I arrived in Paris late in the afternoon. As I stepped into the station at Gare du Nord, my first reaction was awe. There was something about the place, a certain je ne sais quoi*, that made me pause. The hustle and bustle of the people, the sunlight streaming in from the high arched windows, a faint, familiar smell… Even the people didn’t appear frenzied like New Yorkers. There was a calm about them even as they hurried to get to their destinations. I took my time exiting the train platform. I liked Paris already.
My next reaction was frustration. Nobody seems to speak English! I had a terrible time trying to find a restroom. When I finally found one, I discovered that I had to pay to use it. I had no Euros on me, and it took another several minutes before I found an ATM and got some cash. When I went to get change, however, I learned that the change machine was out of service. The bathroom attendant tried to explain something to me — in French, of course — but when I failed to understand, she just gestured to a store nearby. I concluded she meant I should get change elsewhere. I waddled next door (Fact: Lugging around a 40lb backpack while needing to urinate can cause you to waddle) and asked for change — sort of. I flashed a €10 and said “combia” or “combie” or something. The man seemed to get it and waved his arms — he couldn’t give me change. At that point I decided I would just purchase my Metro ticket and hope for a Euro in change. I ended up buying a Paris Visite pass, which gave me unlimited travel for three days on the Metro and on city buses, and it also got me my desired €1 coin. Triumphant at last, I marched into the restroom and paid my dues.
I met up with Greg Viscusi at the Bloomberg News office in the heart of Paris. Greg is the son of my mentor from Columbia, and he graciously offered to let me crash with him during my time in Paris. I dropped off my bag at the office and headed off to find a cafe to get some food. I found a quaint place near the Paris Opera and ordered a crepe chocolat (pancake with chocolate) and a Coke. Now, the Coke was not of my choosing. Notwithstanding the loyalty I still feel for Pepsi, I simply did not feel like having a soda. While I struggled with how to say “water,” however, the waiter asserted matter-of-factly, “Coca Cola.” At a loss for what to say, I just nodded. Soda with pancakes? Not so strange for the Parisians, it seems. There were Coke bottles on almost every table, and since then I’ve noticed that it doesn’t seem to matter what time of day or night it is — Parisians really like their soda. My unwanted glass of Coke cost me, at €7.50, a Euro more than the main course. I didn’t even drink it and got a coffee instead. It was a painful hit on my meager budget, but I chalked it up to experience.
Later in the evening, Greg took me for dinner to a restaurant in the Latin Quarters. Contrary to what I had assumed, the Latin Quarters, unlike New York, does not get its name due to a concentration of Latinos or Hispanics. Apparently, it’s known as the Latin Quarters because Latin used to be the language of academia in Paris, and most of the universities were based in this area. So I didn’t hear any salsa or meringue. Greg and I had dinner at a French restaurant. I tried escargot (snail) and foie gras (duck liver) for the first time. The snail tasted quite good, very flavorful. The duck liver, which looked like a chunk of butter and was spread on toast in much the same manner, tasted slightly sweet. I’d recommend both.
*Thanks for the spell check, Sattar.