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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Day Two


I slept like never before (Gracias Señor Valium, adiós jetlag) and woke at around nine on Wednesday. I smoothed my hair down with a splash of water and walked out for a coffee. I felt like I was right on track as far as my biological clock went. Maybe it took two coffees to clear my head completely but I felt great.

The Thaly train has about a dozen partings between Amsterdam and Paris daily and I wisely chose the 12:56 run. This suited the one early riser and the one not-so-early riser in our party of two. I decided to wear the same clothes I’d been wearing since I left Seattle since I would be spending the day on the train—not that anyone in Europe would care that I hadn’t changed clothes anytime recently. That’s strictly an American neurosis that I would be willing to abandon.

Before we hopped on the tram to the train station we picked up a bottle of wine, some bread, and some chicken for the trip at some sort of Dutch deli. Not exactly what we were looking for but we manage to buy some decent French salami, cheese, some bottled water, and a couple of oranges at a store in the train station.

When it says the train leaves at 12:56 that means you’d better be on the train at 12:56 because it’s too late at 12:57. The Thaly to the Paris Gare du Nord station stops at Schipol, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Brussels. It isn’t one of the TGV (Train Grand Vitesse or high-speed) trains but it hauls ass when it has the room to stretch its legs, like between Brussels and Paris.

There was no security check, no searches, no questions from under-paid rent-a-cops, and the train left Amsterdam promptly at 12:56 as promised. This isn’t exactly the most scenic train trip on the continent but we had a nice lunch packed and we weren’t suffering from post security point stress syndrome. As I’ve said before: Trains are fun.

As soon as the train rolled out of the station I felt like having a beer. Once again, on a train you don’t need to wait around for an over-worked stewardess to fetch you a beer. Our car was right behind the club car so I grabbed a couple of Heinekens and returned to our seats. I read a few more pages of The Crossing, pecked around on the computer a bit, and thoroughly enjoyed our picnic lunch. Even without Xanax this four hour train ride flew by.

It was a beautiful early evening when we arrived in Paris and from the Gare du Nord I thought we could walk to the hotel with a café break or two along the way. I knew the general direction of the hotel, although the street wasn’t on any map of Paris that I could find. It turns out that it was in the excellent, and highly recommendable Eyewitness Travel Guide for Paris which I had with me but failed to consult. I wouldn't make that mistake again on this trip.

En route we stopped at a couple of shops to buy stuff for an in-room picnic and got directions from a shopkeeper to the Boulevard Haussman. I knew the hotel was off of Haussman and near the Gare Saint Lazare. We stopped for a kir at what I thought to be about the half-way point. We had packed fairly lightly (Me: North Face pack. Her: carry-on bag and hand bag) so hauling our gear wasn’t a problem.

The problem was that I couldn’t find the #!*& Rue de la Grange on the #!&#ing map and no one we asked had ever heard of it. There are probably hundreds of streets in Paris that are short, one block long, not-shit little streets that don’t go anywhere and no one who lives more than two blocks away has ever heard of either. That sort of street is Rue de la Grange Bateliere.

We finally gave up and got in a cab. Unfortunately the driver didn’t know where the fuck it was either but he had this sort of phone book-size street locator and he looked it up. It turns out we had walked right by it about a half hour earlier. I over-tipped him out of gratitude and exasperation.

The Hotel Druout is nothing much but I was happy as hell to put down the bags, brush my teeth, and wash up a bit before heading out. By the time we made it down to the Metro it was dark. We got out at the Citéstop which is about two hundred feet below ground where the train goes under the river. After walking up the many flights of stairs to reach street level we surfaced a block from Notre Dame which was beautiful on this clear evening. We were on our way to Le Depart du Saint Michel café across the Saint Michel Bridge.

By the time we had a coffee it was already after nine. We had food back at the hotel so we decided to walk from this café on the Left Bank up the Champs Elysee via the Louvre and the Tuleries gardens. Paris is truly incredible at night. Everything is lit up: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids at the Louvre, the Arc de Triumph, and all of the boulevards. The streets are teeming with people and every street corner is lively and bustling.

We had cocktails in a super chic, super expensive café on the Champs-Elysees a few blocks from the Arc de Triomphe. It was worth every euro for the over-priced cocktails just to rest my feet after the long walk and check out the crazy diversity of people. The bartender here couldn’t make a Manhattan to his soul. I know that trying to get a cocktail in Europe is a pretty dicey proposition but sometimes you just need to have a good, solid injection of booze instead of the slow, steady IV drop of wine and beer.

To digress—both on the matter of subject and chronology--I am seated now at the café Au Petit Pot Saint Denis. It is a typical corner brasserie in the shadows of La Porte de Saint Denis, a 76 feet arch build in 1672. Inside there is a stand up bar with a TV where old-timers drink espressos in the morning and glasses of wine in the evening. All news is of the war, on every channel of French TV. I heard President Jacques Chirac give a speech the other day when he said that he didn’t feel that Iraq presented an immediate threat and didn’t warrant an immediate military action. I couldn’t have agreed more. It looks like all of that is now water under the bridge as Bush is finally getting what he has wanted all along.

In the paper Metro today I read a piece on Ethan Hawke who is in Paris to promote his new book called Manhattan Story in the French translation. Hawke was asked by the French journalist how he felt about the Bush government and the war. He said that if he agreed with Bush he wouldn’t be in France at this time and that he was proud of the French response to Bush’s calls for war. I developed an instant admiration for this kid who I hadn’t really cared for until now (Although I thought Training Day was a super movie).

I find that the French perspective on this war to be interesting but I don’t plan on spending a lot of my time paying attention to the news. I just want to go a while without hearing Donald Rumsfeld spin his way around the logic of peace and diplomacy.

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