[My France writeup is so long that I decided to break it up into four posts. It's mostly based on notes that I wrote while in country.]
The epic tale of transportation began with a 10-hour flight that became an 11-hour flight thanks, said the flight crew, to headwinds. As I strode purposefully through the immense Charles de Gaulle airport - lots of people were flat-out running - I was approached by a girl with a clipboard that had some political-looking thing with an outline of France on it. Did I get taken for a local? Gosh, I hope so.
My flight was originally scheduled to arrive about the same time as Mom's, and we'd planned to take a ride arranged through the tour into the city together. So I walked the length of Terminal 2 to find Mom, but didn't. Tried cell phone to call for the pre-paid ride; no joy because Verizon sucks in France. (I later found out that I could have used a local phone.) Tried to connect to airport WiFi to email the tour manager or Mom; no joy because ancient Microsoft phones suck everywhere.
Got a commuter train ticket from a vending machine on the second try. Yay! I got to see the grim banlieues
where Paris puts all its ugliness and brown & black people. There was a Spanish couple that, as it happened, needed to get off at the same stop - Chatelet - as I did. Mass transit: it brings out the best in people despite language barriers. I must say, even in the middle of the (lovely) day, that train was full by the time it reached Paris.
I got off the commuter train at the Victorian warren - made even crazier by construction - that is Chatelet/Les Halles Metro, and needed a Metro ticket to get to the hotel. My credit card was no good, so I needed cash euros. Up into the daylight I went to be confronted with Paris's fairy tale architecture. I think I saw Notre Dame & the Galleries Lafayette dome from a distance. Keep in mind that I'd been awake for 24 hours and I was in no mood for tomfoolery. The cognitive dissonance almost broke my head.
Got €200 cash, got my Metro ticket - €1.80 gets you all over central Paris, aw yeah - and got stuck in a Metro gate with my big suitcase. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple of horrified-looking Parisians behind me. I needed no help though: I grunted and shoved my way through the gate, and straightened my skirt, the black vintage taffeta & velvet one that used to belong to cupcake_goth
. Moral: don't mess with an American trans woman on a mission to find her mom.
On ligne 1
to the hotel I was grinnin' like a fool at the day I'd had so far. I caught a girl in her early teens with whom I was sharing a pole staring at me. I must have looked pretty scary by that point: big, trans, and foreign, with eye makeup smeared by a sleeping mask on the plane, and wearing an insane smile. She was the first of many people I observed giving me funny looks.
I got off the Metro inside a big traffic circle at Porte Maillot. For the most part, traffic circles in Europe are not accessible via crosswalk because this would interfere with the flow of auto traffic. This is good civil engineering, but it sucks if you're a pedestrian. So, back through the Metro station. I started looking for the hotel's street around the circumference of the circle for hundreds of meters, only to eventually notice the 25-story monstrosity towering over that part of Paris. I stood there and laughed hysterically. The teenage girl on the Metro would have run like the wind had she been there.
Found the hotel, and found my greatly relieved mother.
That evening we met part of our tour group. Want to feel like a genius and master of the social graces and international culture? Join a tour group of mostly elderly Midwesterners. They sometimes made me feel... less than proud to be a 'Murrican, even if they weren't deliberately doing anything dumb.
Dinner that night was at what was probably a neighborhood joint called Paris XVII after the arrondisement
that it's in. It was run by two brothers, one of whom spoke excellent English - many, many people do in France. The man had the patience of a saint, and the food was fan-damn-tastic. Our (American) tour manager says that places with similar menus are all over the city, but damn, those guys did it right.
Here's the thing about the French and food: They're so hardcore, things that should suck, like shopping mall food courts (Mom's idea, OK?) and snack places in little tourist towns, completely fail to suck. It's astounding. Look, I'm no foodie - I leave that to my Aspiring Ex - but even I can taste the difference. I'm pretty sure that much of the difference is fresh, quality ingredients.
But enough about transpo and food. My poor, shuffling mother & I hit the Louve for five hours the next day. It has over seventy rooms full of art. It's absurdly easy to get lost in. It will
drive you mad. (Foreshadowing!) We stayed until they kicked us out.
I kept a promise to myself and went to La Mutinerie
, a lesbian bar kitty corner from the Centre Pompidou. The Siberian Siren is terribly disappointed that I didn't hit on any of the lovely femmes, but I was twice their age and didn't, to my knowledge, share a language with them. But screw that. This was a serious cultural experience.
First of all, La Mutinerie looked and felt for all the world like a more compact version of Seattle's own Wildrose. I ran into a couple of trans men one of whom mercifully spoke good English. I didn't ask pronouns in advance - yeah, going to trans hell - and luckily they saved me from a serious faux pas
. I found out that the legal climate is in some ways even worse in France than in the US. To get hormones, they need the approval of a judge. The judge you get depends on where you live, and which judges are decent is more or less random. Paris, oddly enough, has crummy judges for trans people. At least in the US it's pretty easy to predict which areas will suck, and even then the courts don't try to stop trans people from transitioning. Oh, the trans men reminded me that France is a Catholic country, which had... adverse consequences for one of them. Same shit, different continent.
And as for La Mutinerie itself, I learned that it has been the focus of a strike by staff who accused it of "racist division of labor". Sure enough, everyone there was white: every one else, along with most of the trans people, had gone elsewhere. Do I think their greivance is legit? Yes. It's a little lesbian bar that's obviously not made of money, so nobody has much to gain by lying about it. I didn't explore any other places because I'd promised Mom I'd be back by 1:00, which was after the last Metro came anyway.
Have you watched that YouTube video of Jimmy T's guide for tourists in New York? In it, Jimmy says, "You are a jerk." I was a jerk in Paris, all right, especially regarding my attempts at French. Listening comprehension is hard unless you get a lot of practice. So many retail personnel in France have learned English out of necessity that using a poor command of French only wastes their time; I was impressed with how well they concealed their resentment of that. I feel more than a little sorry for them. I would love for them to come to Seattle and be jerks; I figure we have it coming.
The next day, Mom & I were in the Louvre from 0930 to 1730 local time. We spent thirteen (13) hours in there over two days, and I reckon that we saw between 75% and 80% of it. We made conscious decisions in advance of which parts we'd skip. Yes, we saw many, many famous works of art that we've all seen reproduced everywhere. My fave, though, was a particular 16-century Flemish painting of David & Bathsheba that I saw the first day. I said at the time, "Oo, isn't she pretty?" At the end of the second day, Mom decided she needed a break, so I decided I'd find that painting again & take a photo. It took me an hour to find the painting on the other side of the Louvre (room 11), and then find Mom where I'd left her. She didn't utter a word of complaint.