Category : Reader Friendly
Ah, Paris, the City of Light and the capital of Amour… this is exactly what the French have been propagating for decades. Is it true? Would you find true love? Face the epiphany of your existence by strolling through its streets while writing on your silly journal and sipping an overpriced (€4.70?!) cup of coffee? In one word? ‘No.’ In three words? ‘Yes and no.’
The city is by any world standard a true cosmopolitan metropolis. Trees and parks abound. Beautiful neo-classical edifices along architecture from different centuries can be found literally on every corner. The city hosts some of the world’s most famous art galleries and museums. A Latin-based language which sounds more like a poem than it has a right to when spoken does add to the charm of the region. It would be almost impossible to find fault. However I am confident in my talents, so let’s begin.
An ancient settlement with archaeological signs going back as far 4200BC reveals the inhabitants of the area had some serious head start in which to perfect their now famous baguettes and croissants. But hey, this is why the world is not a fair place.
Paris, which original Roman name was Lutetia, began to be known by its Gaulish name of Parisii after six centuries of Roman occupation. So around 5AD the name got into vogue and has stayed on like a cheap suit for the next sixteen centuries.
Now, Paris is renown for the snobbery and rudeness of its people, which can easily be found at numerous locations and in copious quantities the moment you open your mouth. However in their defense, with over 30 million tourists a year and therefore 9 times the entire population of the Région Parisienne asking the same stupid “I am lost. Where is the Eiffel Tower?” question in languages other than French year in and year out; its commendable they haven’t stopped being rude, snapped, taken an AK-47 and legislated open season on tourists. Since even a blind man shooting randomly could take out more than his share per capita of tourists. Really, it would be like firing a cannon into a school of fish. It’s that easy.
Let’s not all play saints here. Since the beginning of time and this includes the Bible, there has been an inherited local disdain for tourists and interlopers of any nation or kingdom (Let my people go!). Thus Parisians can hardly be found at fault when realizing the quagmire they are in: A positive cash flow from tourism which also doubles as a dilutant of local culture.
Simply read what Le Lido and the Moulin Rouge where originally all about and how they have devolved throughout the years in order to satisfy tourists’ cliched expectations. This a social danger which few modern cities have to deal with. However Paris as the most touristic destination in the world will have to face this threat soon or later.
Back to the city today: Its huge. It’s over-priced and it takes some time to get over the ever-present musky smell of dry urine around the Seine. Especially in the hotter months. Now I am not saying the city is filthy, just that it has a huge nightlife and not enough public washrooms. Trust me, you can find almost anything along the Seine. From book-stands near Notre Dame encompassing the renown second-hand book market on one side to thong-only wearing retirees catching sun along really shocked stares from tourists on the other.
Their subway (Metro) is massive yet needed since the metropolitan area of Paris is over one hundred square kilometers. Interesting to know that due to the historical nature of the city core, no legislation allows for the low-density buildings to be torn down and create the infrastructure of say New York or Toronto with their sky-reaching high rises. Therefore France as a whole is a very flat city. As such, most inhabitants along with the financial district, in their quest for space have moved into the suburbs. Thus having the rare situation where the center of the city has an old town vibe –but with lots, and lots of cars.
Oh Paris, you are a true Metropolis, in both size and style that is is truly your own. France too lives up to its reputation as a country where ANYTHING you order to drink at a restaurant will cost you more than a glass of wine. Including water. Yet like in Spain, I hardly saw drunken people, especially taking into consideration just how accessible alcohol is. Toronto should learn a lesson here. Importing a few better cheeses would not hurt. Are you listening Toronto? However, it is the lifestyle which is the biggest difference. Even as a financial, fashion and artistic European powerhouse you cannot shake the feeling that somehow they are doing a little more living than North Americans. Whether it comes down to the food, their outlook, their jazz or the musk of urine during hot summer nights, I have to admit that a part of me fell in love with Paris. Just not with their $#%$@!@#% overpriced coffee. Avoid it.
The one thing to remember if you ever travel to the south of Spain, specifically to Andalusia, the second most populous province, the birthplace of Flamenco, Bullfighting and pretty much every single Spaniard cliche us Westerners hold dear, is that people there smoke. A LOT. Sure, there are beaches, Roman ruins, a historic castle on every hill –or every other block– and more churches per capita, that by now every Spaniard can easily afford to coldly kill three priests and still get into heaven by proxy. Yet nothing will hit or leave a longer, lasting effect than their tobacco.
Spain is truly a smoker’s nirvana. I felt guilty for not smoking enough and looked at ways to integrate myself into this culturally rich, gray-lunged society. A task in which I excelled! And as a plus, I have now been back for over two weeks and there is hardly a trace of my smoker’s cough! Well worth it. However if you don’t smoke at all, are a tourist and do not speak Spanish, just skip the country altogether. Go to a wimp smokers’ country, like France. Aside from delicious nicotine, which you will learn to love or become a master at holding off your gag reflex as your body struggles for survival, Spain is quite a breathtaking country. The weather is hot and dry, covered in yellow clay and almost arid inland, yet oh so breezy near the sea.
Fish, pork and beef are in abundance. Always, ready to be served at one of the many Tapas restaurants which litter the region. If you hate falling into tourist traps you will be pleased to know that non-tourist friendly and therefore easier on the wallet areas abound. All that is needed is an adventurous spirit and a fifteen minute walk in any direction away from gift shops selling badly punned T-shirts, over priced photographic books and to no surprise: engraved ashtrays. Knowing Spanish helps, as most Spaniards can’t be bothered to learn English but if you are adventurous, then you would not be above using some pointing and sign language to get what you want. The staff will be understanding, helpful and only mock you once you are gone.
About the most annoying and yet refreshing thing in Spain, especially for Westerners is the Siesta. Entire towns screech to a halt from about noon to about 4:00pm, as if the whole city goes into a deep slumber. During the August’s month-long celebrations, they can go for even longer. Restaurants will re-open at 8:00pm, so expect to have dinner at around 10:00pm. Every night. That’s just the Spanish way. So pack a snack if you are planning to meander through the older cobbled-street cities.
If you are a night-owl you will be utterly comfortable with this lifestyle, while others will wonder how exactly can Spaniards earn a living. I did. Same goes for the food, supermarkets simply do not exist, groceries stores which are smaller do. However they are few and far between. Alcohol is an entirely different story, you will find booze every where digestible matter is sold and likely it will be cheap. Especially in the capital of Sevilla where with its two million inhabitants is the largest city in Andalusia.
It is interesting to note in the week I traversed the land, I never saw one local drunk, the only ones were tourists, who were both loud and obnoxious. It made me feel how my ex-girlfriend probably felt when I used to get boozed up on red wine many years ago. I felt embarrassed for them. As if we all had been invited to the same party, and they were my annoying cousins I never talked to or liked, who got stinking drunk and everybody looked at me for an explanation. Strange since while in an unknown country, being foreigners can, and does unite complete strangers. An odd and brief comradery which luckily and quickly subsided well before we reached the next street.
People drink, with the goal to hang out and socialize not get inebriated. You will find tapas restaurants bursting with people drinking beer and ‘Tinto de Verano,’ a refreshing red wine and lime flavoured soda drink. Sangria is left for the tourists as no local in their right mind would prefer so sweet a drink in such dry heat.
Ah, the South of Spain, a land where passionate and energetic dancing, lisps, Moor and Roman architecture, castles and Mosques are poetically inter-winded. The land Muslims conquered in 711AD and the rest of Spain spent the next 587 years extirpating. But on the upside they taught the whole of Europe how to bathe! But that is another story which I will probably cover in another blog entry.
Ah, Andalucia, where you can sustain a family of four with wine for a week for less than it costs to feed them for a day. You will forever have a special place in my heart and now, after visiting you, a dark spot on the x-rays of my lungs.
The best poem ever written in creation was penned by a Sir Archibald Fuchester Bradley in 1885 while staying at Fenwick Manor, located about a day’s travel northwest of London. It was such an astonishing feat even Sir Fuchester himself could not believe his own right hand. True his right hand had been good to him in the past, mixing sugar into his cup at teatime or to beg his second-cousin for a place to lodge. Yes, his right hand had been there for him at his most trying and lonesome times but never quite like this. Oh no, never like this. Little is known of Sir Archibald Fuchester Bradley, second cousin (twice removed) by marriage to the Duke of Fenwick and 298th in line to the British Crown in 1885. This fact would have been lost to history had it not been for the fanatical, insane-like work ethic of the Royal Historian in-charge at the time.
It must also be noted this Royal Historian’s quick succumbing to outright and full-fledged insanity soon thereafter brings the accuracy of the document into question. A quick glance at the British Royal Family tree at the time names a Rose bush outside Essex Castle as 299th and a metal pipe inside one of the mermen fountains in Trafalgar Square as 300st in-line to the throne of England.
However he was unable to voice his disillusionment since by the time he realized what had happened his windpipe along with the rest of his body had just finished vaporizing.