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Pissed off in Paris: an American at large

The aerospace layout is around us at JFK as we eat chicken fingers and sandwiches. This is a very average meal in our lives and we think nothing of it. Now we know that chicken fingers and sandwiches should be appreciated for what they are. Good American food. Correction: not French food.

I believe it was in the check in line where Beth said to me, “Is that a window seat?” as she looked at our tickets. Which lead to the aisle versus window seat discussion. Ten minutes later the discussion ends and we board the plane. The flight attendants are speaking French and right away we realize that this could be trouble. Here we are still on the runway at JFK and for all we know the sweet flight attendant has just told us that they have poisoned the food of all the stupid Americans. It could happen. I’ve seen movies.

The heat. My God, the heat. It’s really hot on the plane and Beth can’t sleep. I continue to remind her that she has to sleep on the flight, but this is only making her angry. I can’t sleep because of the unbearable heat and because the guy in front of me is forcing me to crotch his seat. Not good times. The food and I say this cautiously is served, some type of fish. We don’t eat fish, but we had no idea what they were saying. We don’t eat. We are only one hour from NY. Multiply the first hour by five and this was our flight to Paris.

We deplane and there’s no security. They glance at our passport, glare at us and smile. As we wait for our luggage (where everyone is smoking) we realize that together we stick out like a sore thumb. There’s a café in the airport where everyone is drinking espressos and smoking. While dragging 300 plus pounds of luggage we head toward a taxi stand.

We find a taxi and the driver gets out. I point to the hotel on our itinerary and say “Bonjour!” The taxi driver (hearing either my accent or me bastardizing his language) immediately begins speaking English.

We get to our hotel at 6am. Its pitch dark outside and we’re hoping we can get our room early. As we enter the automatic doors of the quaint hotel we see what appears to be a fairly happy gentleman until he hears me talk, then he looks annoyed. However, the guy gives us a room with some explanation of a “different set” which neither of us can understand. We understand when we enter our rooms and see to tiny single beds. We don’t care. We fall asleep, waking up at 9am. It’s still dark. We sleep until noon. The sun is out.

Day 1

I go out for coffee and come back with two shots of espresso. We head over to the Eiffel Tower, figuring out the subway in a matter of minutes. No problem. When we get there we’re amazed by the long lines. Beth waits in line while I go to get coffee. The Eiffel Tower of hundreds moves slowly while my line of seven doesn’t budge. Everyone is ordering vegetable soup with cheese on top. What kind of crazy place is this? Each cup of soup takes at least ten minutes to prepare. During my time in line I’m greeted every five minutes by some guy trying to sell me an Eiffel Tower key chain which turns quickly from amusing to annoying. I finally get another shot of espresso (I ordered a large coffee), get in line, and soon we are in the Tower. Now is a pretty good time to mention that it’s windy and about twenty degrees at the bottom. We’re going to the second level. We get to the second level where to no surprise its freezing and Beth takes cheesy pictures and then we both buy cheesy Eiffel Tower souvenirs. We then go to a bar located on the first level and drink wine and cocktails to warm us up. Beth orders a Bacardi and Coke. She gets a glass with Bacardi in it, a bottle of Coke on the side, and a bendy straw.

After the Eiffel we go to a taxi stand, and get into a taxi headed to the De La Concorde. We try to communicate to the driver where we want to go and he finally figures it out confessing that he speaks little English. It’s okay. We realize now that we speak less French. We see the Concorde, the Jardin de Tulleries, and then make our way up to the Louve. It’s getting colder outside. We go to Colette, a store that has books, clothing, a dog, and a cafeteria where everyone is drinking and smoking.

Next since it’s cold and we’re hungry we go to a café and grab a seat at the bar. First we ask for a wine list (une vin list sil vous plait?) and the response is a crisp “NO!”. Then we ask for an ashtray (un cendrier sil vous plait?) and the response is another crisp “NO!” This is followed by an explanation in French that also has hand gestures pointing to the floor and we figure out that you’re supposed to ash on the floor “sil vous plait”. Looking at the menu Beth realizes that she can’t eat because she doesn’t know what or how to order. Instead she orders two glasses of wine in French. She does this with no problem. Eventually we end up ordering a ham and cheese sandwich which is very basic and very good.

We go back to the hotel and prepare for New Year’s Eve. We’re planning on going to Harry’s New York Bar. We get a taxi and I somehow communicate to the driver that we want to go near the Arc de Triumph, when we get there we realize I messed up the bars and don’t have the address to Harry’s. I finally find someone who speaks English and she gets us to the address and Harry’s is closed so we end up going to a piano bar for a glass of champagne and then a place called The American Dream Café which looks cheesier than its name and it costs thirty Euros for two drinks. That’s thirty Euros for two drinks. At midnight we found ourselves at some French wannabe English pub that’s playing all Elvis Presley songs. Beth gets hit on in the unisex bathroom and then later gets a phone number. When midnight hits there’s no countdown, only some silly string being shot by a drunk French bartender. After all the excitement we wander the streets looking for some place to be open, but everything is closed until we find a quaint looking café that has puppies running wild. We stay there for a while and then call it a night.

Day 2

We wake up and it’s snowing out. We’re both very angry. I go out for coffee and come back with two espressos and one cappuccino. We leave to go find something to eat and then off to the Louvre museum. Ending up at a café we order a bottle of wine. Not much to choose from on the menu Beth decides on the vegetarian lasagna and I order chicken stuffed with mushrooms. When the food arrives Beth is staring at my plate with a look of disgust on her face. At the time I thought it may be the most disgusted look ever, than she looks down at her plate. For the next couple of minutes she picks at her lasagna and then takes a bite. She’s gagging from the taste and now she’s unleashed the smell of the lasagna. She’s actually gagging at the table. I can’t make this stuff up. I offer her some of my food and she tells me that my chicken looks like little fetuses. Beth doesn’t eat.

It’s still snowing when we get to the Louvre. It’s giant in size (supposedly the largest in the world) and right away we can tell something is up because it doesn’t look busy. We check a couple of doors while it slowly gets colder outside. We’re both freezing so go wait for a taxi at a stand. While waiting for a taxi it stops snowing. It begins to hail.

After another fun direction filled taxi ride we are near the Notre Dame church, in the Latin Quarter we are walking around the narrow café filled streets occasionally stopping for wine at various cafe’s, looking for food along the way. I’m raping the French language every time I say something. We end up at a small café where the door opens in a retarded matter, making for a grand entrance. Strike one. We enter and Beth orders to glasses of white wine. The angry French guy behind the bar decides to come over and give us a five minute lecture on how to order Chardonnay. Strike two. I understand very little of what he has said which is probably for the best. Beth is still hungry so she orders a croissant which they don’t have, but the kind French waiter offers an alternative that we don’t understand, but accept anyway. He brings over a slice of orange slice pie. Beth picks at a little and is still hungry, but hey, it can’t get any worse can it? Beth uses the bathroom and comes back to the table with a horrified look on her face. All she says is “take a picture” as she slides the camera across the table. I go to the “bathroom” and realize it’s just a hole. I take the pictures. Strike three. It’s time to see the Notre Dame.

We wait in line in the wind an hail for twenty minutes and as we get close to the entrance a group of tourists cut in front of us so I point out that this is a sure way to get into hell. I say this loudly of course so that everyone around us can hear. This is how we enter the chapel.

Entering the tourist trap chapel we’re in there less than five minutes and Beth drops an F bomb. She then lights a candle which seems to even it out. Then somewhere in between the annoying tourists and many pictures being taken two more F bombs are dropped.

We exit Nortre Dame and buy souvenirs near by. I buy a beret. Next we get in a taxi and go to Galleries Lafayette. It’s closed so we’re walking around looking for something to do. We end up in some rundown café that I think is near the Hard Rock Café, but I can’t figure out where we are on the map. After a glass of wine (and Bacardi, Coke, and a bendy for Beth) we leave and try to figure out where we are. I’m looking back and forth between the map and street signs and Beth finds it. Right across the street.

Our waiter at the HRC is wearing a Trench coat and boxers. At one point while we’re ordering I feel my space has been invaded. We get our food and Beth eats.

Back at our hotel room we change rooms and prepare for the Moulin Rouge show, we anticipate this to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Located in the porn district of Paris we enter a large building that is filled with Asians. Since we didn’t order dinner the service lags a bit to the point that it’s non existent. In fact the service consisted of our waiter dropping off a bottle of champagne (without opening it) and is never seen again. I worry most of the show about my beret which I was forced to check with my coat. The show starts with men and women dressed in silver and dancing. Not exactly what we’re expecting, but then again it’s just the beginning so let’s kick back and see where this goes.

The start of the show is okay, then there are clowns, and then it gets very gay. Very gay. Leather, chain, and uncomfortably tight packages gay. Then there’s the whole intermission act scenario. The first intermission act guy was some daredevil guy who was climbing on wheels and the whole time we didn’t know whether to clap or ask someone what he had to do with the show. Then it got worse. There was a clown without a suit and then finally the ultimate embarrassment. A ventriloquist with a live dog as part of his act. At this time I can’t say anymore about this show. It’s too difficult to both type and cry uncontrollably.

After the show we need to cleanse ourselves and thank god we find just the thing, an Irish pub. Maybe the only one in the city. Hallelujah. This is perfect. Amen. I’m wearing my beret and don’t mind the awful music that varies from Michael Jackson to Huey Lewis to random country artists. Some Irish guy named Owen is fascinated with a dancing Frosty that is on the bar. We talk to him and he fills us in on his cocaine riddled past and then takes us over to a bar where the bartender is named Joey John and is from New York. He’s trying to close the bar when we approach, but somehow we end up doing shots while Joey John tells us why there are so many Tony’s in New York (they got TO NY stamped on their foreheads when the moved to America from Italy) and how the Long Island iced tea was invented (annoying Long Island girls who couldn’t make up their mind what they wanted to drink). We get back to our hotel sometime around 3.

Day 3

I’m on no sleep when I go out for coffee in the morning. I come back with two cappuccinos, two waters, and mini-croissants. Beth tries on four pair of pants then we go to the train station and buy tickets to Brussels, Belgium. We take a super fast train to Brussels while looking at a map trying to figure out where the pissing boy statue (Mannekan Pis) is located in the city.

When we arrive ninety minutes later it’s freezing cold. The locals are all walking around with unbuttoned light jackets. We gaze at some castles and then go to a restaurant with a fire place where Beth orders apple pie. The apple pie is terrible and now she is ready to pass out because she is so hungry. I’m also starving and ready to eat anything. We find an Italian restaurant and each order a pizza. Beth eats. Next, we wander through some very cool streets full of restaurants and pubs (most with fireplaces inside). We get to Mannekan Pis and can’t believe how small the statue is. We buy souvenirs (postcards, a shirt for Beth, and book of Mannekan Pis pictures for me) and then wander the streets, stumbing upon the oldest bar in Belgium. Eighties music was playing, go figure. After in an Irish Pub we drink cider and enjoy the non-French speaking folk around us. We both sleep on the train ride back.

That night is Crazy Horse night. Very exciting. Not sure what to expect other than “elegant nude dancing”. Very exciting. We get there and we plan on going to the bar because we don’t have tickets. The place is packed with people waiting to go to the bar, and it looks like trouble to say the least. We end up taking a chapter out of our Nortre Dame experience and cut in line. We get placed at the bar, front and center. Sweet. The show is great with individual nude dancers using props like poles, giant rings, and chairs. Also, the girls all come out and introduce themselves. They speak French and we have no idea what they’re saying, but it’s a great time. One was named Lasso Calypso. Enough said. The one drawback was again the stupid intermission acts. I couldn’t watch this time. There was a guy shooting ping pong balls out of his mouth. Once again the crowd seemed to love this more than the actual show. What kind of crazy place is this? The other strange thing was that the show ended with no ending. One minute there was dancing, the next nothing.

The night ends at a café where everyone is standing at the bar like a roulette table in Vegas. The bartender controls the lock on the door from behind the bar. Whenever anyone wants to leave they have to get him to hit the switch and unlock the door.

Day 4

I go out for coffee and come back with two cappuccinos, croissants, and orange juice. Sounds a lot better than it actually is.

The Louvre is open so we go and see the Mona Lisa. It’s smaller than we expected, it’s behind two windows of glass, and there’s a guy jumping in front every time an Asian tries to take a picture. Walking through statues on our way to the Venus de Milo Beth wonders out loud if there’s someone who breaks off penis’s from statues and collects them. We see the Venus de Milo and then it’s off to the Medieval section because I think this might be cool to see. It turns out to be an old wall of brick from an old no longer existing castle. Beth takes a picture to remind me how cool it wasn’t.

Back in a taxi and back by the Notre Dame we find more cold weather, more café’s, and more bendy straws. Oh, and more wine. We find a pizzeria where we get seated in the basement. Beth eats. A local man is seated next to me whom I purposely ignore. Beth tells me later that at one point it looked like he was going to stab me with a knife.

At Galleries Lafayette Beth buys silver shoes and then we go to Willi’s wine bar where the bartender has his nose in a glass of wine for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Later that evening, we get into a taxi and ask him to take us to a street where a place called the Buddha Bar is located. He says the street is right next us so we get, walk around, look at the map and realize it’s not. We go back to the taxi stand where the same driver is sitting and get into his car and have him take us there. It’s over mile away, costs three euros, and he charges me five. Inside the bar there are angry bartenders (at this point I’m assuming that’s the only way they make them), a giant Buddha, and a woman who is constantly bumping Beth with her purse. This may not sound like much fun to the average person, but to me this is the Super Bowl of entertainment.

After Buddha it’s off to the Eiffel Tower on last time. The lights are lit and flashing on the tower (happens first ten minutes of every hour) and it’s really the perfect picture opportunity. Unfortunately the taxi driver takes ten minutes to count out euro cents and the lights stop flashing as we exit the taxi. We take a couple of pictures and then go look for an open café, but find nothing in the area. Half an hour later we find a cab and head to a café near our hotel. Our waiter stops us as we walk in. He wants to know what we want and we explain that we just want to have a couple of drinks. He warns us that each glass of wine will cost five euros. The waiter hates us and removes the table cloth from our table. We are the only table without a table cloth. At this point it’s all comical.

Day 5

It’s 6a.m. when we get our wake up call (the only wake call in the hotel – I saw the list). We take a taxi to the airport and try to find where to check in. It’s a huge airport and half of it appears to be Air France. Finally we find out that there’s a separate line for New York passengers. We check-in, go through security (another separate line for NY passengers), and look for food. It’s still all French food. No McDonalds, no nothing. I eat a stale ham and cheese sandwich. Beth can’t eat.

We line up to board our flight and something is up. Everyone ends up getting checked and this take two additional hours. Everyone just waits in the skyway as each person is patted down and checked. I have two umbrellas in my bag which takes five minutes to check. Something was up.

The plane ride is a blur. A lot of sleep and a lot of bad French food. Eight hours later (felt like 8 days) we arrive in Newark, NJ and are greeted by US Marshals strapped with AK-47s. They are checking passports as we step off the plane. Welcome home.

We wait an hour for a taxi, get the only driver in NY who has never driven through Times Square, or Manhattan for that matter. He drives lost and timid. It takes over an hour to get home. We’re totally exhausted when we walk in the door.

I go get food from Olive Garden, Beth gets soda from the Asian guy on the corner, we eat, and then we sleep it off.

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