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Entries in Stephanie Rhoades (4)


English Lesson #11: The french (lower case 'F')

Ah, Paris. What can I say about Paris that I haven’t already said…that’s suitable to print? Veteran Road Scholar fans will remember, but let’s take a quick look at what I did say about Paris back in 2003:

When you enter France, all bets on communication are off. Signage is poor, the language is pure, and the French just don’t seem to be very warm and fuzzy to tourists. 

Yup, that’s about it. I probably would not have chosen Paris as one of my weekend destinations if left to my own devices, but the girls just had to see the Eiffel Tower. Whatever. So for their second and final weekend in Europe, it was off to Paris. I will admit that I had a bit of a bad attitude about Paris from the beginning, so much so that the girls called me on it. “Give it another chance” they pleaded. I decided to do my best. I’ve always wanted to experience the Chunnel and I never did get to visit the Louvre, at least not during operating hours. Having read the DaVinci Code and seen the movie, I was even more interested in visiting the famous museum.

On this go around, the girls consolidated their luggage a little, proving they are educable. By now all four of us thought we were old hands at navigating the British rail system, but when we arrived at Portchester station, the education continued. On all my previous visits to this station I was traveling on a weekend and the only source of tickets was the automated ticket machine. This time was no different in my mind and I went straight for it. Before you could say Bob’s your uncle I swiped my card and had ticket in hand. At the same time, Kristin wandered into an open door and discovered there was a ticket office—and there was someone sitting in it. It turns out this was Friday, and the office is open during the week. I joined her at the window. Here’s the conversation that took place:

Man: “Where are you going?”

Kristin: “Seanie where are we going?”

Me: “Waterloo”

Man: “How many are you?”

Kristin: “Four”

Me: “I already have a ticket.”

Man: “Where did you get it?”

Me: “At the machine.”

The man scowled and began shaking his head.

Man (raising his voice just a little): “Those machines are out there to make money for the railroad. Always come inside to the window to get a ticket. You get a discount when traveling in groups of four or more.”

Me (silently): “I want my mommy”

Man: “How did you pay for the ticket?”

Me: “Credit card.”

Again with the head shaking. By now I feared any more questions. The topic of this conversation seemed to be ‘things to say to piss off the train ticket man’. Still shaking his head and rolling his eyes he punched a bunch of buttons and asked me for my ticket.

Man: (handing me a receipt) “This has been refunded to your card.”

Krissy: “Thank you so much.”

Man: “You’re going to London?”

Me: “Paris.”

Man: “So you’re coming back then?”

Me: “On Monday.”

At this point I fully expected a spanking. The man was actually chuckling a little to himself—and of course still shaking his head and mumbling. He punched a bunch of keys on his computer, took my card one more time, and presto, four round trip tickets to London. I can’t really complain about the experience, the guy saved us like $100. I’m sure he’s still telling his friends about the ham shanks he helped that day.

Once in Waterloo we boarded the Eurostar for the two hour ride to Paris. We could have flown to Paris for about the same price, but then there’s the issue of getting to the airport, parking the car, etc. Besides the logistics, I’ve wanted to take the Chunnel ever since it was built over ten year sago. The experience was actually a bit anticlimactic.

The Eurostar trains are like the TGV, they have that sleek bullet nose look and they’re really long. They also haul ass, cruising at about 150 MPH. You don’t think much about traveling that fast until you’re actually doing it. First of all, how often do you actually travel over 100 mph on the ground (unless Chris is driving)? I actually found it disorienting to look out the window. Things are moving by so fast that I was getting a little queasy. It really messes with your cerebellum when you can't discern what objects are or even where one ends and another begins. I felt like I was part of an M.C. Escher drawing. The train itself was a little run down on the inside. The upholstery looked like it belonged in the 70s and the seating was like being on a low-budget airline, my knees were practically in my chest. One thing is for certain though, it sure beat driving.

As luck would have it, my friend Mark chose the same weekend to visit Paris. This was fortuitous, not just because we had a good time with him in London, but it was also a chance to even out the hormone levels in my little quartet. The five of us took a bus tour of the city and stopped off at places like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre, where I finally saw the Mona Lisa and Mark and I took a really cool DaVinci Code audio tour. I think most would agree the most interesting part of the trip was our trek to the Moulin Rouge.

It was actually the girls’ idea to go to the Moulin Rouge, they had been talking about it since before we left England as something they wanted to do. In fairness I didn’t know too much about it except that it was a cabaret and they made a movie of the same name. It turns out the girls didn’t know too much about it either. The Moulin Rouge is not exactly in central Paris, and based on the map I had, it was going to take a little while on the metro to get there. As we ate dinner Saturday night we discussed the game plan. Knowing how the girls are, I told them I didn’t mind going to the Moulin Rouge, but I didn’t want to go all the way up there and then decide tickets were too expensive and turn right back around. We decided to try and get some more details.

I called my wife in California and asked her to look up the Moulin Rouge on Google, I wanted to know if there was a show that night, what time, and how much. We were in luck, there are two shows on Saturday, one at 9 and one at 11. Tickets were about $100. A little steep, but hell, we can say we’ve ‘been there’. Out of curiosity, I asked if it said what the show was. What I heard was “yada yada yada, featuring topless dancers”. A hundred bucks? That sounds very reasonable. Mark, does that—yes, you think it’s reasonable too? Whoa buddy, sit down, we gotta finish our dinner first big guy! OK then, we think that’s very reasonable.

As you might imagine, the girls decided to pass. I decided to take out the “I never got to have a bachelor party” card I’ve been carrying around in my pocket and threw it down on the table. We paid our bill and Mark and I were off to find the metro. It actually didn’t take as long as I thought it would to get up to the theatre and once we surfaced from the metro it was apparent that the Moulin Rouge was not in the best part of town. There in front of us on the other side of the street, practically smacking us in the face, was the signature windmill and sign in dazzling flashy lights. And on our side of the street, a prostitute. Lovely. We walked across the street to investigate the ticket situation. We couldn’t seem to find a box office but there were tons of 3D movie-style posters advertising the show, if you know what I’m saying. One of the posters had some English wording on it: “Elegant attire required”. I looked at Mark, then glanced at my own duds. We were both wearing jeans, collared shirts, and tennis shoes. “Dude, I don’t think we’re elegant.”

It was only about half nine so we decided to walk to the Irish Pub on the corner, have a pint, then hopefully come back after ten and find someone to talk to about tickets. That turned out to be the most expensive pint of Guinness I think I've ever had. At a quarter after ten we walked out of the pub and now there was a flurry of activity in front of the Moulin Rouge. Limousines were dropping people off at the curb and there was a queue forming down the street. We were fairly confident that our attire alone was going to exclude us from the show, but we decided to look into tickets anyway. There was a man who looked like a bouncer standing off to the side doing nothing. I walked up to him and, in French, asked him if he spoke English. His response to me, in French, was ‘good evening’. What the hell does that mean? It was a yes or no question and he answers with ‘good evening’. I asked him—this time in English—how to get tickets. In the true French way he put his nose in the air (they really do that you know) and pointed another man adjusting a rope barricade. OK, I guess that means we should go talk to him. This guy was a lot friendlier, but unfortunately his response wasn’t any more promising. The show was sold out for the evening.

From his tone I gathered that it sells out every evening and that getting tickets requires a bit of foresight. The Moulin Rouge is apparently not a last minute excursion.

So thus ended our trip to the Moulin Rouge, and for me and my posse, our trip to France. The girls and I left the next day. After two hours on the Eurostar, another two hours on the suburban rail, a bus ride due to rail line maintenance, and a cab ride back to the flat, the girls were done traveling. If they weren’t anxious to get home to their boy toys I might not have gotten them on a plane the next day.

But I did.