Category Archives: my travels

Paris

 

 

A day trip to Paris and back that I made on Monday, June 6, 2016 with my friend Patrice Petillot was a memorable one. I feel the urge to write about it and to share some of my observations and thoughts about Paris.

We left my friend’s house in Belgian Flanders very early on Monday morning and drove to the city of Lille in French Flanders (in northern France), where my friend Patrice, a doctor, works in a hospital. It’s about an hour drive.

Patrice was wary of the contrôle, as he calls them: soldiers who man a checkpoint on the highway at the border between Belgium and France. The checkpoints were begun in response to recent terrorist actions.

The security checks of motorists, such as they are (hit and miss), have created big traffic jams and Patrice says they are ineffectual, useless. He avoided the worst congestion by taking a detour.

We took a bullet train from Lille to Paris. It travels at a speed of about 200-220 km/hr (about 130 mph). Such speeds are rarely possible with US trains because the tracks here are not well maintained.

We arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris about an hour later. It was my third lifetime visit to Paris.

I remember when I first came to New York City in my early twenties. I was thrilled and also overwhelmed. The City fascinated, engrossed, excited, awed, intimidated me — seemed too much for me.

You could never for a minute cease to be aware: I’m in NEW YORK.

Ditto for Paris. One is continually saying to oneself: I’m in PARIS.

We emerge from the Gare du Nord into the streets of the 10th arrondissement. Just like in Manhattan, wherever you seem to set foot, take a step in Paris, you feel — indeed are — very much in the thick of things.

We proceed through the station district past cafés and brasseries that are starting to get filled up with customers. Past newsstands and shops. Middle Eastern and Asian restaurants that haven’t opened yet.

On the Rue du Faubourg in the arrondissement of Saint-Denis, we pass a fruit market that is manned by a young Muslim man.

Patrice purchases a half kilo of cherries for approximately five euros, which we quickly devour on our way. Delicious! One can’t get cherries this fresh or good in New York.

The Gare du Nord is not far from Notre-Dame Cathedral – a must see for me – which is on the Île de la Cité bordering the Seine. I visited Notre-Dame once before, 44 years ago!

The lines to enter the cathedral are too long for us to wait, but seeing this marvelous twelfth century church from the outside is quite enough.

I consider myself a very poor architectural critic. I took two semesters of medieval art at Brandeis University with Professor Joachim Gaehde that I loved while often being weak in comprehension as far as the technical aspects were concerned. Gothic vs. Romanesque architecture, flying buttresses, etc. — I was at sea.

But when it comes to Notre-Dame, which was built in stages over a period of many years, I find that I can appreciate it aesthetically.

Viewed straight on, the tripartite cathedral facade of Notre-Dame is, on one hand, imposing, with a grandeur that is inspiring and (for lack of a better word to convey its effect on the senses) impressive.

On the other hand, there are a simplicity and clarity about the architecture that make the cathedral welcoming and accessible. The design is not gaudy or “busy,” so to speak. Two sections flanking a central one (the entranceway).

We proceed along the muddy Seine skirting the right side of the cathedral — beautiful to view, awesome in its own right– past the famous booksellers’ stalls, which at around eleven a.m. are not yet open.

It’s about a two hour walk each way to visit a new friend of mine, a retired American literature professor, in her apartment in the 5th arrondissement on the Rive Gauche (Left Bank). She lives right next to the Grand Mosque of Paris and right across the street from the Jardin des Plantes — two landmarks.

Just before getting there, we stop for a beer in a cafe bar with sidewalk tables.

My literary friend’s apartment is spacious for a single person. She is on the top, sixth, floor, reached by elevator. There are two big windows in her living room that provide a spectacular view of the Jardin des Plantes, which is a rare amenity in Paris and a luxury, I’m told.

My friend serves me, Patrice, and a third guest whom she has invited (also a retired American literature professor) a typical multi course French lunch.

They both give me treasured rare books as gifts.

Patrice and I stop at a glacerie to rest and cool off on the way back. The sidewalks are even more crowded now. Lots of kids with their parents. Young couples.

I order two scoops of vanilla ice cream plus a lemon drink. The drink is served as follows: The waiter places a carafe of water on the table beside which there is a smaller glass with lemon syrup in it. You pour the water into the syrup to create the drink, which is delicious and refreshing. The price of the ice cream plus drink is expensive, somewhere around fifteen euros. Everything in Paris is très cher.

Our route back to the train station takes us near La Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo’s House) on the Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement. Unfortunately, it is closed on Mondays.

We stop for another beer at an open air table near the train station.

One day only in Paris. A hot, sultry, sunny June day. We had just enough time to walk from the train station to the 5th arrondissement and back. What a spectacular and wonderful day.

Patrice, who grew up in Paris, now lives (in Belgium) in a suburb. He prefers it, finds the crowding and hassles of city life not to his liking.

I am a confirmed New Yorker and absolutely love Paris. The chief thing I have noticed and like is that Paris is so WALKABLE. It is very much like New York in this respect. I actually think it may be better!

When on foot in Paris, it seems that every which way you turn, at every corner you round, with every step, something is right there that is interesting and fun to look at. To say nothing of the people. The sidewalks are wide and are made for walking. There are interesting looking people of all ages and races (just like in New York) everywhere.

And, it’s a beautiful city, much more beautiful – I must admit – than New York.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     June 2016

 

 

photos by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

photos by Patrice Petillot

 

 

 

 

photo from Internet

 

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Roger W. Smith, “Some Comments about Spain”

 

 

The following are comments based on a trip to Andalusia, Spain which I am on currently.

 

Women pleasant looking, but few beautiful ones.

Loads of people seem to be idle, both youth and the elderly.

Most people don’t speak English.

Castilian accent, while different than Latin American one, not pronounced and usually not noticeable.

When addressing someone, señor and señora seem to be rarely used.

When the Spanish say de nada, you’re welcome, they elide the words, so it sounds like “dnada.”

The Spanish don’t seem to recognize, or at least acknowledge, the almost universal okay. Instead, they say vale, meaning okay.

If you walk up to a store counter, the clerk will often say “¿dígame?,” which might be translated loosely as “what do you want?” — instead of saying the Spanish equivalent of “may I help you?”

Food second rate — paella a disappointment. An exception to this general comment would be that the seafood here in Andalusia is very fresh and good: codfish (bacalao) is a favorite; you can get much better swordfish here than in New York; salmon and tuna popular, but I didn’t try them. Restaurants are inexpensive compared to New York.

Service in restaurants poor, slow — waiters slovenly and inattentive. You can sit at a table in a crowded outdoor restaurant/bar for a long time before you are noticed. A waiter would never think of coming back to your table to ask if everything is okay or you want anything more. You have to make an effort, often a strenuous one, to get his attention to bring the cuenta (check) so you can pay and leave.

Hotels not great. So called Wi-Fi for hotel guests is a ripoff. Internet access is like the old days of dial up online access 20 years ago.

Bookstores: books are divided by category (e.g., classic Spanish literature, foreign literature in Spanish, foreign literature in translation, poetry, etc.), but within a given category, they are not arranged in any order whatsoever, so if you’re looking for a particular author, you probably won’t be able to find him without the assistance of the staff, and sometimes the staff doesn’t know.

Street signs in cities are lacking more often than not. It’s hard to get directions — no one seems to know. Streets in central sections of old towns are narrow alleyways with bewildering twists and turns and forks — one doesn’t know where a given street ends and another begins. City street maps are difficult to decipher, and many street names have been omitted.

Old cobblestone streets very narrow with no curb and houses that abut the street. Cars actually navigate them.

No one ever seems to be going in or out of the ancient habitaciones in the old part of town, but people, obviously, do live there.

Loads of pedestrians. Sidewalks crowded. Street front bar/restaurants, cafes everywhere.

Virtually no street parking in city center.

Virtually no grass.

Cars will often not give quarter to a careless pedestrian. There are lots of noisy motorcycles with young riders.  No bicycles.

Big trolley cars in Seville with, inexplicably, no windows for passengers to look out of.

Ancient churches. Several go back to the thirteenth century.

The post office in the city of Ubeda opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 2 p.m. Many small stores and businesses in Spain shut down in midday, then reopen in the evening. A small town can seem like a ghost town in the middle of the day.

In the Andalusian town Baeza, a sign in a laundromat window gives hours of service:

 HORARIO LAVENDARIA:

 DE LUNES A VIERNES:

MAÑANAS: 9 a 13:30 h.

TARDES: 18:00 a 20:30

In other words, open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Highways are excellent. Very little traffic, much less than in the US.

Climate here in Andalusia in late spring already hot and mid summer like. Cool in mornings, cools off notably in evenings. Dry air. Hot and very sunny, but not humid.

Private houses do not seem to have air conditioning. Ditto for many business establishments.

Lots of olive trees.

 

— Roger W. Smith

      June 2016

 

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Photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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