A little bit of jet lag plus a whole lot of heat equals sleepless nights. Since arriving in Paris, I haven’t slept more than a couple of hours consecutively, but each morning I get up about an hour earlier than the previous morning, so there's progress anyway.
I had the idea this morning that I might try to run and had studied the map last night, trying to memorize the quickest route to the Seine. The sun comes up early, though, and it was already blazing by the time I was ready to get out of the apartment at 8:15 am. With the temperature forecast for 98 degrees today, though, this was my only chance to really be out and about and so I decided to at least take a very long walk. Four days and I hadn’t yet seen the river—that was so wrong!
My plan was a three- or four-mile walk to the river and back. I was about to add “brisk” to describe the walk, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist looking in shop windows or taking pictures, so never mind the pace. I had only a few turns to take to reach the Boulevard Sebastopol, which would take me straight down to the Seine. Along the way, I made discoveries both beautiful and sad.
For instance, out of nowhere, in a small park of sand pathways, there was the Tour of Saint-Jacques, a huge tower built in 1509, adorned with gargoyles and a rotund Saint-Jacques situated in the middle. But in the park and along the sidewalks of Boule Sebastopol, the homeless were numerous. I don’t recall this many homeless in Paris on previous trips, and I surmise the increase can be attributed to the refugee crisis impacting Europe. Whatever the reason, it is truly heartbreaking to see so many men, women and children sleeping on the streets here. This morning, one man had somehow found two discarded mattresses and slept with a blanket over his head as people trotted by on their way to work or to go shopping. Another was zipped inside a small pup tent while his neighbor sat dousing himself with water from an Evian bottle behind a curbside "desk" of large cardboard boxes. Yesterday, I’d seen a young woman going through a dumpster and picking out a toy truck that she wiped off with her scarf and handed to her young son.
…Now I've written myself into a corner and it feels insensitive (to say the least) to veer away from such an important topic, but that's a blog for another day. Let’s take things lighter for today, so brace yourself for a non-sequitur in three, two, one...
I followed the boulevard and it did take me to the river and the Quai d’Horloge. I took a few pictures and crossed over the pont to the Left Bank. A couple of photos of the little waterfall at la Conciergerie (I need to Google this; I have no idea what it is) and the gargantuan Palais du Justice and then back to the Right Bank and down the steps to the bank of the Seine, set up with patchy grass and lounge chairs and picnic tables and umbrellas for the month of August. Runners and bikers went by, sweating under the assertive sun, and I walked along, holding my nose when passing by the lines of porta-potties.
Everything was going according to plan, directionally speaking, and I found Sebastopol again and could have easily taken it back, but that would be too boring. I also saw the rue de Seine and I’d been on that street before and knew it would take me all the way back to my apartment. Or I thought I knew.
Some of you already know I was born without the GPS gene, so you see where this is going…
About one minute after turning onto rue de Seine, I looked up and saw that I was on another street entirely—one I’d never heard of. I wasn’t worried, though, because I thought I’d gotten my bearings somewhat in the last few days and figured I was heading in the right direction, so…tout va bien. My Garmin watch vibrated on my wrist to inform me I’d hit four miles and it seemed to me a cue to enter the artisan boulangerie across the street and get a croissant to eat while I walked the rest of the way home. I’d brought 10 euros with me just in case such a whim hit me. Here’s something new I learned about croissants today: if you eat one while sweaty, the flakes will stick to your skin like butter confetti!
Onward I walked. I didn’t recognize any of the street names from my last few days, but I knew I was going in the right direction. No need to look at Apple maps. About 10 minutes later, I spotted a charming café and thought a café crème would really hit the spot, so I went inside and stood at the counter (where the coffee costs a euro less than sitting down), drinking my coffee and singing along in my head to the music playing in the background. Alicia Keys was singing that New York song I love and I didn’t yet know I was lost and life was bon. Tres, tres bon!
When I came out of the café, however, I was getting that certain inkling. I was in the Marais, in the fourth arrondissement, and my apartment is in the third—the Haut Marais or Marais Nord—but well, hmmm. I was at five miles now, according to my watch. I stood at a corner and looked around and chose a route that I believed to be in the correct direction. I’m not going to bore you with all the (literal) twists and turns, but suffice to say I still believed I’d figure it out. My phone remained stowed away in the belt I wear around my waist for running. Until I was approaching six miles and it was getting much hotter and somehow I was now in the 10th arrondissement… How in the world had that happened? Tell me, Apple maps!
Months ago, when learning French, I’d set my iPhone to French for the "real world" practice. This has meant that sometimes I make mistakes, delete things on my phone, etc. because I don’t completely understand something on my screen. On the plus side, though, when I speak to Siri in French, she usually understands me. I could swear that I’d set my Paris address as my default home address, so I told Siri in French to take me “chez moi.” The map and directions popped up. I looked at the directions, but barely glanced at the map. If I had, I would have realized immediately that she was not taking me to my apartment, but rather to a salad place called—you guessed it—Chez Moi—which was, incidentally, closed now.
Serendipitously, as I was following the directions up the Boulevard de Voltaire, I spied a huge market to my left and took a detour on rue Oberkampf. Fruits and vegetables and fish and meat and rotisserie chicken and flowers and clothing and baskets and jewelry, oh my! Before I’d even crossed the street to the marche, I heard a young (handsome!) Frenchman barking about his fruit, and the moment I approached, he was thrusting a chunk of cantaloupe at me. Like the peaches I bought at the marche des enfants rouges on Saturday, this slippery, bright orange piece of sweet melon was nothing short of a revelation. Why doesn’t our fruit in the States taste like this? If it did, even my husband would be eating fruit all the time. So I agreed to buy one melon and he said, alors, deux!, and well, I got two. But we weren’t done, because there was also a vivid red pastique to taste. Watermelon is one of my favorite fruits, but I’ve been so disappointed this summer at the awful ones I’ve had back home. I accepted the triangle of bright red fruit from his fingers, not that he seemed to be giving me a choice. To have used the word revelation to describe the cantaloupe was a mistake, because now what can I say about the watermelon—which was, as impossible as it seems, even better?
Back on Voltaire, I now had to carry a quarter of a watermelon in one plastic bag and two cantaloupes in another plastic bag. I was skeptical about those cantaloupes in that bag, so I thought it best to consult my phone again and this time I looked more carefully at the map. That’s when I discovered my error, but luckily, I hadn’t been led too far out of my way. I only had to turn around and go back the way I’d come and about half a mile later, there was Republique and I was no longer lost.
More than two hours had passed since I’d ventured out and I was coming up on seven miles. I was hot and parched and flecks of croissant clung to the freckles on my arms. I had two of 10 euros left. All that remained now was to climb the 55 steps and unleash the door key from my sneaker laces. The cantaloupes were polite enough to wait and break through the bonds of their plastic bag until I reached the top of the staircase.
Paris fruit has already spoiled me for all other fruit forever!