Paris, sans GPS

by Genevieve

I’m leaving Paris tomorrow, and for the three days I’ve been here, I’ve changed my mind about this city approximately 38 times. When I first got off the train, I felt amazing. Every building is so beautiful, the people are well-dressed, and the streets smell like cigarette smoke, fresh bread, and sophistication. I was so happy just to be walking around this legendary city. It wasn’t until an hour and a half later, as I was still walking around, that I realized I had no idea where I was going.

Naturally, I just kept walking. God forbid I should look like a complete American by asking for directions. I was looking for a place to consult my map, because Sarah and Samara warned me not to whip out my map in the middle of the street lest pickpockets take advantage of my distracted tourism, and I ducked into the gateway of a park that appeared to be closed. That’s another thing- things in Paris do not really open before 10AM. I think that’s very civilized, but being fresh off the plane from the land of 24-hour gas stations, grocery stores, and McDonalds, I was feeling somewhat cut off from society. So anyway, I’m in the entryway of this park, trying to consult my map as discreetly as possible. The map, by the way, is in German. When I asked for a map at the airport, the man behind the information desk handed me the first one in the pile and said curtly, “It’s all in French, anyway.” Looks like that semester of German 105 freshman year wasn’t a waste, after all. Dankeschoen, Frau Altmeyer. Right. So I’m outside this park, that I swear to God is closed, trying to figure out where the hell I am. Suddenly, this older man starts walking toward me, from inside the park. I start to get a little panicked, looking for whatever pavilion or tree or rapist van he climbed out of. He just keeps walking toward me, and then he starts talking to me. In French. As I get a better look at him, he’s dressed like a business man, and there is definitely no French rapist van visible on this block. Finally, he opens the gate, which apparently was unlocked this entire time. He asks me something (still in French), and I just stare at him blankly, too jet-lagged, rain-soaked, and American to answer. He tries another approach:

French guy: (in English, this time) Do you need help?

Me: Uhhhh, yes! (Shuffles map, pointing to no places in particular) I need to get to Rue la Chapelle–I mean, Boulevard de Chapelle–I mean Rue de la Chapelle. One of the Chapelles. They’re close together. I think.

French guy: Ah, go straight that way (points up street).

Me: Thank you! Merci! (Scampers toward street indicated)

I walk up the street for a WHILE. The entire time I’m cursing myself for having just walked all the way down here, in the completely wrong direction, to high on the spirit of adventure to notice how lost I was getting. But after a while, I start cursing my mysterious directions-giver.

Me: (to myself) Up the street how far?? Have I passed it? Is this some sick joke to get me even more lost? That villain!

Like any red-blooded American, I felt comforted in assigning the blame to someone else. Soon enough I arrived back at Gare du Nord, where I had gotten off the train in the first place. I trudged in the open doorway, whipped out my German map, and saw, quite plainly, Boulevard de la Chapelle, just a little further in the direction the man had pointed.

I take full responsibility for the additional 45 minutes I spent wandering around before I realized the building numbers were getting smaller instead of bigger.