Mon Sep 17, 2001 | day 7
Arrondissements of Paris are like Zip Codes in the States whereas they divide an area into sections. There are 20 arrondissements in Paris, starting in the middle of the city with the first and spiraling out to the 20th. Most tourists only visit the popular ones that are filled with well-known monuments. But I, on the other hand, have made it a mission to visit the outskirts of Paris. The places the tourist store owners live and shop. Thanks to the transit system here, I have been to more than half of the "arrt"s in the past 6 days. All of them have their beauty and charm and it is hard to pick one as my second favorite (my first, by far, is the 5th, a.k.a The Latin Quarter).
Since I last wrote, (3 days ago) I have been having a blast. I wake up, jump on a bus, and let it take me wherever it might go. Sure, I have an idea on where I would like to go, but if the bus/Metro/RER go on a non-direct course to my intended destination, so be it! All the more adventurous in my mind.
However, I usually like to ignore the extremely complex transportation system and use my own two feet to get places. Walking about 6-7 miles a day (sometimes more) makes me appreciate the hikes I did at camp. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been physically ready for any of this.
I have not been by the shrine at the U.S Embassy since Thursday. It's just too emotional to go there. But the signs of the Incident are still all around. There's a newsstand on just about every corner with magazines and newspapers with front covers reading "Adieu... Et Merci," L'Attaque," and "L'Horreur." Most of the titles used the French word "guerre" and I did not know what it meant. "Etat De Guerre." "La Guerre." I did not figure out what it's English counterpart was until I went by a video store and caught the translated title of the Wesley Snipes movie "L' Art De La Guerre" or "The Art of War."
Outside the Palais De Chaillot, there were silent protesters holding up black and white posters of a Palestinian man with bold red lettering running down it's side: MASSAUD. The name and face were unfamiliar to me so I asked one of the 60+ people who were standing in the area studying the protesters. The Palistinian-French man was named Idir, and he is a 20-something student at the University of Paris. Idir was happy to give me a brief history lesson on Massaud.
Massaud was the leader of the Northern Rebel Alliance in Pakistan who fought Osama Bin Laden for 6 years. Most Europeans believe that the Soviet union fell because of Massaud. He started as an engineer in 1979 when the USSR invaded Pakistan. He was so against it, that he basically became a leader of a rebel army which grew so big, they were able to push the USSR out of his country. The USSR fell just a year later.
Massaud was killed by Bin Laden two days before the attack on the US.
After my informative "lesson," I continued on, found a grocery store, bought $7 in groceries, and had a picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in the Parc du Champ de Mars.
There was a group of students sitting nearby so I asked them to join me. We talked, drank wine and had goat cheese on crackers for 2 hours. The group of eight were living in Paris but were originally from Mexico and Germany. They were impressed with my ability to speak not only English, but also a little bit of German and Spanish. (the only other two languages I can grasp) They were there in the park to have a small party in celebration of Mexico's Independence. We had a great time yelling "Viva La Mexico!" and "Revolution!"
If you think that "Paris on $20 a Day" is impossible, let me be an example on how that isn't. The "$7 in groceries" I mentioned? It lasted me for two meals. It consisted of goat cheese, crackers, sliced ham, yogurt, an apple, a bottle of juice, Nutella, and graham crackers. If you want people to be your friend, all you have to do is carry around a container of Nutella. It is a delicious chocolate sauce which is good for ANYTHING! It reminds me of the taste of melted Hershey's chocolate bars.
Also a cheap way to survive in Paris is to go to their beautiful (free) parks. Yesterday, I spent all my time at some of them. My favorite park of Paris is in the 19th arrondissement, called Le Parc Des Buttes. It was designed by a man named Jean-Charles Alphand, who I consider the Walt Disney of the 19th century! In the 1860's, upon the request of Napoleon III, Alphand created a park using dynamite to reshape the land, with rolling green hills, large pillars of rock, and caves with waterfalls flowing out of them. The park reminds me a lot of Tom Sawyer's Island in Disneyland with it's many tunnels through rock leading to views of the park. I spent a few hours here walking or just relaxing on one of the many grassy hills, watching kids play and drawing the impressive sights. My favorite is the Temple of Sybil, a gazebo-like structure on the top of a 270 foot cliff which drops straight down into a moat (all created thanks to Mr. Alphand's dynamite.)
Right now, I am writing this e-mail from Du Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris, current residence for Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin and Oscar Wilde. I had no idea how recent some of the graves were until I saw four grave diggers!! They were removing what looked like an old grave/tomb and preparing to put in a new one. In my best non-French, (read: using single English words and lots of body language), I asked one of them if I could have a piece of the large stone edifice which was now broken in pieces. They nodded. So I now own a (small) piece of a tomb!
Well, I must go now. The bells are tolling so that must mean the cemetery is about to close. The last thing I want is to be locked in here all night!
Love to all,