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photos by Lara Shipley

Well, I’m on the plane

March 29th, 2002 · No Comments

Well, I’m on the plane back to the good ol’ U.S.S.A., and that finally gives me some time (as long as the battery lasts, anyway) with which to regale you all with tales of my adventures. I know, I know, I’ve been a blog-slacker; but in fairness, Paris and Madrid are significantly more fun to hang out in than to write about.

Upon finding a delightfully cheap student ticket, I flew out of Prague on Saturday afternoon after a brief stroll around Prague Castle. Really, the massive thing requires hours, but I didn’t have hours, and would have felt like a jackass if I hadn’t at least taken a quick look at the thing before leaving the country. It’s pretty impressive, and the fact that I left so much of it unseen gives me an excuse to return. That, of course, and how bloody cheap everything is. I don’t know if I remembered to mention this earlier, but man, Prague costs nothing. Mixed drinks (at a club, no less) were the equivalent of two bucks each with tip. Beer is, literally, pocket change, and the subway (sorry “metro”) runs all of about 40 cents. Radovan apologized for having found me relatively “pricey” accomodations. Which is to say, a little under $30 per night.

Paris, on the other hand… Paris is emphatically not a cheap city. Granted, I did a little shopping and stayed at nicer hotels (I like to close out a trip a little plush), but still… I think I probably spent more between Saturday and Wednesday than I had on the entire trip before that point… excluding, maybe (maybe!), the cost of getting to Europe in the first place. I’d keep the hell away from Paris henceforth on those grounds alone, if it weren’t (alas!) the most gorgeous city on earth.

I got in Saturday evening, and managed to hop a RER train into the city center. I remembered from when I’d been there last that the Chatelet-Les Halles area seemed sort of hip and studenty. That made it a good bet to be somewhere roughly in the vicinity of Sandi Higgins, an old friend from high school who’d dropped out of NYU to work for a French film company. I’d arrived with my normal absence of advance planning, but I had emailed Sandi to say I was going to be in town, and was hoping she’d have emailed me a cell number or something by the time I got there. Luckily, there was an Internet cafe right outside the Les Halles stop, and Higs had indeed emailed. As I’d hoped, she knew some decent hotels in the area, and after a few tries (Paris is inexplicably popular in late March, it seems) found one which wasn’t complet.

I joined Higgins for a drink, and then at some party celebrating (apparently) the coinciding birthdays of three people I never met. She was smitten by a certain Gallic lad in attendance, so I encouraged her to go in pursuit of l’amour, once I’d reassured myself that some other folks there did, in fact, speak some amount of English (or Spanish). I ended up embroiled in an extended conversation with a fellow who’d studied theology at Oxford and had, in the process, picked up an impressive knowledge of analytic philosophy. We rambled about the postmetaphysical turn in political philosophy, Alasdair McIntyre, and other things a fair helping of red wine has erased, in a high-speed blend of English and jargon. People occasionally gave us funny looks, as though we were… well, as though we were a couple of pretentious assholes talking philosophy at a party. But who cares, it was fun.

Sunday I rolled out of bed around eleven, and decided to stroll through the Place de Voges and over to the Bastille, where I sat reading the news (International Herald Tribune and El Pais) at a cute little cafe. The morning was warm and clear, and a couple of musicians came by, playing old Getz/Gilberto tunes and Duke Ellington standards. When I left, I passed yet another set of top-notch street musicians — a trio of Americans playing in, believe it or not, and old-style jug band. They even had a bass made of an upturned washtub and broomhandle. The remainder of the day, I spent in my traditional first-full-day wander, checking out the stunning architecture and a seemingly endless series of street performers. Guess now I know what the unemployed 8-12% do with their time. That evening, in what was to become a pattern, I met up with Higgins for a bite & drink, to chat and, of course, to see how things were progressing with her beau. The mood as of my departure was “cautious optimism.”

On Monday, I’d resolved to go see an exhibition called “The Surrealist Revolution” over at the Centre George Pompidou. I have to say, it was pretty impressive. A little heavier on Max Ernst than I might have liked, all things considered, but a huge treat for any surrealist buff. They had (among other things) dozens of Dali’s paintings and sculptures on loan, still more Magrittes and Miros, some Picasso, and clips of classic Andre Breton films like Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or. For me, this was heaven: frankly, I’ve been feeling a bit like I’m getting old (the unconvincing euphemism “growing up” is more popular) and stuff like this helps to recharge my weird. I discovered that evening that the trains out of Paris to Madrid were all booked up, meaning I wouldn’t be able to use the ticket I’d picked up in Prague if I was to make my flight back to the U.S. Heading over to a Net cafe, though, I managed to find yet another shockingly cheap flight, which (according to the Air France people, anyway) hadn’t been available when I checked back in Prague. Something ironic there: the classic image is of the student backpacking around Europe by train, but flying proved to be not only much, much faster, but also no more expensive than the rail would’ve been. In some cases, even less so. Anyway, that night I took a late stroll by the Tullieres and along the Champs Elysees. Tuesday was another heavy walking day, starting up around Gare du Nord, down through the Jardins de Paris, and to the Arc de Triumphe before taking a metro over to the Louvre (just to walk around the plaza) and Rue St. Germain.

Wednesday, I decided I had to make a sort of mini-pilgrimage to the Cafe de Flore, which (Higgins had told me) was Sartre’s old regular haunt. This was well worth it — as, incedentally, was staying in a nice hotel that final night, if only for the rare opportunity to see Frenchmen being obsequious without having to invade first — but it also meant a mad dash to the airport. I arrived at the Air France counter breathless and drenched in sweat with two minutes to spare before check-in closed. At which point, the girl behind he counter tells me that I am like unto a stranger of them: the computer makes no mention of me. I am horrified. I have visions of being trapped in Paris (not a horrible fate), and missing my flight back to the U.S. I wondered what part of the process I’d botched. Then, though, I remembered that I had filled in my first name in the form after “Nom” — and that I’d suspected that maybe that was for the last name, after all. Sure enough, when I asked them to look under “Julian” (or “Miguel”… one of my numerous first names, at any rate) it showed up. I arrived back in Madrid in time to have dinner with aunt Julita and get in one last night of dancing, a little less raucous than previous ones since I’d been fighting a cold since arriving in Paris.

Which, of course, brings me to… now. I’ve forgotten plenty, no doubt, but too much of that will spoil you all, and the return to my ordinary life will seem far too dull. Though really, it will be nice to get back, see friends, and really get going on sub-Text. Just don’t expect me to stick around too long…

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