10 June 2008

How many staircases can a metro have?!?!?

Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, at least, that’s what we’re all told. I personally only believe this statement half of the way. It is beautiful, but it’s also a city, and that means it’s dirty and sometimes creepy and not at all romantic.

I spent Saturday half with Jessica and half with my host parents. In the morning I went to the marché with her. We bought cidre and seriously considered buying flowers for our host moms, but the prices were really high that day, and we ended up not doing it. I think I’m going to send something, though, to Michel and Elisabeth once I’ve gotten home and all. I did write them an adorable (ok, well, sweet, I guess…my own opinion of my own writing, haha) thank you letter. I left it on my desk right next to the pile of three English books that I couldn’t fit in my valises and didn’t really care about. I mean, I care, but they were cheap thrift store books anyway; and I’m going to choose the Petit Robert over the Hunchback of Notre Dame any day.

Yet, of course, I still managed to have like 7 books to pack. My suitcases are so ridiculously heavy, I don’t even walk to think right now about how many fees Delta is going to throw at me. I dunno, is it better to be overweight a little on each, or to have a surprise extra bag? For some reason I think you’d get charged less doing it my way, but you never know. It’s not like I fly a ton. At least, I haven’t flown the huge airlines a lot, and especially not flying back into the States. I actually haven’t done that since Freshman year of high school. Weird. I can still remember that.

I was pretty much finished packing that night, except for my facewash and everything, which technically I had packed, but I had to keep pulling it out to use. My last dinner in Franch was pureed potatoes and tiny Breton sausages. I laughed to myself a little when I saw it all. Oh, it was good. It was more the ambiance of the dinner that got me. None of this, “Oh, you’re leaving and it’s so saaaaaad!!!” It was more along the lines of: “So…you’re leaving in the morning. Are your friends happy to be leaving?” And then we talked about how many natural disasters there have been lately.

In the morning I woke up and got ready the same way that I did every day during the semester. Said hello to everyone, made my tea, ate my bread and butter (apparently I don’t like fig jam. Go figure). Michel was in and out, Elisabeth was cleaning. We didn’t have to leave until about 10:20, so I took my time getting ready. Actually, I took my time because I just wanted to take my time. I discovered while packing that if I took as long as possible to pack things, then they wouldn’t get packed, therefore prolonging my stay! Isn’t that genius? Yeah, I know…pathetic. I laugh at me too.

Elisabeth didn’t ride with us to the train station because Michel was going to Lorient to “work in the fields” directly from dropping me off. So I gave Elisabeth my bisous (cheek kisses) and my thanks, slung my bags all over my body, and we went out to the car. The ride was really quiet. I don’t really know what you’re supposed to say in those situations. Do you talk about how you’re feeling, or about the graffiti on the walls? The amazingness of the new van? I didn’t have any idea, so it ended up with us only talking about a couple of things. Michel pulled the car up to the drop off area, which is technically still quite a ways from the front doors. He gave me the bisous, helped connect my suitcases together, reminded me to keep in touch, and walked away. I did the same, only barely looking back at him and the van, with Baloo in the back seat.

I made my way to a corner next to the escalators where I could see the panel and wait for my quai to be announced. I only had to wait for a couple of minutes before it was up on the screen, and then I restrung all my bags over my shoulders and headed to the elevator. I must have been quite the sight. Just picture two good-sized blue suitcases, strapped together. On top of both of them, and tied by its strap to the long handle, is a khaki and orange mini duffel. I myself was carrying my laptop case, my orange bookbag, and my red purse. Blue, orange, red. Ok. And then in order to have everything balanced I had things slung across my chest in opposite directions, and my purse kept on falling off of my shoulder.

I got down to the platform and still had to wait about 6 or 7 minutes for the train to actually pull in, and at first I was feeling really confident about it. There were only a couple of people standing around, so I figured that since it was a Sunday morning things were going to be pretty empty. Ha. Wishful thinking. Even though I was magically standing exactly in front the car that my seat was in, suddenly a group of about 20 others was doing exactly the same thing. And a good handful of them had suitcases. I saw my chances of getting on the train first and getting my bags out of the way quickly diminishing. By the train had come to a full stop, they were completely gone. Everyone else got on before me, even pushing me over so that they could step on. The only people who got after me were the people who had noticed that the train was leaving in one minute and had just come from running down the steps.

Finally I got my turn at the steps up into the car, and this is when I truly discovered how heavy all my bags were. I set down the duffel and thrust the laptop and the orange bag onto my back, pulling up as hard as I could. After one or two seconds I watched the faces of the people below change as they realized that I wasn’t going to be getting that stuff on the train in the next couple of minutes. The woman who was closest feebly tried to push up on the second suitcase. It didn’t work. Then, suddenly, I was able to pull it all up. I got it into the small interim car and looked around for a spot to put the bags. No room.

I had to just leave them there, off to the side…I can still remember leaning out from my seat to look down the aisle, through the door, to see how people were faring without much room to walk around. It turned out all right, even though I was terrified that the controleur was going to come demanding for Mademoiselle Michelle Graham, and that she pay for all the trouble her monster suitcases were causing.

My seat was on the aisle, next to a man about my age who I swear rolled his eyes when I came up and put my stuff on the seat. Oh, totally forgot, I have my umbrella, too. And is it a cute little half size umbrella? Nope! It’s a full size you-can’t-stick-this-in-your-suitcase-haha-you-loser sort of umbrella. My problem is that I love it to much to give it up…that’s probably what he was rolling his eyes about. That and I was sweating. It was cold and raining in Rennes that day (fitting, I thought), so I wore something warm. But heavy lifting apparently makes your body warmer? Interesting…

I felt like I should be crying on the train. The woman in the aisle seat next to me almost was, when the train was pulling away she was waving to a guy standing on the platform. He looked like her son; and she would wave, then stop and put her fingers to her lips and look like she was concentrating really hard on something. I felt sad for her and wanted to pat her on the shoulder or something, but that just doesn’t happen in France. I sat forlornly for a while before deciding to begin my new French book: Les Trois Mousketaires! Yay!

When the train pulled into Gare Montparnasse I thanked God that it was the terminus and that I wasn’t going to have a time limit to get my things together and pull them off the train. This time I was smarter and brought the big things down one at a time. I did some organizing (this would turn out to be one of my favorite pastimes while getting to my hostel) and then set off.

I don’t know if any of you know anything about Paris, but Montparnasse is in the 15th arrondisement, and my hostel is in the 19th. These two neighborhoods of Paris are on opposite sides of the city. By metro the trip from one to the other should take about thirty or forty-five minutes. It took me…about three hours. The train pulled into the station at 1:30 pm, I checked into the hostel around 4:30 pm. Did I just give in to the realization that my bags were way to heavy and cumbersome to be dragged onto public transport like that and call a taxi? No! Of course not! I had to prove that I could do it. I proved it all right. And now standing and walking hurts and bending my arms hurts but straightening them stretches the muscles and I’m soooo tired.

I did, however, get a fantastic assortment of people to help me. The first was a guy, maybe 26 or 27, and he actually walked with my for a long while helping me get my stuff up and down the stairs until we got to where the cars come in. He asked me where I was going and what I was doing, I told him I’m staying with a friend for a few days. Then he asked me if I wanted him to come with me all the way to wherever I was going. I politely refused, thanking him for his trouble, but not mentioning that having a servant would have been amazing. I’d just rather not have a French man know where I’m staying three nights in a row, thanks very much.

The amusing part was when he warned me to keep a close eye on my things, because there were mean people who liked to steal around. I think that was about how he put it. I smiled and told him that I already knew and that I would be careful. I don’t think he believed me, but he left and I continued my odyssey.

Two of my favorite being helped moments were when I was changing lines. On the 4 a Spanish couple was standing right next to me with their own suitcases. We didn’t talk on the metro, but when we got off and I had problems with my things (of course. If there’s a moment when I didn’t have problems with all that stuff, I want to know so I can write it down and get the paper preserved. I can’t for the life of me remember right now what the name of it is when you get it covered in plastic film…boy do I feel dumb.

The Spanish couple was older, probably in their 60s or so, and they spoke to me in French, and to the person next to them who they bumped into in English. That made me smile a little. We did end up talking a few seconds, in English, and the husband helped me get my suitcases up the first two flights of stairs (there was a third but I found that out later, after they had gone). He of course did it man style, which means that if I tried to help he would ward me off with waving hands or the shaking of his head. I thanked them profusely and continued on my way.

In the middle of my way, however, and around the corner, was another flight of stairs. I came around the wall and literally started laughing. I mean I had remembered that there are stairs in the Parisian subways. Of course there are stairs. But so many? Geez!

I pulled my suitcases up the first three steps. This took about a minute for me to do. Why didn’t I disconnect everything and just do it one suitcase at a time? Are you kidding me? Leave one of my suitcases at the bottom of the stairs so that I could get the other one to the top so that I could leave that one blah blah blah. So pretty much a lot of very mild fear went into how I chose to do things.

Back to the stairs. By this time, all I want to do is sit down and go to sleep. I just had to make it to the top of the stairs, make the change, and it would only be two more flights of stairs to the exit. That’s pretty much the only thing that was on my mind. Then, all of a sudden, this grandma asks me if I would like any help. I smiled at her and said thank you, but I think it’s too heavy. Then her two daughters and grandson came around the corner. Everyone grabbed something and we made it up to the top. On the way up one of the women asked me what I had in the suitcase, which made it so heavy. “My entire life and half of the universe as well,” I told her. She laughed and they left me.

I couldn’t give them anything in return, but I hope God blesses all of them with reciprocated experiences from someone else. Even to the last creepy guy.

It was the last run of stairs, and a black guy was helping me when this really short Arab came up and started helping us (is it bad that I typed that out, considered saying it another way, but can only think right now of how diverse my helpers were? Haha). He didn’t say anything, he didn’t ask if we needed help, he just kind of went for it. The black guy I guess felt like the Arab was doing a better job or something, but he left. Arab Dude helped me all the way up the last of the steps, even up through the moment on the second to last stair when I started to lose my grip on the handle and had to set the stuff down. As I stood up into the cooler air of the heavens, he accepted my thanks, wished me a good night, and walked away.

This is the part where I decided to walk north-west instead of south-east. I walked that way, along the correct road, of course, for about twenty minutes. I was exhausted. I could no longer keep my grip on the handle of my wheeling suitcase. The wheels themselves were starting to squeak, as if even they were complaining about how much I was making them do. Luckily I suddenly began to think that maybe looking at some addresses on the sides of buildings would be a good idea. 222. Ok. I was looking for 159, so that couldn’t be too bad. Ten seconds later I looked at the next number. 223. Oh no. NO! no!!! I started laughing, for the second time that day, out loud. I could barely stand up and my feet hurt so much and I was still wearing that dumb sweater.

I stopped at the corner of a building to regroup and succeeded in readjusting my bags and rewrapping my jacket around the pull-out handle. Then I switched the load to my left hand, adjusted the orange hippie bag and my laptop, and set back on the other side of the road. I didn’t just want to stay on the same side of the road cause I didn’t want the creepy French people who had just seen me walk by in front of their store see me walking back the other way. Not that this idea really matters that much, or that it really made a difference (I’m sure the French have good vision and could see me walking on the other side of the street)…but it seemed to be important for me.

I made it back to the metro I had come out of and then continued walking the other way. One hundred and fifty meters later, I found the Holiday Inn Express. Given my experience with the Brest hostel, and having ended up that time with a hostel that was actually a chain hotel, I started laughing to myself again. But then I walked around the corner, and in the same building I found my hostel, St. Christopher’s Inn. It’s on a canal part of the Seine, and I have a fantastic view of the canal from each of the three huge windows in the room. It’s a ten bed dorm, but it’s all super clean and organized, each of the bunks even has a little curtain to draw across so that you have privacy/darkness.

Of course, it doesn’t block sound, which began at 7am this morning with the sound of jackhammers. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. They really were jack hammering something at 7 am this morning. I don’t understand why, but they did.

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