Work trip in April of 2005
02.04.2005 - 09.04.2005
Every time I look down on this timeless town
whether blue or gray be her skies.
Whether loud be her cheers or soft be her tears,
more and more do I realize:
I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.
I love Paris every moment,
every moment of the year.
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near.
- I Love Paris, Cole Porter
Paris, capital of France and known by many monikers, including "Gay Paris," "The City of Light" and "The City of Love." And I got to experience all three during my short trip.
The trip was a 5 day requirements gathering session, with 3 days on either side of the week for free time, totalling 8 days of fun in Paris.
I was staying at the Hotel Acacias at 20 rue du Temple. At 94 Euros a night, certainly priced like a business class hotel, but you would never have guessed it from the interior. My room was on the top floor, and was the most weirdly shaped hotel room I have ever seen. Walking into the room, the bed was to your right and the bathroom (as small as a closet) was straight ahead. To your left was a low, slanted ceiling (almost like the underside of a staircase), which, after a quick duck and drop of around 3/4 of an inch, opened up to a small desk, and long thin hallway towards the window.
The shower was amazingly small. Standing in the shower, you had to press yourself up against the shower door, because if you tried and back away from the door, you would end up hitting the shower control, and turning the shower off, or worse, changing the temperature of the shower - either freezing you or scalding you.
I arrived on Saturday, April 2nd to a beautiful and sunny day. The temperature was around 16 celcius, and I had a lovely time setting out and seeing the sites. The Arc De Troimphe, Eiffel Tower, Opera house and the Musee D'Orsay were all on the list of things to see.
A full day of site-seeing, and I was starving, so I set out the first night to find dinner close to my hotel. And that's where I experienced the first of Paris' monikers, "Gay Paris."
I am sure when people first starting calling Paris "Gay Paris," it probably was because of the joie du vivre of the inhabitants or some such thing, but I experienced a whole other type of gay Paris. Turns out that my hotel was in the heart of the gay district, and most of the clubs and restaurants in the area where full of guys. Not (to steal a quote from Seinfeld) that there is anything wrong with that. It was just a little unexpected.
Knowing that I would have a week full of pricey and no doubt excellent business dinners, I decided to go light on the first night, grabbing myself a panini and chocolate crepe at a local stand. I then wandered around the neighbourhood, eating my dinner and looking at the growing lineups at the gay clubs (even though it was only 8 o'clock at night).
Outside one club, a bald man approached me and asked me something in French.
"Desole, je ne parle pas Francais," I replied.
"Oh," he replied back in English, "where are you from?"
He lit up, "I am from Geneva! I am just here for a weekend to enjoy the city. Are you gay? Do you like boys?"
"No," I replied, "I like girls."
"Really," he said, "because this is the gay area."
I looked over at two guys were making out in a line-up to one of the clubs. "Yes, I can see that."
"I like both boys and girls," my bald Geneva friend continued, "but this weekend is for boys. You have never thought of being with a boy?"
"No, it's really not my thing."
At this point, my new friend from Geneva offered to pleasure me orally anyway, despite the fact that I was not gay. Sweet, I thought, though very misguided. I mean, I have had fantasies about sexual naughtiness with the Swiss, though in my fantasies the Swiss involved tend to be blonde, eighteen and female (and perhaps even with a friend). I politely rejected his offer and bide him adieu. Already Paris was proving to be an adventure.
The next day, I woke to the news that Pope John Paul II had died. After a traditional French breakfast of bread and pastry, I made my way down to Notre Dame Cathedral. Notre Dame is on Ile de la Cite, the place where Paris was founded, and is a massive Catholic Cathedral. It can hold up to 6,000 people, and is built in the imposing Gothic style, which means lots of huge vaulted ceilings and tons of ornate gargoyles and statues.
The Catholics in the City of Light had turned out to Notre Dame to pay homage to the life of his holiness John Paul II, and the inside of the church was glowing with the light of votive candles. The lights of the city burned inside on this day.
And finally, but perhaps most importantly, Paris is the City of Love. I know what you are thinking, "ah, the juene filles have filled the heart of Greg with springtime lust." And I will admit that the young ladies of Paris did fill my heart (and perhaps areas lower) with sensations of love. However, the true love I found in Paris was of a completely different sort.
The Paris Metro has 213 km of track, over 300 stations. It's a beautiful public transit system, with both the subway and regional trains feeding both downtown and suburban Paris, and criss-crossing the city to an extent that it feels like one is never more than 3 blocks from a Metro station.
I would ride the Metro into work, looking at the spider-web of lines on the subway map, and dream of what Toronto could be with such a system. Interconnected ticketing for GO Transit, the TTC and other regional systems. Subways running from the Don Valley Parkway to the 427 along Eglington, St. Clair and Queen. Light rail lines along the power corridor from Yonge to the airport, connecting with the subway at York University. Light rail running up to Brampton, Richmond Hill and Markham, connecting with the Viva rail line running along the 407. Dare I even dream it, a harbour-front subway, running to the island airport!
But alas, I return to Toronto to find the cash straped TTC fighting for it's fiscal future with the union, arguing over pennies and obviously without the capital might to implement such a grand dream. Besides, while the population of Paris and Toronto are similar (2,3 million for Paris, 2.5 million for Toronto), the greater areas don't compare at all - Paris has over 11 million people in her suburbs, Toronto a mere 5.7 million. Paris just has more people to move.
A final irony, of course related to transit, is coming from France, known across the world for striking unions (from truckers to airport workers to train operators) upon arriving home to a TTC union on the verge of a strike. I travelled all that way, never saw a single union demonstrating, and returned home to find the European strike ethic hard at work.
To destroy Cole Porter, "Why, oh why do I love Paris? Because my love of efficient public transit is near."