The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Friday, April 27, 2007

Satori in Paris

One of my favorite movie cliches is that, in any interior scene set in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is always visible through a window. It's great cinematic shorthand (my other favorite is that in any cop movie, when the detective walks into a dive bar looking for information, the bartender is always, always drying glassware with a towel). It works because we all know Paris at some level. Even if we've never been there, we know--or think we know--a little bit about what it's like.

Those expectations can be dangerous, even clinically so; for example, there is Paris Syndrome, in which tourists (almost exclusively Japanese women), after planning and saving all their lives for a dream trip to Paris, find that it isn't exactly what they've been dreaming of, and unable to deal with this disconnect collapse on the crowded sidewalk outside Galeries Lafayette, surrounded by hordes of other tourists shuffling off their buses to file through what is after all just another overpriced department store staffed by pretty, vacant mannequins who don't happen to speak any Japanese.

Keeping with the Japanese theme, ol' Jack Kerouac (secret hero of these pages) called it satori, or "kick in the eye"--a Buddhist concept meaning sudden flash of insight or enlightenment. His book Satori in Paris, written in his fat-Elvis phase just before he drank himself to death while living in Orlando with his mom and trying hopelessly to live up to his own legend, is a disappointing drunken mess, and isn't very clear on what his satori actually was.

I won't bore you with descriptions of our travels in Paris. Many of you have already been to some or most of these places anyway. But I will offer this satori I experienced, one that should have been obvious now that I think on it:

Paris, rather than being the embodiment, the physical manifestation of all that is French, is actually the least French of all French cities.

Grown adults wearing shorts.
Women wearing comfortable shoes.
Not one but two American diners (we're going back on our next trip).
Actual high-quality Asian food (ditto).
Stores that stay open at lunchtime.
Stores that open at all on Sunday.
People who speak English even when you don't need them to.
Not a single person was the least bit rude, and some were even genuinely kind beyond what societal norms demand.

More thoughts to come when I get a minute to upload some pictures. Tonight unfortunately I have to go to Carrefour to get an extension cord, laundry stain remover, and tub & tile cleaner. Ah, glamourous France.


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