Now, without further ado, I present to you, mesdames et messieurs…the French awards!
Best French Pastry: La Pralusienne
Well, clearly, this wasn’t an easy decision. On nearly every street corner, there is some kind of boulangerie/patisserie with enough amazing baked goods to induce instant cardiac arrest. Despite some tough competition, the Pralusienne stood out from the crowd as one of the most unique pastries I’ve encountered in Paris. Essentially, it’s a “cake” of brioche with almond flavoring and little, pink hazelnuts (I assume they’re artificially colored!) baked into the dough. As if that weren’t tantalizing enough, the cake is filled with some kind of wonderful pastry cream… My description of said pastry cream might be a bit vague, but that’s only because, when we asked the woman at the counter what it was, she had trouble describing it herself…and she eventually concluded, “Je ne sais pas exactement… Mais c’est excellent!” And we soon discovered that this description was MORE than adequate. So, next time you’re in Paris, head on over to the store “Pralus” on Rue Rambuteau in the Marais. Acquiring a freshly baked Pralusienne is worth enduring about 1,000 sweat-soaked rides on the RER…and THAT’S saying something.
Honorable mention: Raspberry/Pistachio Millefeuille from Angelina’s
Best Metro Line: Line 14 (Dark Purple)
It was difficult to even consider HAVING a “BEST metro line” category…given the nature of the subject matter…but, when I thought about posting a “WORST metro line” category instead, I decided that that would truly be impossible…because the answer would obviously be “just about all of them.” So, with a great deal of deliberation, I’ve decided that Line 14—from Saint-Lazare to Olympiades—is head and shoulders above the rest. One of the newest metro lines in Paris, Line 14 is the only metro line—to my knowledge at least—to feature “anti-suicide doors,” which prevent people from hurling themselves in front of the approaching trains. Pretty fancy, eh? Also, Line 14 makes use of a VERY novel feature that seems to be absent from nearly all of the other lines: VENTILATION. When you’re riding on Line 14, you can actually feel some sort of breeze inside the cars…and you don’t feel quite as much like you’re going to pass out when the doors swing shut. Essentially, that feature alone won this esteemed award for Line 14.
Honorable mention: N/A
Favorite Thing to Photograph: La Tour Eiffel
I don’t think we need too much of a description here. I have taken more pictures of the Eiffel Tower than I would like to admit…but…I AM in Paris, after all, right?Honorable mention: Notre Dame
Scariest Person in the Entire City of Paris: Old Man on the Metro
I realize that “Old Man on the Metro” isn’t exactly a specific title…but that is why I am about to provide you with a short anecdote to allow you to share in my horror. One evening, I was taking Line 4 to Châtelet to connect to the RER. In a strange turn of events, there weren’t very many other people on the metro with me, and I was sitting near the end of the car, right by the window that looks into the adjoining car (although it isn’t possible to walk BETWEEN cars while the metro is in motion—a fact for which I am ETERNALLY grateful…and you will see why in a second). Anyway, I was listening to my iPod and staring off into space, when, suddenly, I glanced up at the window that looks into the adjoining car, and I found myself staring straight into the wild eyes of an elderly gentleman, who was pressed up against the glass. Now, as I said, he was in the next car, and there was no way for him to enter my car, but he proceeded to mash his face up against the window, rolling his eyes around in his head and contorting his mouth into what can only be described as silent howls of murderous glee (yes, that is, in fact, the ONLY way they can be described). This little “show” continued for the next three or four stops…and, every time the metro slowed to a halt, I prayed fervently that he wouldn’t decide to come galloping across the platform into my car. Miraculously, he never did…and, needless to say, when we finally pulled into Châtelet, I didn’t waste any time in sprinting to the nearest staircase to leave my ghoulish companion behind me. Also—needless to say—I will never sit that close to the window between metro cars ever again.
Honorable mention: When my family was visiting, we encountered a crazed, raspy-voiced gentleman who stalked around our metro car, creeping up behind people and whispering “Bon soir” into their ears. It was disturbing.
Most Horrible Conversation with a French Person: (see anecdote below)
I guess I need to stop making these categories so abstract…because I am making it horrendously difficult for myself to actually create titles for the “winners” of these categories. Oh well. Another anecdote will suffice. Anyway, fortunately, I haven’t had TOO many horribly embarrassing encounters in Paris in which I’ve found myself unable to follow a conversation…but, UNfortunately, there was one very distinct conversation in which I may as well have just plugged my ears and started shouting random French words…because I probably would have fared better that way. Let me set up the scene here. It was my first night living in the Fondation des Etats-Unis, and, all of a sudden, the power went out in all the rooms on my hallway. So, after a few moments of confusion, I went to the front desk and informed the desk attendant—who doesn’t speak a word of English—that we had lost power. So far, so good. He told me to go wait in my room while he checked out the problem. Well, since my room was pitch black, I decided to wait in the hallway, instead. After a few moments, the desk attendant approached me and rattled off the fastest, most incomprehensible French phrases I have ever heard. So, the first part of our conversation went a little something like this:
Desk attendant: Jaiverifieavecmonsieurledirecteureitiaglaiglianlanas—ELECTRICITÉ—etilnyaurapasieriealifnasaufalfneedd—DEMAIN. (the two words in all caps represent the only words I actually picked up from his lightning-fast sentence)
Me: Ah…bon. D’accord.
Now, what I THOUGHT he said was that the power might not be fixed until the next day…but, after I said “Okay,” he gave me the most horribly condescending stare I’ve ever received and asked, “Vous n’avez pas compris?” (You didn’t understand?) Assuming then that he MUST have asked me some sort of important question (based on his expectant staring), I responded, “Euh…je ne pense pas…” (I don’t think so). So, as a means of appealing to my apparent stupidity, the kind monsieur spoke even FASTER the next time (and with sloppier articulation…to aid my comprehension, I assume), adding more unnecessary details and flailing his arms around wildly with every few words he spit out. Once again, I nodded and said, “Okay”…and I was greeted with a disappointed glare and a “Vous n’avez pas ENCORE compris?” when he finished. We played this little game for about five more minutes…until, FINALLY, I decided to ask for a bit of clarification.
“So, you just want to tell me that the power is still off…and that you can’t fix it until tomorrow?” I asked (but…in French, though).
So, as it turned out, I had understood him from the beginning…but he simply refused to take my “d’accord” at full value. And, as a result, we got to have that little gem of a conversation. Quelle horreur.
Honorable mention: I’m sure there are numerous other horribly uncomfortable situations…but I won’t bother recounting them right now.
Most Difficult Door to Unlock: Hotel Room Door in Aix-en-Provence
You may remember that I wrote at length in one of my previous entries about the difficulty of opening French doors…and, if so, you probably realize that this is a VERY prestigious award, indeed. The hotel room doors in Aix-en-Provence win, hands down, though…simply because I probably spent about 10 minutes every morning, trying desperately to (un)lock our door with the 10-pound key (it was actually a large metal key, attached to—essentially—a brass CLUB…so that residents wouldn’t lose the key) that the hotel provided. To successfully unlock the door, you had to insert the key HALFWAY into the lock, turn it slightly to the left, then push the key further into the lock…turn it to the right, pull it OUT of the lock halfway…and, finally, turn it all the way to the left again. We were given a brief tutorial by one of the staff members, but it didn’t seem to matter…because I swear that the little “puzzle” changed every time we left the room. Very enjoyable, indeed!
Honorable mention: One of the inner doors of the API office requires you to flip a switch on the wall and, then, practically tackle the 1,000-pound door to enter. Not actually very difficult to figure out…but exhausting each time.
Most Commonly Performed Song in the Metro: Pachabel’s Canon
Although I’ve encountered dozens and dozens of musicians in the metro stations and on the metro cars themselves, it seems that Pachabel’s Canon is a favorite for the performers. I’ve heard it at least 10 different times in the Châtelet station alone (I even have it on video!), as well as a handful of times at Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre. It’s very pleasant to stand and listen to the music—as, usually, the musicians are fairly talented—but, unfortunately, if you look TOO interested, you will be accosted by the musicians’ “spokesperson,” who will demand that you provide a donation for your enjoyment. To avoid this little dilemma, I’ve discovered that it works well to APPEAR uninterested (just stand and study a map, for example)…but remain within earshot of the performers. That way, you can enjoy the music without being badgered for the remaining 20 euros in your pocket.
Honorable mention: Just about any cheesy, French-sounding accordion music you can imagine.
Well, I think perhaps that will suffice for the awards…for now at least! Perhaps I’ll be back to add a few more in the future… On verra! I’ve learned my lesson about promising such things…because…apparently, I’m not so good at keeping said promises…!
Anyway, it’s time for me to head out and enjoy one of my last evenings in Paris. I’m off to bid a fond farewell to the Eiffel Tower at Trocadero Square (where I will, inevitably, photograph it, I’m sure).