We sit near the window, in a parisian city bus, taking in the sights and sounds as the bus waits for a light at an intersection. I watch with interest as a lady with a can of soap approaches a stopped car, blowing kisses to announce her love for all. Unbidden, she slops soap and water over half the drivers windshield, totally obscuring his view. Irritated, he gestures she should leave but she continues in her mission, even after the wipers are activated. Clearly, it's a ploy to garner a little cash, though likely ineffective in this case, though it obviously works occasionally and is probably more effective than merely appealing to random stranger sympathy, thin soup at best..
My visit to Paris was different this time. The first time I saw it was in th 80s and we visited mainly the tourist spots. I was impressed with Napoleans exploits and also his fantastic tomb. The tower never fails to impress although the rudeness of the girl selling confections who made it clear she was not a fan of english-speaking men lingers. Notre Dame, the Louvre, Versailles and a trip on the Seine were all enjoyable but what struck me the most at the time was the War Museum. Powerful, stirring images of the tragedy of war still affect me, prompting me to do my bit to prevent a repeat if at all possible.
This time we made our way to Gare' Est and stayed in the Killiad Hotel. The room was clean and well done. The building a relic from centuries past. A great marriage of past and present. We travelled in the vicinity of this "gare" or train station over the next few days discovering an excellent crepery with my friends name, "Lulu" painted on the glass of the front door. And we visited what could be called "little India" where I had a taste of being in the minority and where cries of "Marlboro! Marlboro!" pinpointed sources of the local favourite smoke. I felt no particular fear in this crowded foreign market and in fact saw mostly only faces eager to return my smile or engage in conversation, even if it was only to sell me a belt or a cellphone.
And we found, after some searching, an access point for the old abandoned railroad which encircles Paris. We spent a little time there, photographing the amazing grafitti in surrounding buildings and stone walls. I found the little spots where homeless people had "camped" particularly sad and wouldnt have been surprised in the slightest to find a cadaver wrapped in a plastic sheet, curled up in a forgotten inset in the concrete tunnels the traintrack ran through.
I expected to find more desperate refugees in paris and may have, had we travelled through the right spots in the city. However, about the worst example was an Arabic woman with two children begging in a subway station transfer point. It was heartening to see a man returning with a supply of food and drink for the woman and her kids. However, I was warned that some of these are setups to defraud with men running the beggars almost like prostitution rings...possible I suppose but wht to do? Seems best to provide real goods rather than cash, for this reason and also to prevent possible substance abuse.
Paris: friendly faces, reasonable prices, interesting architecture, and great crepes!