City Of Lights But Also City Of Dog Shit

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Paris. City of lights, city of beautiful women, city of good cheese and wine, city of the Moulin Rouge, city of Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. Is that all? Well, wait and see.

I have been to Paris a couple of times but never really spent any time there just to stroll through the city and do the tourist things. A quick weekend-like stint of a day and a half wouldn’t hurt, I figured.

Air France brought me to Paris. That was an adventure by itself. I don’t give a damn about which airline I fly; usually the cheaper, the better. France has a bad reputation in many countries for being intolerant concerning the language used by tourists and for being impolite. But that is a just a reputation, or isn’t it? I put such opinions away as stereotypes that shouldn’t be trusted and naturally I always give all people the benefit of the doubt. One shouldn’t conclude too much from a few single experiences and some hearsay. The Air France staff taught me another lesson. Sometimes reputations are built on facts. The flight attendants snapped at me like Rotweilers with rabies would snap at a blind passenger hiding on board illegally. They make sure to let you know that they hate serving you. They skip you when it comes to meal time, they ignore it of course if you press that little attendant light and if you dare to lift your hand to point out that you didn’t get any food, they are deeply insulted, give you a demeaning look implying “who the hell do you think you are that you can wave at me” and keep ignoring you even more. My neighbor didn’t have any more luck either. He didn’t get a meal and when he asked for a glass of water later the answer was simple “not now” with the facial expression adding “get lost”. A lovely attitude. True politeness in its most pleasant form. It gets even better though. Somebody was on strike at Paris’ CDG airport and many flights were canceled. When I inquired who is on strike the following conversation started:

Me: Who is on strike?
She: Oh, everybody is on strike!
Me: Everybody? Is British Air on strike?
She: Oh, yes.
Me: Is Lufthansa on strike?
She: Oh, yes.
Me: Is it the pilots or the ground personal that is on strike?
She: Everybody!
Me: Everybody? Check-in people, luggage handlers, pilots, etc. They are all on strike?
She: Yes.
Me: Are you sure?
She: No.
Me: What do you mean? Do you know if British Air is on strike?
She: No.
Me: [puzzled] Do you know if Lufthansa is on strike?
She: No.
Me: So, what do you know for sure?
She: Nothing.
Me: [I thought so.] Couldn’t you find out what is happening at Paris CDG?
She: What do you expect me to do? How should I find out?
Me: How about if the captain who has radio contact with the tower asks?
She: The captain has other things to do.
Me: What other things?
She: You don’t know? [as in “Are you really so dumb that you don’t know?”]
Me: No, I don’t know?
She: Think hard!
Me: [silence]
She: You still don’t know?
Me: No.
She: Then I can’t help you. [She turned around and completely ignored me for the rest of the flight.]

Well, once on the ground it turned out that Air France, and Air France only, was on strike. I smiled as I had the please of leaving Paris on SAS where they know the meaning of the term ‘customer service’.

Again, one shouldn’t draw general conclusions about all French people based on such an experience, it just happens to be another not-so-positive sample point. It is also funny to notice that out of the 4 times that I flew to Paris, this was already the second time Air France was on strike. The last time the plane had to be rerouted to Lyon as it was not allowed to land and we had to switch to a bus in Lyon.

My stoic attitude towards such situation made me forget the flight experience quickly. When I checked into the hotel in downtown and the reception desk lady was friendly, kind, and English speaking I was nearly in heaven. For most of the day I strolled around Paris touring all the famous sights that are known around the world: Pantheon, Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville, Centre Georges Pompidou, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe, Place de Concorde, Camps Eysees, and the Louvre. A more than tight package for a single day. My personal highlight was the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur) as it surely gives a great view of Paris, but above all because the live performance of the female choir of nuns was memorable and soothing, my own little start of the Christmas season. It was so comfortable that I didn’t want to get up even after the performance was over. Good music, Enigma style, fit for meditation or to let your mind wander.

On the second day I added another two sights to the long list: Hotel des Invalides and the Tour Eiffel. The Hotel des Invalides, burial place of Napoleon, is recognizable from anywhere in the city as its shining golden dome is unique. It’s sparkling like a comet. The Eiffel Tower is pretty amazing. Did you know that Buffalo Bill visited it (in 1889 I think)? Similarly astonishing is the number of visitors: 160 million to date and 200 million by 2001. This must make it one of the most visited man-made sights on earth. Most likely more people came here than to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park. The view from the tower is good and includes a vista of the Flame of Independence (a 1-to-1 copy of the flame of the Statue of Independence in New York) and the small scale copy of the whole Statue of Independence on the Allee des Cygnes.

One of the best places to hang out and enjoy lunch or dinner is the district of Mouffetard around Rue Mouffetard and Rue Descartes. They have a local market with all the goodies your stomach could desire. Veggies, fruits, cheeses, meats, and more. The alleys are filled with restaurants of the various kinds ranging from local French cuisine to Thai and Greek. It’s perfect to have a Spanish appetizer, a slice of pizza as main course, and some French chocolate crepes for dessert. Small shops specialize in tarts, sweet as well as sour, and yummy pastries that look as fantastic as they taste. I think this is the place I would have dinner every day, should I live in Paris. One could come here for a month without having to go to the same restaurant twice.

Paris. City of lights, city of beautiful women, city of delicious food, city of outstanding museums and great churches like the Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. What else have I learned? Besides all these good attributes one can mention about Paris I would also add a few not so charming ones: City of strikes and city of dog shit. I walked around Paris quite a bit, and it’s awful. Many sidewalks are full of dog crap. The city is applying these special green sweeping machines to clean the pedestrian areas. While they clean the sidewalks from litter they, to some degree, just smear the brown stuff all over the cobble stones. Gross. But, hey, if that is the only problem they Parisian had, they would be very happy people.