Friends in Paris

Trip Start Aug 20, 2006
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

When I was in Asia I just came to accept the fact that no one from home was going to come and visit.  Whatever the reason may be.  Weather it is too far, expensive, scary or different.  And they never came.  A few friends came to the Asian continent but never to where I was. 
 
Now I find myself in Paris.  I have been here for almost three months in total.  In Europe for three months and already I have had the pleasure of having two great friends from home come to visit.   Weather or not these people are here to visit me is regardless, they are here and I get to see them.  This is a far cry from two years in Asia with no sight of anyone from home. 
 
At the beginning of May my good friend Lindsay was here for a week as a stopover/family vacation on her way to Morocco.  The day she was leaving my soul sister, Jenn Hean, arrived from Vancouver, not only to visit but to stay with me for a week as a treat to herself for graduating as the Top Student in her hairdressing school.  And the week following Jenn and I went to Italy.  So, May has been a month full of sightseeing, reminiscing and English speaking.  A nice change from what can become the monotony of any routine!
 
Having these people here was kind of like being on vacation myself.  Although being an au pair has its moments, Alex has been off for the entire month of May and thus that left me with a lot of free time.  So on vacation, with great friends, where I am living - not a bad set-up!
 
Lindsay and her family are very intelligent - like the kind of intelligence one can strive for but never really attain.  They retain information about all kinds of things that I find fascinating and as such, are phenomenal sightseeing/museum companions.  The first time I saw them we met at the Centre Pompidou - or the Modern Art Museum.  Kitted out with the latest audio guides, we set out on an exploration of the modern art movement in all its finery.  The Centre Pompidou is the famous building that has awed visitors since it was first created.  An architectural statement - the building was designed so that all the wires, tubing, plumbing, ventilation, etc. was on the outside - to allow for maximum exhibition space inside.  You can imagine what that must involve.  Have a look at this link if you want to see pictures - http://www.gothereguide.com/pompidou+centre+paris-place/ .  The Modern Art Museum contains France's national collection, dating from 1905 onward and includes surrealism, cubism, pop art and other contemporary works.  Needless to say there was enough too keep us occupied for a few hours.   Until it came to lunch and we headed for the rooftop café - which is renowned for having one of the best café views in the city!  As we looked out over the various churches popping up from the six-story building limits, I couldn't help but think how truly Parisian this day was.
 
The Catacombs are another unique sight that Paris has to offer.  40 meters underground, below the metro and even the sewer, are the remains of the old quarry - where Lindsay's mom, sister and I found ourselves one day.  Back in the late 17th century, Paris' major cemeteries were becoming over crowded with improper burials and open mass graves - which were thus leading to illness and disease in the surrounding neighborhoods.  Something had to be done - so starting in 1786 and continuing for the following 2 years, bones of over six million Parisians were moved to selected parts of this cavernous underground tunnel system.  Markings on the walls and various graffiti, leave impressions of the years of toil that took place. Walking through the maze of tunnels, it is hard not to feel slightly claustrophobics when you consider where you are.  Following the painted black line on the ceiling you eventually come to a sign that, translated, reads "Stop, here lies the Empire of Death" - we have arrived.  Piles and pile of neatly stacked bones - femurs, skulls and ribs line all the walls - covered with spider webs and various other debris I would rather not think about.  Things continue this way, as if you were a rat in a literal bone maze - surely never to escape - for about 30 minutes - until you have had enough and climb the windy staircase 40m back to daylight.  An eerie way to spend an afternoon.
 
Surprisingly, death seemed to be the theme of our week - and we spent another day wandering around Pere Lachaise Cemetery - the most visited cemetery in the world.  This is where the rich and famous of Paris go after life.  Jim Morrison, Edit Piaf, Balzac, Chopin and Oscar Wilde - all now call this place home.  Of course a visit wouldn't be complete without placing a kiss on Oscar Wilde's grave for some luck!
 
On a lighter note, we made some excellent French food one night in the lovely apartment Lindsay's family had rented near Notre Dame. We also dined at the famous Les Deux Magots café - once the haunt of the intellectual elite, such as Hemmingway and Picasso - it is now merely a tourist venture - complete with the requisite Crouque Monsieurs and snooty waiters.


The end of the week came all too quickly and I made my way out to the airport to meet Jenn.  It was an interesting feeling being on the other side of that sliding arrivals door.  Having not been in that position more that once of twice in the past years I felt myself overcome with a mixture of excitement and nervousness - What if she wasn't there?  What if I missed her? But quickly realized that it was one of the happiest places on earth.  Any tears are tears of joy, and any emotions are multiplied ten-fold.  Note to self - pick more people up from the airport!
 
Having successfully located Jenn we set off home on the train to take a nap and make some plans for what to do the following week!  I thought Jenn's introduction to Paris would best be spent with a bottle of wine by the Seine in the shadow of Notre Dame.  The magnificent church is lit up at night and people usually come together there to play music and drink wine out of the bottle or plastic glasses.  Being "classy" we found some glasses this time and set off for the river.  Was so nice to catch up over some French wine, by the Seine, with the grandeur of Notre Dame at out backs.
 
The following night Alex and Sebastien had tickets to the ballet at the famous Opera house (famous for the Phantom) and so after making some quiche for dinner and putting the kids to bed Jenn proceeded on her first international haircut.  Merci Beaucoup!  The rest of the week was filled with various other necessary visits on any trip to Paris - drinking wine under the Eifel Tower, a trip to the top of the tower at night, visiting the local market to buy some excellent cheese and wine for a picnic lunch in the park, seeing the masterpieces and the Louvre, marveling at the world's biggest traffic round about - The Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees and Gothic architecture at its finest - Notre Dame.  Clearly a busy week.  On Jenn's last day in Paris we found ourselves in Montmartre staring up at the beautiful Sacre Coeur.  After getting to the top and taking in yet another stunning view of Paris - it started to rain.  With no where to run but inside the church we were suddenly in the midst of a service - complete with French sermons and singing nuns.  It was actually a beautiful way to pass the storm.  Thunder resounding outside and the echoes of singing nuns inside the church - I left feeling a little lighter.
 
Thursday morning rolled around and after 3 hours at the local prefecture for my second administrative appointment - I finally left with my temporary Carte de Sejour - or residency permit.  Bureaucracy in France continues to amaze.  To get this piece of paper involved about 15 different documents including but not excusive to: my au pair contract, my passport, the identity card of my host family, my visa, utility bills from where I am living, 5 pages of forms filled out, registration in my language class and oh yeah - a falsely generated Act de Naissance to replace my insufficient birth certificate with the names of my parents.  The later was the reason for the subsequent appointment and a trip to the Canadian embassy - looong story.  But I left with the paper - now only a government mandated doctor's appointment, a further 55 Euros and another appointment at the prefecture remain until I can get the actual card.  And this is all just so I am legal here.  I even have the nerve to consider trying to work legally and jump through a similar series of hoops all over again.  Can you imagine what this must be like for someone from a country with a less favorable reputation than Canada - sadly this is the case for almost every other person at the prefecture - and yet somehow Paris has more immigrants than I have seen in almost any other city I have been in.
 
Leaving France (and the headaches of bureaucracy) behind Jenn and I were Italy bound that night.  Rome here we come!
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