“Under Paris Sighs” (the revision of “Under Paris Skies” )
I told the French police woman writing the report, “Do you remember the tennis shoe bomber / terrorist on the plane? Like him – only shorter, fatter and not quite as handsome.”
Remember that silly piece of crap I sent you last night? (Background Reading, Anyone?)
You know, the sitting-in-cafés-enjoying-Parisian-life-with-1960’s-Audrey-Hepburn-corny-accordion-music-playing-in-the-background-while-the-old-French-dude-in-the-beret-rides-his-bicycle-down-the-street-loaded-with-baguettes?
Well, forget it… SCRAP IT!
Here’s the real scoop………………
You see, EVERY place has it’s highs and lows. And I was cliff diving today. Mr. Rogers was nowhere to be found in the neighborhood. (Sorry faggot….)
Beautiful and ugly, sweet and sour, high and low, yin and yang – it’s all about contrasts and balances.
Today, I was dished an ugly, sour pile of yunk.
First the rain. But HEY! This is Paris! It’s supposed to rain.
OK, it rained. Then there were all of those little things that go wrong that you realize are there to keep you in check. But I was winning.
Then there was the parking garage incident:
Twenty short minutes of parking and I somehow managed to lose my parking ticket. The guy told me it was going to cost me 18 euros – the equivalent of a full day’s tab. He instructed me to pull up in front of the unused gate while he checked the list for my license plate to make sure I wasn’t scamming him on a three week stay. I was sure I had my parking ticket and emptied my wallet and contents of all pockets onto the passenger side front seat. [OK, this is the subtle clue in the Hitchcock movie that you are supposed to pick up on and hold for later…]
So what’s the French rule for all approaching parking customers when there are TWO gates – one usable, the other not?
That’s easy! Find the one that has a parked car in front of it with a stupid American standing next to it with a displeased look on his face; Pull up very close – in order that he may hear your horn when you continuously honk it while you roll down your window, make a few indiscernible comments, wave your arm in an impatient, circular motion, all the while practicing the French national anthem: that’s right, make a frown, puff your cheeks full of air, and blow it all out across your tongue producing a sound very similar to a rapidly deflating whoopee cushion. Never mind that the stupid Yankee is politely waving you to the other gate; pretend you don’t see him and increase the number of notes on your horn. The echo produced by the underground ambiance adds to the overall listening pleasure.
Try that on your next vacation to Texas, you jerk….
OK, so parking was a little expensive this morning. Blow it off. I practiced the French national anthem during the drive home – in the privacy of my car. I am getting quite good at it. The sign of a real pro is to pull it off with a minimal amount of strayed spray.
Traffic lights in Paris, much like impatient drivers, are very predictable. Once you figured them out, that is…These lights are usually at the side of the road (not overhead, center) in a hard to see area – usually with a large delivery truck parked in front of them. When you first arrive in Paris, you wonder why everyone is staring – in unison – at the side of the road. Then after a week or so, you realize these people are looking at a tiny little red light that the sun is shining directly on. If you watch closely, you will notice the lower one turns a slight green shade.
Most Parisian intersections are pretty good about supplying pedestrian walk / don’t walk lights. Only the French versions are little walking men. No one has yet figured it out but even the little red guy is in a walking position. Beat’s me… Maybe that’s why so many French people continue walking across the street when he appears. This is a trick Americans can’t quite figure out – much like crossing the street in London – it’s difficult and dangerous! Oh yeah, the Japanese are terrible at it too. What’s funny is that the sadistic French traffic engineers give the pause time between – when the little man turns red and when the traffic light turns green – just enough extended time to allow an uninitiated tourist a little time to flirt with disaster. Should I go or should I stay? Hmm…looks like it’s not going to change for awhile… I’ll go! You’re stupid if you stay and dead if you go for it. Difficult decision for the newcomer. It’s fun to watch them do the two-step. On the other hand, French pedestrians are suicidal and will step out in front of anything. But they also know exactly when the light is going to change and will step out a second or two before it does so. I don’t know how they do this! Amazing! I haven’t progressed this far yet. I am currently doing research on this ten second theory on the pedestrian light change.
But as a driver, I have figured it out. The Parisian traffic lights are synched quite well and you can set your watch to them. For instance, at a particular red light in town, I know that if I am up in front and turning right, I can make a long traffic light four blocks further down the road if I step on the gas. This involves playing a little chicken with suicidal pedestrians who are crossing the street when their little red man is flashing. Let them know that you’re not stopping for them and you will make the light. I only do this when I am in a real hurry. I also know that when I whip up from the Voie Express onto the Quai d’ Orsay, the light there will always be green. It’s knowledge in your bloodstream. I call it Traffic Light Consciousness (TLC). I am still a grasshopper but enlightenment is merely “down the road”.
On this particular day, as I was stopped on a bridge – the Pont de l’ Alma – by a rogue, red light. Weird, I thought…I’ve never caught this light. There I was in the middle of the Place de la Resistance where five main streets come together. All by myself, the only car waiting for this particular light. It was a busy early afternoon and I watched a large group of schoolchildren crossing the street in front of me. Out from among them appeared an Arab man selling newspapers. He was walking straight over to me and I made eye contact with him and shook my head no as he asked if I wanted a paper. Then I realized it was probably one of those newspapers that the homeless sell. He stopped on the passenger side and I continued looking forward. I saw out of the corner of my eye he was still there and turned to him and shook my head again. He persisted. I looked forward again and ignored him. At that point, he opened the door and stood there – like that was going to make me buy one of his papers. I couldn’t believe this asshole! I glared at him and said, “FERMEZ LA PORTE!” He didn’t move. I pointed my finger at him and the door and shouted louder, “FERMEZ LA PORTE!” He didn’t react. “CLOSE THE F _ CKING DOOR NOW ! M_ _ _ _R F _ _ KER !” The idiot obviously didn’t understand basic English. There was a bag and some papers on the seat next to me. I saw him casually slide his hand under the bag and I put a hand on my wallet – that had been on the seat – and brought it over to my side of the car. I shoved the car into park, threw up my fists and shouted louder at him. He withdrew his hand and I didn’t think I saw anything in his hand as he closed the door and slowly retreated over to his buddies on the other side of the street.
I drove towards my apartment a couple of blocks away and parked the car. I gathered up coins, receipts, papers and my wallet. Then I noticed my Palm Pilot missing. The bastard got it. I thought about calling the police but figured it would take too much time going through all of that and the guy would be long gone. I ran back to Pont de l’ Alma to confront the guy.
He was nowhere to be seen.
In my bad French, I explained to the guardienne of our building what had happened. I told her that all of our bank account numbers, credit card numbers, security code for the building, etc. were on my agenda electronique. Rather than deal with the police, I wanted to go up and call all pertinent accounts to cancel cards, etc. She told me that most likely my Palm Pilot would end up in somebody else’s hands who was smart enough to figure out what to do with such information. Plus, the banks would require a police report in order to close the accounts. She gave me the address of the police and I walked a few short blocks over there to file a report.
As I walked into the police station, I imagined meeting Inspector Clousseau in person. No such luck. I felt like I was on the set of Barney Miller. No police uniforms, no tough, cop-looking characters and a handful of people sitting around telling jokes. Most of them were young and mild-mannered looking – like the kids in high school who were Dean’s aides – the ones you had to beg and plead with to give you a readmit slip or a hall pass back to class. Naturally, no one spoke English. The learning scale just got steeper in my French class and this was an excellent opportunity to practice my French. I went through the whole process in French, crude drawings, and a little bit of non-verbal gesturing.
The young woman that interviewed me couldn’t resist laughing when I answered her question about the description of the culprit:
“Do you remember the tennis shoe bomber / terrorist on the plane? Like him – only shorter, fatter and not quite as handsome.”
Then a scenario came to mind: The terrorist blows up a plane and they find my Palm Pilot in the wreckage; The FBI scans all of the information on it and sees my recipe for Thai martinis in the Memo section and thinks it’s some coded recipe for an explosive cocktail. Then he sees that I have the name of a parachute school in Carmi, Indiana listed in my address book and gets really suspicious. I am immediately arrested and sent off to Guantanamo Bay where I am forced to eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on pita bread. As a true American hero, I trick my fellow captives – who think I am teaching them How To Speak English Like A Diplomat – when in fact, they are really learning Pig Latin…
I signed the police report and headed back home. I spent the entire afternoon going through the Palm Pilot software on my PC to determine what is damaging, what is not; who needs to be notified, what needs to be canceled, etc..
Now I understand all of the French people moaning about crime. This is not the first time we were victimized. The other incident was in front of Notre Dame – a gypsy girl snatched Vicky’s wallet from her purse. Luckily, Vicky noticed it happening and I snatched the gypsy. As I contemplated what to do with her, she went into a fake crying routine and I pushed her away.
So be cautious when in Paris. And keep your car door locked. Maybe learn a few phrases in French like, “Hey Honey, can you hand me my favorite loaded 9mm out of the glove box ?”
So I had a shitty day. Life is not all perfume and roses here in Paris. Like anywhere else the good usually comes with a little bad now and then. But I got a good story out of it, got a tour of the police station and got to practice my French a little!
Hmm…Thai Martinis? Forgot all about those guys….think I’ll have one on the way to bed, I need one!
[get a good look at the mug shot above and tell me if you have seen him selling newspapers anywhere…]