The Problem with Foreigners

November 19, 2015

History, Politics

eurostarI once tried to see everything there is to see in Paris in nine days, with mixed results. A co-worker and I had strayed from our official duties at a trade convention in order to see the sights there. I say “strayed” which may be a tad imprecise. The convention was in Manhattan.

[All photos by the author]

In Paris we stayed at the Peace and Love Hostel. It’s a patchouli-ridden fire trap, decorated in post-period American Hippie. From there Nick and I ventured out, each day walking back and forth across the entire City of Lights, which is quite a distance considering you have to walk serpentine to avoid the dog poop. They really do need to oppress Fifi’s freedom.

The Eiffel Tower was way cooler than I thought it would be. It is big. It’s big and it’s tall, and it’s well worth the 50 francs or whatever it is they charge to use the elevator. I suppose now days the money is in Euros so have some of those handy if you go. The currency du jour might change by the time you get there so bring some stockings and cigarettes to trade.
I had lunch in the tower’s shadow (Ombre de la Tour de l’Eifel). There was a hot dog stand there where the hot dog guy was ripping baguettes into sections, and stabbing them onto long fat heated steel spikes. The hot spikes made a cylindrical hole in the bread and toasted it from the inside. The hole was big enough to stuff with a bratwurst and a squirt of mustard. Brilliant. I guess the combination makes it international cuisine, a tribute to one or both of the world wars. Normally I like to try food traditional to the locale but this time I opted for Franco-German as opposed to going with the snail soufflé or the fried frog legs on a stick. For the record I paired the brat with a ’95 pinot noir. It was excellent.

We saw the Bastille. Well, sort of. It was torn down in 1789 so you have to squint and imagine a prison and the king and queen’s heads rolling and a bunch of peasants standing around eating cake.

The most memorable thing I saw was the Catacombs. Unlike the American Indians, the French have no problem with people desecrating the bones of their ancestors. The skeletons of over a million French people are stacked like cord wood in the old sewer system under the city.
It cost us 50 francs each to go down and see it, which is 8 bucks. At least I think 50 francs is 8 bucks. Nobody will tell you exactly and the number apparently changes according to the phases of the moon, something to do with the tides probably.

bonewallHere’s the deal on the Catacombs. During the religious wars the various iterations of Christ each commanded his loyal followers to slaughter each other and the cemeteries couldn’t handle it all so they said “screw it” and dug up everyone who had ever died in Paris going back to caveman days. Then some enlightened genius said “Throw them in the sewer and charge people an ambiguous price.”

Anyway, children are running through the piles of bones while guards yell at them to slow down or they might trip over a femur or a skull. After about a kilometer of Dungeons and Dragons you reach the end and they check your backpack to see if you tried to steal anything. You know how travelers are compelled to bring little gifts home for their friends and relatives.

The Catacombs were not our only dungeoneering experience. Nick and I went rogue during our tour of the Sacré-Cœur which is a little church next to a big Irish pub in the Montmartre district. We ditched the group, ducked under the tape, and found some stairs in the back leading down to guess what? More dead French people.

As entertaining as piles of dead religious extremists are, it is an unusual and macabre tourist attraction for an American who once drove out of his way to see the world’s biggest ball of twine. But I understand that great allowances must be made for differences in culture when one is abroad. I learned that on my first day in London when I ordered fish and chips and the fishes still had their heads on. I decided at that moment to never order the haggis.
That brings me to one of the best things in Paris, which is Versailles, which is not actually in Paris but to get there you have to go to Paris and ride the Metro to random locations all over Paris hoping to eventually land at the train station that takes you to Versailles. Warning, once you get there you find out that they charge you to use the toilets, 50 francs I think it was.
One of the most interesting things about Paris is that every toilet is different, especially in how they flush. Pull the rope, step on the pedal, crank the wheel… it’s a law there, each one has to have its own way. Oh yeah, and bring your own paper or it’s another 50 francs.

At Versailles you mostly walk around looking up at stuff, which is why I have tons of photos of Nick looking up at stuff.
For lunch at Versailles I broke my own rule and went to McDonalds. I think I have only been to McDonalds one time before, for the convenience, and the food smelled terrible so I just had a coffee, which was terrible, and a pattie made from a diced potato-like product which was okay. But this time it wasn’t for convenience. I chose to go to McDonalds from the many options available because of several reasons. For one thing, I was feeling iconoclastic and the contrast of cheap fast food in the presence of the uber-baroque architecture was too comical to resist. More importantly there was that thing in that movie. Seeing McDonalds in Versailles immediately made me think of the movie Pulp Fiction where the question is put, “What do they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France?” The answer is given “Royale with Cheese” and the follow-up question is “Why?”

When I first saw Pulp Fiction and they posed the questions, I guessed the answer to the follow-up. It just came to me. France is metric. I hardly see why that answer makes a difference though, it’s just a food name, not the actual measurement. Food can be named anything. We have freedom fries but everyone knows it’s just ethnocentric spuds. But anyway I saw the movie which has a guy named Brad who knows that the metric system is why a quarter pounder with cheese in France is called a Royale with Cheese as opposed to say, dogfood on a bun. Brad answers correctly spurring our hero to shout “Check out the big brain on Brad!”

versaillesphotogWell then, since my name is Brad, and since my big brain is so pre-tuned to hamburger trivia, my hand was forced. So I ordered the Royale with Cheese and it tasted like crap, I mean… it was pungent and overbearing with after-tones of pickle. I forget how much it cost but I only had francs with me and the smallest note they trust Americans with is a 50.

This pretty much sums up all I have to say about the issue of immigration and refugees and foreigners and the like.

Carpe Noctem.

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