Solo in Paris

This time, I was flying solo. Chloe wasn’t on this trip to Paris. I was worried that I would feel lonely and spending my evenings alone. I should have known better. There’s always at least a couple people from the Paris office who are down to get a drink and have dinner. 

However, I was alone on Sunday when I arrived. I kind of forgot that I would have all of Sunday to do something. I dropped my suitcase off at the hotel and then headed to Musée de l’Orangerie. It houses Monet’s Water Lilies paintings. For the Monet-aware, this could be any of dozens of paintings. These ones are most notable due to their size. Monet requested that they be displayed in two adjacent oval rooms, so as to create the effect that they go on forever, in an infinite loop. After a short period of time where that wasn’t the case, the paintings are back in their proper layout. There are 4 paintings in each room, and they occupy the entire wall. It’s really something. They look different from different angles and depending on how close you are. 

The museum also has a small collection of other pieces, but the main attraction is the Water Lilies. 

It didn’t take long to go through the museum, so I decided to take a walk by Notre Dame. I don’t really know what I was expecting. The whole square in front of it is blocked off, as well as the area surrounding it. The scaffolding that was on the roof around the tower is still there, although clearly looking a little worse for wear. It’s expected that it will be closed for years. With the Olympics happening in Paris in 2024, there is a desire to have it open again by then. 

At this point, the heat was getting intense enough that I was feeling not great. The combination of a lack of sleep and probable dehydration was not helping. I meandered my way to a cafe I knew was in Jardin des Tuileries (I went there with a bike tour the first time I went to Paris). It was further away than I anticipated but I eventually made it and had lunch in the park. 

The host at the hotel had told me that he would call me when my room was ready. I hadn’t heard from him, so I slowly made my way back up Champs-Élysées by hopping from one air conditioned store to the next. Eventually at 2pm I was ready to just go sit in the lobby of the hotel until my room was ready. When I arrived, he said, ‘Ah, your room is just ready.’ But given the fact that he was sitting on one of the couches himself and didn’t appear to be doing much, I had some doubts. But I let it go; I had an air conditioned room with my name on it, literally. 

I had a quick shower, then took a nap. Now, I’m a firm believer that when you change time zones, no matter how tired or exhausted you might be, you have to switch over to their schedule as soon as you arrive. If you’re tired but arrive at 8am, then you go about your day and sleep when night comes. I also read somewhere that eating at their meal times also helps get your body on the right time faster. 

But it felt like 38 degrees, I had spent all morning walking around in the heat, and I wasn’t feeling great, so I figured a nap was for the best. I slept for three hours. I went to a casual restaurant just down the street for dinner, one that I had heard was decent but hadn’t been to before. I was back in bed by 9pm and went to sleep shortly after that. 

One of the evenings, I went out for dinner with two of the developers. They took me to a restaurant called Chez Papa. The table had paper placemats, part of which was a feedback form and the other half was the origin story of the restaurant. All in French, obviously. So I started going through the feedback form and translating it. It was fairly straightforward, so I moved on to the origin story. 

Before we go on, let’s set the stage. As every Canadian child does, I took French classes. I also, like most, stopped when it was no longer mandatory. And I hadn’t used it since, so when these trips to Paris started, I felt like I was at base zero, minus ‘comment ça va? Ça va bien’ and ‘Je m’appelle Heather.’  After the second trip, I downloaded Duolingo and was doing some French exercises. When I took the ‘establish what level you’re at’ test and couldn’t even understand the first question, my ego took a bit of a hit and I started French from the beginning. 

That admittedly didn’t last long, despite Duolingo’s aggressive reminders to practice. But as I spent more time in Paris, things started to come back to me. I could pick out words that used to be on my vocabulary lists and context does wonders for figuring out words that are similar to their English counterpart. But whenever people asked me ‘do you speak French?’ I would say ‘no, not really.’  And that’s the truth, I can’t *speak* French aside from a handful of memorized sentences. ‘Je parle un petit peu francais’ is a double edged sword. The number of people that have replied with what I take to mean ‘oh but look! You clearly can speak French!’ is too many. 

David in particular is always asking if I understand. Which on the one hand I appreciate because he’s willing to work through English/French translations that I pull out of nowhere and aren’t related to the topic at hand. But he’ll be in a conversation two seats away from me in a restaurant then lean over and ask, ‘did you understand that?’ No, I didn’t, because a) I’m in a different conversation and b) I have to really be paying attention in order to catch the gist. If I’m even kind of distracted or ‘woolgathering,’ I won’t catch it. After this trip, I’ve got a good grasp on where I stand re French. It’s taken me a year to put it into words, but here we are. 

1. Context is EVERYTHING. If you showed me a list of words I probably wouldn’t be able to think of what it means off the top of my head. But if there’s context, eg it’s a menu, I can figure it out.

2. If I’m paying attention to a conversation, I can usually determine the topic of conversation. What I cannot figure out, however, is what is being said about the topic. I know you’re talking about Teletubbies, but what you’re saying about them, I have more difficulties with. 

3. I know basic small interactions, enough that people who thought I needed to be spoken in English to, switch over to French. Which ultimately makes things awkward when the conversation becomes more involved and I have to switch back to English. 🤷‍♀️ but rumour has it the French appreciate you trying rather than just barging in with English, despite the fact that most of them know English anyways. 

But enough of that tangent. Back to Chez Papa (although you can probably guess where this is going):

I start going through the origin story. I’m looking for confirmation from the two guys as I go. There are some words I’m skipping over, but I’ve got enough to fill in the blanks. They’re impressed, and helping me out when I can’t get a word. It starts getting a little more complicated and I’m just making guesses rather than knowing what it is. But there was word, which I can’t remember, that I figured out through my powers of deduction that the guys were shocked I got. So much so that they brought it up the next day in the office. They were so impressed! David later called the origin story ‘Bible-level French’ which I take to mean something like KJV 😂 so that made me feel better about where I stand with French ☺️

Then everyone started joking that I actually knew French but just wasn’t telling them so I could eavesdrop on their conversations. As much as I wish that were true, I’d never be able to pull of a stunt like that, much rather be smart enough to start that guise in the first place. I’d have shown up to the office day one and been flaunting my intense French prowress to anyone who would listen. 

On Saturday, I found myself in the same situation I had been on Sunday: unexpected time in Paris. Chloe and I usually take the 11am flight back to Toronto, which means we wake up, have breakfast, then head to the airport. For whatever reason, I booked the 5pm flight back, so I had a good chunk of the day to fill. 

On Friday evening I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Having been to see the Water Lilies, it would be nice to go out to Giverny and see the pond that inspired them, now called Monet’s pond. But there’s no easy public transit path there, on top of the fact that it would take an hour to get there, and I didn’t have that much time. I looked into tours that go out there that would be faster, but they were either all day or only in the afternoon. So that’s been added to the list for the next trip. But I still needed something to do tomorrow. I looked up free things to do in Paris, partially for inspiration, partially there wasn’t anything I was dying to do so I didn’t want to be forking over a lot of money.

As I was typing museum after museum into Google Maps, it realized what I was looking for and started to show a bunch of museums. One of the ones that popped up was Musée Marmottan Monet. I was immediately intrigued, because Monet. Turns out, it’s another Monet museum, and more notably, one of the largest collections of Monet paintings in the world! After being flabbergasted that I hadn’t heard of it before, I knew what my plan for Saturday was.

I took the subway to get to the museum, with the idea that depending on how long it took me to get through the museum, I would either walk or subway back to the hotel. The museum isn’t huge, but it’s got three floors. The first and second floor are still laid out like the house the museum is hosted in. There’s various rooms, and they have furniture pieces as well as paintings. The first and second floor are also not Monet paintings; they’re a range of painting styles and eras (none too recent though). One of the notable collections was that of Berthe Morisot, a woman widely regarded as the first woman Impressionist.

The basement is where the namesake stuff is at. It’s laid out much more like a museum is. It’s essentially one big oddly shaped room that has paintings lining all the walls. Unfortunately, the museum’s most famous piece, Impression, Sunrise, was taking a trip abroad to another museum. But there were still lots of other recognizable pieces, including one of his cathedral paintings.

The museum got their collection in part from Monet’s descendants, who donated Monet’s collection to the museum. Thus they have some of Monet’s more personal and less well know pieces. For example, they have a pair of paintings Monet did of his two kids, that hung in his house.

It only took just over an hour to go through the whole museum, so I set out on a path to work my way back to Champs-Élysées. It was once again hot, but I didn’t have anything else to do with my time really, so I went for a long walk along a main street in Paris. And what did I come across but a small pen of animals. Goats, rabbits, chickens, hens, you name it. Any small ‘hobby farm’ animal was there. In the middle of Paris! To top it all off, this was not the first time I’d come across goats in the middle of Paris this week. I’d seen some on Sunday in Jardin des Tuileries, who were even more out of place than the hobby farm animals.

Once back on Champs -Élysées, I got lunch at a fairly fancy store called 86Champs – L’occitane x Pierre Hermé. It mainly sells macarons and L’Occitane en Provence products but in the back there’s a tiny restaurant and cafe. I got a savoury french toast with tomato salad which was delicious. Usually I just drink water, but due to the heat I went for an actual drink. I may have some guilt making work pay for a €12 earl grey iced tea, but what can I say 🤷‍♀️it was hot out.

I’ve been slowly trying to work up the logic to arrive at the airport 2hrs ahead of time. This is the standard for international flights now, down from 3 in a previous generation. But I have this fear that I’ll miss my flight, so I usually show up 3hrs early. This time, I said, ‘Heather, it’s going to be fine. Arrive at the airport 2hrs ahead.’ And so I did. I took a taxi to the airport and arrived almost exactly 2hrs before my flight took off. I get through security and customs without issue, like I always do, and I’m waiting around by the gate.

I’m goofing off on my phone and think to myself, ‘Despite the fact that I arrived later than normal, there still seems to be a lot of sitting around going on.’ It is at this point that I check the time and realize that the plane should have started boarding by now if they want to leave on time. My travel app then informs me that my plane has been delayed. I wander closer to the gate to see the screen and sure enough, the plane is now going to be departing late. I was a little miffed that I found out about the delay through the app and not the airport itself. What if I didn’t have the app?! But the thing that really made me roll my eyes was that the flight was delayed an hour. The exact amount of time I had been trying to cut from sitting around in the airport 🙄

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