by 8:45 to meet my team no later than 9:30. This did not happen. I did get up at 8 and I did get ready but I didn't leave the house until 9am. It was essential to stop for coffee on the way, which only took five minutes, but still…and then the train took longer than expected and I didn't get to the meeting place until 9:45. Whoops. I called the team leader and he told me where they were. I almost missed them because I headed in the wrong direction initially. I did find them, though, but I think they'd given up on me--it was 10am.

Meeting the group.

Our group had three women, all American, and three men, one American, one British and one French. The three other Americans were all about 20-years-old. The British guy was in his late 20's and the French guy was thirty-something. While I was well aware that I was the oldest person, it didn't bother me. I got along well with the three young Americans (all students). I even got along fine with the Brit, despite some of the claptrap that came out of his mouth ("Why did we ever spend money [in England] building council housing? I'm all for helping the homeless, but you don't want to live near those places. They have the right idea here in Paris--stick everyone in the Banlieue!"). The only person I found annoying was the French guy--and my feeling seemed to be shared by the rest of the team. Funny, right? That the least "popular" person on the team was the organizer?

Starting the adventure.

The treasure hunt worked like this: we had to follow a couple of pages of enigmatic directions that would lead us to shops where we'd enter and ask for a clue. We'd use these clues to decipher a final clue that would lead us to the end of the hunt. If we reached the end by 3:30pm, we'd be entered in a raffle for some unknown (to me) prizes.

Our leader, Jean, had picked the 19th as the district in which we'd play. He guessed that it would be the least popular location and increase our chances of "winning." (He was quite correct.) I didn't learn about the calculation until later, but I didn't care where we did it. The 19th was a good choice in the sense that I'm unlikely to spend much time there so I got to see a new-to-me part of Paris.

The directions were pretty easy and in only one case was I overruled correctly (I was overruled incorrectly once and we had to backtrack). The person most likely to disagree with me--and with everyone else--was Jean. He had an annoying way of second guessing everyone, "Are you sure? Are you SURE?" Yes, I'm SURE. At one point, he wandered off, away from the rest of the group, without saying boo to us so we just stayed put and waited for him to return. Sigh.

The English translation of the directions was puzzling in places but, generally, it was just hard enough to be fun. Getting the clues was odd. We were directed to a florist, hair salon, cheese shop and another hair salon. In each shop, we were asked questions in French ("name three kinds of flowers") and when we answered, we received the clue: in each case, a strip of paper with empty boxes printed on it. It turned out that these four strips of paper were to be held up to a full sheet of paper with text (provided at the beginning of the hunt) and the words in the boxes would tell us how to find the final meeting place.

When we got to the place where we were supposed to read the four clues, a large park that we'd been circling all day, we had two problems: 1) we had two #2 clues and no #1 and 2) the words uncovered by the clues revealed only nonsense.

We spotted another group and asked if we could borrow their #1 clue. They obliged, but since they were doing the hunt in French, it was unlikely to be correct. We compared our other clues with theirs and they all matched. That did not bode well since their text was in French and ours was in English.

We took a break for lunch.


Lunch was amusing because one of the American girls was so naïve that she expressed wonderment at the entire process (charming, actually) and the American guy was vegan…so he basically had one choice and even that contained things he wouldn't eat. In the end, he gave us his quiche and the other American girl gave him her salad so at least he had enough food.

The French guy was pretty useless--he didn't help much translating the menu (he didn't help much translating what the people in the shops said to us either!). By now, I have a pretty good handle on menus and after the proprietor explained the choices to us, I was able to almost completely understand. I ordered a large salad with chicken instead of the full lunch (it was about two euros cheaper) and it was plenty of food.

Meeting place.

We finished eating around 2pm and examined the clues again. They still made no sense. We went back to the park. Most of us figured that the meeting place would be in the park. Jean wasn't so sure, "there are more places in the arrondissement than the park!" You don't say?

However, the entire walk had been either bordering, very near or through this particular park, Parc de Buttes Chaumont. The rest of us could see the logic that the final meeting place would take us to the center of the park. Still, we didn't know what to do or how to find the right spot, so we decided to hike to the highest point in the park and at least take in the view. If we couldn't "win" at least we'd enjoy ourselves.

On the way there, we spotted another treasure hunting group and after a little debate about whether to ask for their help, we approached them. They were French, so couldn't help us with the missing clue, and seemed pretty confused themselves, so we stepped away from them. Jean suggested we follow another group…and we did. A few minutes later, we were at the meeting spot!

We were handed tiny slips of stiff paper and wrote our names and phone numbers on them for the raffle. We felt like we'd cheated and we laughed nervously.

We had about an hour to kill before the raffle, so we went back to the high point, which had a little stone/cement cupola/gazebo. We enjoyed the view, snapped some photos (I merely posed--I didn't bring my camera) and chatted.

The raffle.

Around 4pm we headed to the Mairie for the 4:30 drawing. We had some snacks, which were provided to the teams of intrepid treasure hunters. One of the girls in my group shared a story about her broken heart. The British guy gave her bad advice. I was sympathetic.

We sat down in preparation for the drawing, which was preceded by a long reading of a list of sponsors. Then…we won the drawing. Twice!

The first thing we won was a free dinner at a restaurant in Paris (don't ask which one, I don't recall). It was for all of us to go together…anytime after September 15. Sort of a problem since only Jean and I would still be in Paris then. Lord knows, I could live without a dinner alone with Jean.

Then, our names were called again. We'd won for being the "most organized group." Hilarious! And, how would they know? The prizes this time were two books each--the books were in French and contained more puzzles of the type we'd just engaged in…I think. Kind of fun. Kind of impossible to understand.

After a very long day, we walked back to the metro and discussed future plans. None were made. All of us, except Jean, got on the train together. The British guy and I rode the last bit alone together without speaking--we did say goodbye when we got off the train; he was transferring, I was exiting.

I was completely exhausted by all the walking but I was in a good mood. All of a sudden, I craved a hamburger. Where to get a hamburger? McDonald's of course! I haven't been there since my arrival, but I found one in the basement of my nearby mall (Italie 2). That hamburger was one of the best things I've eaten since I've been here and I don't even like McDonald's.


I slept in (what's new?). I was determined to write. I took the computer with me when I left the house--I thought I would sit in the park near my house that has wifi. But I walked right on past and found myself at the farmer's market. I stopped for coffee at a new place (how did it get to be noon already?) and was soon asked where I was from. I was also asked if I was a tourist, student or working. I said no to student and no to working and tried to say that I had a job back in the States. The men all stared at me in a friendly, curious way. The asked my origins, if my father was from France. They guessed Italy also. They seemed stunned when I said "russe" (Russian). I finished my coffee and put my money on the counter. It took a long time for the bar-man to bring change, but when he did, and I started to walk away, he called me back and placed another coffee on the bar. It seemed that he'd "bought" it for me rather than one of the other customers, but I wasn't sure. I think he said something about how I didn't have a job in France. I drank it, rather happy for a second cup (sometimes a single shot of espresso isn't quite enough), and left right away when I finished. "Au revoir! Merci!"

Then I shopped. I managed to buy some excellent cheese by asked for "un morceau" (a piece), some peaches (strawberry season is over), and bargain croissants (four for 1.70!).

After the marketing extravaganza, I stopped at another nearby park to write, and write I did.


Today, I'm also a little directionless. I decided, again, to skip the "regular" coffee shop and go to the more anonymous "acrobats" café where I paid too much for a café crème and the right to sit and type at a little table for about an hour. It's raining and dreary outside--a good day for a museum if I were so inspired. I'm not. Maybe it's a good day for a movie...need to find one that appeals. I'm meeting my conversation buddy later, so I do have a goal for the day, which is nice.

Grateful for: adventures.

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