Part 3. An American Tourist in France: My Nemesis, The Metro

NOTE: The Author would like to gently point out that his observations are his and his alone, and they are not meant to be some sort of factual record on what Paris is. This is simply a collection of observations on what he experienced for 8 days in Paris during the summer of 2011. It is meant to be an honest account of his feelings and experiences, but should not be taken as complete truth to what Paris and France are. How could it? That's ridiculous. With that... PREVIOUSLY: PART 1: TOUCHING DOWN PART 2: MEETING THE LIZARD KING

The previous day knocked me and my body for a loop. Two flights, three taxi rides, and an unknown amount of rides on the metro contributed to a collapse of psyche. I felt like I was drunk, though I wasn't. At least not until I violated my self-imposed no drinking in Paris rule less than 24 hours after arrival. After visiting the Lizard King, the day cascaded into deeper irritation with each passing moment.

Our bodies were drained... our minds frazzled... and no amount of delicious French pastries could fix the lack of sound sleep we all carried. The dripping wet humidity of Paris in August didn't help, nor did the camel cardigan I was wearing.

To make matters worse, we took an ill-fated metro misstep on the way home and had to add an extra 2-3 metro connections to our route.

The metros, as we would learn, would become our enemy. Despite our error on this first night, The Angel would guide us faithfully through Paris would nary a mistake the rest of the week. This is no easy task, especially considering we had bus routes to take into consideration as well. She did it dutifully, and deserves overwhelming praise for doing such a fantastic job. I assure you, without her, things would have gotten rough.

Alas, the metros provided different obstacles we weren't prepared for. At first, I found the metros to be a welcomed addition to my life. I live in Los Angeles, where public transportation is essentially non-existent. Being able to hop aboard a train at whim was appreciated at first, but by week's end the colored-lines of the metros would be loathed.

First off, and there's no delicate way of putting this, the smell emanating from said trains is pungent at best, toxic at worst. Of course, bear in mind, this is August. We're on incredibly crowded trains with little to no ventilation. People are sweating. And then there's that idiot wearing the camel cardigan.

Point is, it's not pleasant. And just to be emphatically clear, I am not saying that this odor is indicative of The French. To do so would be to engage in what is sure to be a grossly exaggerated stereotype that I find ridiculous. I'm quite confident the subways of New York smell no different. In fact, I'm confident any amount of well-groomed individuals thrown into a crowded, humid, sweaty subway car would collectively smell much like what I took in that first day (and the subsequent days thereafter).

But it would be disingenuous to suggest it wasn't an issue the week we were there. At times, it was downright suffocating.

Another issue with the metros is the wall to wall graffiti covering the various tunnels. To say it's unsightly would be an understatement. Many times you stared in disbelief at what you witnessed. I wondered exactly how someone could find the time and means to reach certain spots, but they most assuredly did. The quilted collections of covers seemed to push any available blank walls out of reach, bathed in foreign signs that resembled the streets of East Los Angeles.

This amount of graffiti was shocking to say the least. But in thinking about it more, I realized my assumptions about what Paris would be were completely predicated on black and white postcards you pick up in your local independent bookstore. Essentially, I was an idiot. Of course Paris had graffiti and gangs. It's a major city; expecting anything less would have been foolish. Did I somehow expect to see artwork lining the tunnels of Paris? Of course not, but the first vision of such dirt was jarring to say the least.

But before our day unravelled into one of exhaustion, we did manage to spend an hour or so at the Eiffel Tower. Various packs of tourists and Parisians alike milled and mingled in what can only be described as one large picnic. It reminded me of lazy summers spent at Grant Park in Chicago, and only served to provide me with more evidence to the theory that we are all so very much alike, despite whatever outward differences we may see. The older men playing bocce ball might as well have been the blue-collar dudes of Chicago flinging iron horseshoes at a stake in the ground.

For a moment, I felt like just another person in the park, rather than the American tourist of slightly above-average height that I so obviously was.

When we finally did reach our bed that first night, I was spent. We had only scratched the surface of what Paris had to offer, and my head was already reeling from everything I had taken in. My energy remained positive and full of anticipation, but it now came tempered with the reality that although we were in the magical city of Paris, it was still just that- a large city with a lot of people moving through each other's lives at an incessant rate.

We went to bed early, and as the sounds of Tom and Jerry hummed through the room (a consequence of the lack of English-speaking options), I resided myself to rebounding in the morning.

Day 2 was going to be ours, and I was going to attack it differently.

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