I am in Paris, and I cannot shop. Can not. Not may not, not will not, not even should not (though that’s probably true). I can’t do it.
Yesterday we visited the Opera Garnier, and in between buying the ticket for the guided tour and actually going on the guided tour, we had about an hour and a half. Fortunately, thanks to my earlier obsessive planning, I had something in mind for this time–a trip to the big, fancy department stores directly behind the opera house.
I convinced my husband to enter Galleries Layfayette with
promises of a really pretty glass dome (check) and a great view from the seventh floor terrace (check–and awesome, by the way–a great view, and it is free). Traveling up the escalator to the look out was torture–we passed by so many beautiful things I wanted to touch and buy. Sadly, we didn’t have much time–though I managed to make a small gift purchase for my sister-in-law before we had to leave to make the tour. I vowed to return.
The Opera was amazingly beautiful, and while I’m very, very glad we went, I don’t know that I’d recommend the guided tour. But that’s me–I hate being in a group. At times it felt like near the end of the night in a boring grad class–you just want it to end, but one jerk keeps raising his hand to ask questions, and you sit there, silently willing him to shut up. But, again, the building itself was beyond what I’d expected. I feel I have fully had my share of opulence and gold leaf, and feel even more sure that I do not need to go to Versailles.
After the tour we were too tired to return to the department store (my husband was thrilled), so instead we returned to our neighborhood and had a great–and very late–lunch at Grizzli, a bistro a few blocks down from our apartment on Rue St. Denis. I did manage to buy a rather odd sort-of-hippie-ish yet very Parisian dress at a small boutique on the way home (for 17 euro!), but alas, that was to be the extent of my shopping success.
This morning we headed out to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, despite my misgivings. I really wanted to see the cool, domed church, but every single guide book warns you about this area, rife with pickpockets and people trying to sell you things you don’t want. But still we went, and we are glad we did. The church was beautiful–or perhaps I was hallucinating from the effort of walking up all of those steps (funnicular my ass–the line was long and slow moving. I’d rather be huffing and puffing up a steep hill than standing brainlessly in a line like a lemur).
After we’d explored it both insidea and out, we made our way through yet more ‘quaint’ overly touristy areas (quaint is in quotes for a reason, people), where the afore mentioned thieves and hawkers attacked us. I honestly think this phenomonon makes sense–it is an area with a large tourist population, everyone is looking up and snapping pictures, and because of the terrain, everyone has to pass by pretty much the same point, bottlenecking through tiny stairways and emerging to find two men blocking the way and trying to tie ‘friendship’ bracelets onto your arms. Were I a thief or a hawker, that’s totally where I’d hang out. Of course, I didn’t like this one single bit, and so after our visit to the Dali museum (which was awesome and peaceful and I loved, even though I never would have gone if my husband hadn’t insisted) we made our way down some back streets to a different metro stop and got the hell out.
Two train changes later, we were one stop away from our apartment at the Arts and Metiers stop, which is home to the Arts and Metiers Museum. My husband has been wanting to go to this museum the whole time we’ve been here, and since we were right there and our museum passes covered the entry fee, we decided to check it out.
Now, the name may be Musee de Arts et Metiers, but I’m pretty sure the locals call it ‘Le Musee de la Grande Nerd’. Starting with astrolabes and sextant, continuing through a grand display of weights and measures, meandering through what can only be described as the loom room, we happend upon a room displaying examples of printing presses throughout the ages, as well as one of those phone operator boards that Mrs. Oleson used in Little House on the Prairie. My husband was in geek heaven, reading all of the little signs–at least, reading the ones with English translations (thankfully few). To be fair to this museum, it was lovely, air
conditioned, empty, and had a thing or two to teach the Louvre about the number of restrooms to include in a museum (I’m pretty sure that if everyone who was in the museum decided to take a pee at the exact same time, there still would not have been a line!) And we saved the best part for last–an amazing display of old transportation, including a steam powered horseless carriage, all housed in a crazy beautiful old church that was part of the museum. The same area also housed Foucault’s Pendulum, which my nerd husband marveled at for a while.
We headed home for a late afternoon rest, intending to hit the Pompidou Center tonight (it’s not going to happen), but one fact had not escaped me when we’d arrived at the metro station–another line, going away from our house, but directly to the amazing department store area, left from the same station. So I kissed the husband goodbye, and went off in search of a wearable souvinier.
I did not get a wearable souvinier. The prices were part of the problem. It’s bad enough to pick up a handbag and see a number in the three hundred range. It’s even worse when that’s in Euros. I realize that it is sale season, but thirty percent off of a four hundred dollar bag is still too much (right?) But even if money wasn’t an issue, I have a different, bigger issue. I can’t speak French. And not being able to speak French has saved us a lot of money.
I’m going to be honest–I’d probably buy a three hundred euro bag if it was thirty percent off and I really loved it. It would be my only souvinier from this crazy trip, and that would be fine. But I can’t shop for one, because as soon as I touch anything–even in a large, busy department store, a smiling woman in black shows up, blurts out a whole bunch of French, and smiles at me. I then drop the bag, walk slowly backwards, and mutter some form of ‘je ne comprend pas Francais’. She then looks at me like I’m a moron (which, at that time, I am) and I’m on my way.
This happens in restaurants, too. Today at lunch, after realizing we’d arrived too late for the prix fixe lunch special (which I love because I can order two things for one low price, so if the first thing ends up being, say, fish with eyeballs in horse sauce, I can eat the other thing), I was at a loss for what to order. It was a busy bistro, clearly catering to the ‘I have a thirty minute lunch break crowd’, and the waiter was looking at me, and I was looking at the menu understanding very little, and so I did what I’ve been doing this entire trip–I pointed to the cheapest thing on the menu and said ‘je voudrais’–again, pointing–and ended up with yet another tiny salad. This time the man even said–in French, but I understood this–something like ‘you know that’s really little, right?’ And I said ‘oui’. And I ate my two slices of cucumber, three pieces of feta, and five leaves of lettuce. After all, I’d not eaten in twenty hours, and just climbed up to Sacre Coeur. I didn’t need more than eighty five calories, right?
I am starting to like it here–three days before we go home, of course–but I am getting tired of feeling like an idiot. And feeling like I’m about to pass out from hunger. It is now after seven in the evening, and that sad little salad is still all I’ve had today–and I managed to buy exactly zero supple leather handbags. But together, the husband and I did manage to visit the butcher, the Italian market, and the produce stand. Which means that right now, pasta sauce is simmering in our little tiny kitchen on Rue St. Denis. And that’s not a bad end to any day.