First impressions are important, and never more so than when arriving in a foreign city packed with pick pockets and con artists, so as soon as possible after stepping onto Paris soil, I fell fall flat on it.
It could be that I stumbled, but it could also be that I wanted to assume a somewhat intimidating appearance – scuffed clothes, bloodied hands and knees, along with an imbedded sour facial expression. It couldn’t hurt: We had just come from Gare de Lyon, Paris’s train station that has an estimated 10 million passengers per year, 86 per cent of which appear to have showed up at the same time we did.
Stepping off the train into a sweltering heat, we were pulled into a river of human flesh, which may sound like fun, but not so much if you’re five-feet in height (using some liberties by applying the word “height” here) and the view is of blue sky above, shoulder blades and face-mashing knapsacks below. As we spilled along, I exclaimed to Dave that I had no idea where I was going, whereupon a fellow-traveller, who looked suspiciously French, pointed us into the correct stream of flesh.
I say “suspiciously,” because the French are famous for being snotty. It is reputed to be a matter of national pride, but it turns out that the world is wrong about that. We encountered many French over our 48-hours in Paris and can only report two who met the elevated standards of snottiness we have come to expect in France’s population, and they both were waiters, and so were professionally required to adopt an aloof and even hostile posture.
Here is important serious travel-tip number one for arriving in Paris (or any foreign destination): Do not be first off the train. It turns out we could have waited five or ten minutes for the crowd to disperse, and then walked out without feeling we had become overly intimate with 97,813 strangers.
Here is important serious travel-tip number two: When moving along in a crowd of immense numbers, if you spy someone in your national dress who bears physical features suggesting a fellow-countryman/woman just as you are at the top of a concrete staircase do not stop to inquire about the news at home.
This actually happened. A beautiful black Nigerian-looking woman in front of us stopped at the top of the subway staircase when she saw a beautiful black Nigerian-looking man coming up in her direction. He, bless his heart, kept moving during their exchange, but she assumed the attitude of one waiting for a menu to appear, ie. stopped dead in her tracks and put her considerable assortment of luggage down. At this moment, about 80,719 people were still behind me and the danger of being pushed down the staircase was very real.
On the one hand, I could have been hurt. On the other hand, we would have covered a lot of ground very quickly, so it may not have been so bad.
That is not where I fell, by the way. That happened about an hour later at the Arc d’Triomphe where I pitched over face-first on an almost invisible curb in the uneven cobblestone surface at the Arc. No one was even near me. I fell on my own steam, which is pretty much what I have been doing all my life, so it was good to know that some things do not change, even in Paris.
Tomorrow: More about Paris.