So, I made a purchase of a bag in a shop on the way to Les Halles. It’s the type of shop that I was looking for and whilst the range inside was spectacular, the range of what I was after was pretty much down to choice of black/charcoal, green or the yellow beige type of canvas that one expects to find. I chose the black/charcoal because it was the shopkeepers choice. I got the size that I was after at a fairly reasonable “sale” price. The job was complete but it still didn’t stop me wanting more. I was actually after this bag in a soft, supple brown leather that one day will be worn down by age, weathered by use and battered by travels. This canvas material is one that I have in many of my existing bags; the size, I do not. And for those times when I require leather, I have two rather nice ones, one if which is waiting for me back in the chambre at the Hotel Art de Quartier Latin. The other one is the one that I call my teacher’s bag. It was meant to be for once I had graduated with my Batchelor’s degree and moved into the teaching profession. It’s been under my bed now for pretty much four years. Along with a handful of other ‘too small for weekend yet too large for everyday use’ bags.
Last night, I decided to take myself for a walk. With Paris, whilst I feel like I know my way around, I still at times don’t know how to connect the areas. This isn’t the reason I took the Metro from Gare du Nord to Jussie, upon arrival. The reason I took the Metro was because it was time I took the step to not walk and train myself in the French underground system. The strange thing is that it didn’t feel strange. It felt normal, regular, natural. Similar to getting on at home, going to Liverpool Street and taking the Circle Line to King’s Cross before walking to the Eurostar departure lounge. A familiarity filled with excitement. Each and every time. Next time I am here, which will be in December, I won’t need to bring all the luggage with me as my stay will be shorter – especially as I have theatre tickets booked for the end of that week. There will be very little scope for expansion. Although I can’t fully rule it out. I booked tickets for Moulin Rouge, the musical. Based on the film, not the venue in Montmartre.
My big, heavy holdall – that doubles up as a backpack and a trolly on wheels – and my large leather writing bag were both going to get heavy. My strength from the remains of my London Half Marathon induced chest infection hadn’t restored and the rush to get to St. Pancras in order to sit and wait for two hours meant that I had half forgone lunch. I had a hot dog but woofed it down so quick I don’t think I had a chance to process the nutritional benefits that I may have ordinarily gained from it. My half-eaten packet of custard creams was left on my writing desk as I was unsure as to a). if I’d be allowed through security with them and b). what state they would be in by the time I got onto the train.
I had no cash on me and the ticket machines were busy. Being an Englishman in Paris, I didn’t wish to enquire how to use them so I patiently waited in line rather than go to a ticket window. It turns out that they were all closed anyway. It also turns out that the ticket machines didn’t take contactless payment, either. Luckily, I had my bank card almost to hand. With the minimum of physical fuss and exertion, I pulled my wallet out of my little sling pack that was secured across my waist. Naturally, being security conscious, my bank card was in a pocket in my jacket. Which was in my locked big, heavy holdall. But that was fine. Except I couldn’t find the key in my large leather writing bag for a while. With the key found, the bag unlocked and the jacket removed, I was able to extract the bank card and be ready to use it as I approached the machine. All that was left was to quell the adrenaline enough so that I could manipulate the touch screen and get it to display English for me.
Do you ever get to the point where you know everything is going to be okay? And then something else happens that makes you doubt your own ability to survive a tourist incident. Luckily, that moment passed in an instant as I jabbed my shaky finger on the screen and requested a single, one-trip billet for €1.90. Except I needed to change lines. Is this enough for what I want? Will I be made to pay a fine and spend hours trying to explain using Google Translate what I was after? Or should I just get out at Odéon and walk the unknown path to Rue des Écoles? I decided to brush up on my proverbs and bite the bullet. It was a strange sensation. To enter the station initially, you pop this little white piece of card into the machine and it ejects out of the top like a small piece of uncooked toast. Upon pulling it out, the gates open and you slide, sideways due to luggage, through the smallest of available gaps. Yes, I waited for the person to right of me to go first. That way I knew that I was in the correct lane, before my scramble began. And yet, two very distinctly different Metro carriage rides later, I make my way through the push doors and Jussie and simply ascend the escalator to the sortie. There was no need to fumble for the ticket in my back pocket at all. What an amazing system. As long as you can get in, they trust that you’ve paid. It really is a fabulous way of doing things. And one price fits all. None of this zone malarky like with the whole London Underground piff-paff. In London if I want to go from east to central, I have to go though zones four to one. If I want to go from zone four to the other side of London (also zone four), because I have travelled through zone one, I need to pay for that. Even though I didn’t get out. It’s actually horrendous and I’m not liking it one bit. Add this onto the mess that is the congestion charge and now the ultra-low emission zone for cars and it almost feels like unless you cycle, there’s no cost-effective way of getting around London. Except the overcrowded and under-provided buses, gawd bless them. Maybe we need to take a leaf out of the Parisian book and re-evaluate public transport.
So, I took a walk last night and despite not knowing where I was truly going, I spent about two hours simply wandering around. I went to the Pantheon, to Odéon, through the Latin Quarter and back to the hotel. I knew every part of the journey except how those places were connected. Until then. And if I’d had my new small canvas writing bag with me, I would’ve stopped in a bistro and written all of this up last night. I could have written something else after my lunch at Au Pére Tranquille, in a seat along the same section as last time.
And still with my old friend, Vanille, le chat, sitting beside me.