Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chopsticks in Paris.

I knew I was a traveler, a real solo traveler, after I ran away to Paris for the weekend.

And I really did run away.  Like a kid runs away from home, I ran away by myself to Paris.

Why I ran away is a long involved story not appropriate or necessary to explain, but one day in late October a handful of years ago I knew I had to get out of town.  And I had to get far out of town where my cell phone wouldn’t work, where I didn’t have access to email and where I could be completely alone, bothered by no one.  Such a place is probably nearly impossible to find these days where we are connected to everyone everywhere, but this was just long enough ago that in Paris I could be unplugged, cut off from the things I wanted to get away from, and it was also just close enough that I could get there and back in a long weekend.

On a Wednesday evening I decided I would leave the next night, arriving in Paris for my long weekend on Friday morning.  I bought a cheap last minute plane ticket, packed some clothes and my hippest trench coat  and before I knew it I was at the airport.  Unfortunately, I was seated in the lone single seat smack dab in the midst of what must have been close to 50 American high school kids on some kind of field trip to France.  Until just this moment remembering my seat assignment on this trip, I’d been thinking my more recent last row next to the bathroom seat that didn’t recline between Shanghai and New York was my worst in flight experience.  Both were pretty bad.  

Nevertheless, I arrived in Paris having had little sleep but happy to be away. So happy to be away.

I’d also booked a little inexpensive two star hotel not far from the Opera House.  I took the train from the airport and wandered around a bit until I found it and was surprised to realize that it was right in the middle of Japantown.  

The trip to Paris turned out to be a pretty nontraditional one and the stay in Japantown was just the start.  Having been to the city before and having seen the things you have to see, I avoided most of the most common tourist sites.  Instead I mostly just wandered around, window shopped, people watched, stopping to eat and drink when I got tired. I didn't really do anything.

I had dinner near my hotel in Japantown the evening I arrived.  It was probably one of the first times I’d eaten alone, by myself at a table in a restaurant.  I was trying to be cool about it and not look as awkward as I felt.  This being years ago, all the Parisians out for a Friday night on the town were lazily and oh so romantically smoking cigarettes while eating and drinking during their meal.  And it was then for the first time in my life I regretting never taking up smoking.  If I'd  known how to bum a cigarette from the next table in French, I might have done it.  Maybe if I’d had a cigarette to focus my energies on, sitting there alone in a funky Japanese restaurant in the middle of Paris wouldn’t have felt so weird.  It got a little weirder when fairly new to Japanese food and chopsticks use, I was brought grilled and skewered shrimps with the heads on and only chopsticks as utensils.  But I mustered through both being alone and the shrimp heads and ended up really enjoying myself. 

I spent the rest of the weekend eating non-traditional Parisian food like falafel and hamburgers, visiting shops geared more toward locals like those selling books and kitchen supplies, and generally just enjoying the sights and sounds of Paris in the autumn.  It was a short no nonsense trip, but one that changed my life.  I learned I could get somewhere and back by myself and love every minute of discovering a city, even one I'd been to before, on my own.

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