Friday, August 28, 2009

Pt.7 We Almost Meet the Man Who Controls Paris

this series begins (link) HERE

It was warm and humid, and appeared as though it could rain any minute. We headed down the Rue Linois to the district with the same name as the Metro, Charles Michel. The district is a busy community. On the way, we stopped at a pharmacy for a roll of Rolaids. The clerk didn’t understand what we meant at first, until we mentioned Rolaids. Then, instead of Rolaids, she offered us a box of Pepcid AC, available in the U.S., but packaged here in a plain white box with purple writing on it. Most of the labeling for familiar over-the-counter pharmaceutical items was understated, and not the familiar gaudy labels. I don’t know why.

Many pharmacies had a square green neon cross in front — we never figured out if it was a chain of pharmacies that used the green cross as a logo, or whether the green cross was some sort of a European symbol for pharmacy. The green crosses displayed different patterns. Some pulsated, some appeared to shift around, some were just fully lit, some blinked on and off. We continued to see these throughout the week -- they are all over France.

The metro station was across from an Italian sidewalk cafe, and kitty-corner from McDonald’s, both of which we would visit later in the week. We headed down a flight of stairs, and were promptly stopped by a shaggy-looking older man, who was talking to an equally seedy-looking black man in the square. In broken English, he explained that this was a private stairway, the metro was over there — he pointed — This stairway was the entrance to his personal friend’s office. He controlled the entire city from this office, but, for now he was asleep, and could not be disturbed. Well, we didn’t go down to see for ourselves. Instead we went down the Metro stairs to catch a train.

We got on the Yellow #10, and as the first station turned out to be Javel, and not Cambronne, we found that we had boarded the train in the wrong direction. We got out, went up, over the tracks, and got back on the Yellow #10 going the other way. There ought to be a way to tell before you get on, if you’re going in the right direction. We proceeded through the stops, Cambronne, Segur, Duroc, Sevre Babylone, smoothly all the way to Odeon. At different stops, we again heard the blasts of what sounded like accordion music. Finally, we saw one — there are accordionists who ride on the trains, playing for coins. We never had the good fortune, unfortunately, of riding with one. All the street musicians we saw, with few exceptions, were quite talented, with a lot of showmanship.

Odeon, we boarded the train on the purple line, through Saint Michel, under the river, Chatelet, Les Halles, — get ready — our stop is next — Ettienne Marcel. The station was under construction — the porcelain wall bricks had been removed for some sort of remodelling. The train stopped. The doors didn’t open. Looking back, I don’t know if we could have opened the doors using the handles — we didn’t try them, but maybe they wouldn’t have opened anyway, because of the construction, but, right on schedule, in fifteen seconds, the horn blew, and the train took off, not leaving us at our destination. We got off at the next station, hoping to backtrack. At Reumer Sebastopol, we got off the train.

We emerged in a district with many clothing stores — very expensive, and, according to Joyce, (who has been in the fashion industry all her life) nothing spectacular to offer. I tried to get our bearings on a map, but just about when I found out where we were, Joyce would lose patience and start walking ahead. She thought it should be this way, she said, pointing. I thought, well, let her go where she wants, she’ll get tired. It was all new, and even going nowhere in particular in a new place can be interesting. If we didn’t get to the Rue Coquilerre, we would get to some other Rue, equally as interesting.

This was the day we figured out that the street names were on the buildings, and not on separate sign poles. The same color as the Metro station signs, blue with white lettering, these signs were located on each side of corner buildings, showing the street names. Still, having the street names, one still had to find where one was, in order to find out how to get where one wanted to go. Joyce decided that we were really lost, now. I, content just to explore at random, knowing that we could always eventually get back via the metro, just by going into the nearest one. “Ou e La Metro?” shall save us. Joyce, however, wanted more than ever to go to somewhere, any one of her list of destinations — mostly stores — would do. And, she had to go to the bathroom. This was getting more and more urgent.

At one intersection, in the rain, a very agitated young man was screaming something in French to a young lady, who was answering back, but finally, she turned away, crying, and he was still yelling something angrily at her. Guess we'll have to wait until the movie comes out.

Joyce had to get to a rest room. Even the pay toilet compartments we had seen the day before — and laughed at — eluded us. There didn’t appear to be any restrooms in the parks, no public buildings that we could discern. Shopkeepers didn’t want people using their restrooms. Joyce stopped in at a hotel — they told her they didn’t have a toilet. It began to rain. We went to McDonald’s. Apparently, there are no laws requiring restroom facilities in public restaurants — a 3-floor McDonalds, and no toilets — it was hot in there, and smelled like a toilet — just like McDonald’s in the US. Finally, I ventured that, there might be one in the Metro — I had seen some in stations the day before. Not feeling the same urgency, I held her things while she went into the Metro restroom. It was clean, undifferentiated by sex, and Joyce passed a wooden booth on the way in. The lady in the cashier booth wanted two francs and 70 cents — Joyce, for once in too much of a hurry to solicit other quotes, paid, and rushed in to a stall. After Joyce finished, I contracted the use of a urinal for only 2 francs - 70 cents cheaper! - such a bargain I will not let Joyce forget.

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1 comment:

clarinette said...

Very nicely reported, sorry you had a bad experience in Paris. Parisians should be ashamed of considering sharing rest rooms as a luxury!!!
As for the pharmacists, the sign, apart from the green cross is the 'Caduceus' from the Greek mythology (SEE FROM WIKIPEDIA :