Back in Paris

17 January 2001


Back in Paris. Yesterday, I took a train from Am­s­ter­dam to Brussels, ar­riv­ing in Paris at 6:00 last night. There was a wait of a few hours in Brussels; I wanted to go into town but the station wasn’t in a par­tic­u­larly helpful location. Also, I had no Belgian money. So I sat in this fast food place and read the Times. I mostly buy the Times to do the crossword–I know this lass who’s much better at cross­words than me. I can’t allow this! She can be better, but not that much better. So I’m practising. On a good day I can get maybe 80% of the words, on a bad day a little more than half. (This is the “quick” crossword.)

On the train from Am­s­ter­dam to Brus­sels I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s not a bad little book. And you can read it fast too–I did the 220-odd pages in a bit under two hours, al­though when I got to the hostel in Paris I dis­cov­ered that big-brained room­mate Philippe was reading Tropic of Cancer…

About Amsterdam: Am­s­ter­dam is famous for three, maybe four things–sex, drugs, tulips and windmills. Two of these are “exportable” but it’s not tulip season; I didn’t export any of the other. In my new spirit of reck­less­ness I con­sid­ered taking a small package of magical dried weed back on the train to Paris, and then to London, but the two people I spoke to about this thought it was perhaps not such a good idea. So far though (I’m on the Eurostar, going from Paris to London) I’ve seen no drug-sniffing dogs, no law en­force­ment officials, no x-ray machines. So, I hope to hell I’m damn well strip-searched at Wa­ter­loo Station, oth­er­wise I shall be sore. [I wasn’t, but they were more, well, vig­i­lant in London, so I’m not sore.]

Anyway, last night. Last night I went to the Pom­pi­dou Center. I got there at 8:20, just as it was closing. (There weren’t even selling tickets, al­though every­thing was open until 9:00.) So on to this Japan­ese place and some sushi, I’m getting to really like sushi. Walked back to the hostel. Stopped at this bar (English, it turned out) and ordered a Ricard, rec­om­mended by this guy I met in Barcelona. It’s a greeny, yellowy colour, but tastes (strongly!) of aniseed–it tastes awful. Stay away. “Shakespeare in Love” was on the TVs for some reason and I spent quite a while trying to re­mem­ber the damn actress’s name. I still can’t remember. Brad Pitt’s ex-girlfriend. Didn’t she get an Oscar for it? I can’t recall.

Today, before 16:07 (when the train left) I wanted to see Notre-Dame, the Mona Lisa (at the Louvre), and the catacombs. Notre-Dame is about a 10 minute walk from my hostel. At 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning there’s hardly anyone there–there was no queue for the Tower, or the cathe­dral proper. (A few weeks ago, it took about 30 minutes to get into the cathedral, and–I’m guessing, because I didn’t wait–several hours to go up the tower. Incidentally, the last time I come it was a Sunday and though a service was being held, tourists were still allowed in. Is this disrespectful? On that Sunday I stood in line next to a graphic de­signer from Sydney who’d done the Tim-Tam packet. She wore very purple gloves, and a match­ing purple scarf.)

The tower’s worth climbing, at least if you don’t have to wait hours in line to do it. Folk of the 12th Century, even if they thought that the earth was flat, that heavy things fell faster than light things and that you could turn dirt into gold, could still stack rocks pretty good. I went into the cathe­dral again too, and “purchased” two more votive candles. You’re sup­posed light them, then say prayers over them (or something) and then leave them in the cathe­dral (“The candles will bear witness to your prayer when you are gone.”) but I don’t believe in God and I figured they’d make a nice memento. (Catholics have assured me that doing this was not blasphemous; this ques­tion both­ered me slightly–I am not re­li­gious but I do try to be re­spect­ful of it.)

After Notre-Dame, the Louvre. Of course, being Tuesday, it was firmly shut. So I sat, and smoked, and watched some tricked-out guys clean the glass pyramid. I’ve spent a lot of time watch­ing people work this trip. There’s a nice line in “Three Men in a Boat” (Jerome K. Jerome), that goes some­thing like, “I like work, it fas­ci­nates me. I can sit and watched it for hours.” That’s me.

Leaving the Louvre, I walked through Paris for a bit, then took the Metro to a station near the cat­a­combs where I ate a decent, honest, ham and cheese omelette. Good omelettes are hard to do; I am still learning.

The cat­a­combs are worthwhile. You first go down a spiral stair­case (maybe 150 steps), then walk for five minutes along dimly-lit, 6’ high corridors. (My theory is that this walk is not ge­o­graph­i­cally necessary–it’s just to build tension.) Then, you get to the bones!–thousands of them, neatly stacked from floor to ceiling, layers of femurs, then skulls, then femurs, then skulls. (I’m not sure what hap­pened to the other bones, perhaps they decay faster.) So many bones, so many people. There are so many that you forget that each of the skulls once be­longed to a person who worked and lived and loved.

Coming out of the catacombs, I walked in the wrong di­rec­tion for a little while (you don’t end up where you start), which was a little annoying–I had less than an hour to collect my bag from the hostel and get to the train station. But, I did make it.