Sunday, February 12, 2006

Tales From a Great Indoorsman

This is not fiction. J.S. Bankston is headed to Paris.


Contes d'un Grand Homme de l'Interieur
The other day I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by my dog Fred, who was standing over me, staring anxiously down, cheeks puffing in and out, preparing to vomit. I tried to sit up and at least get out of the way, but his toenails were stuck in my T-shirt, and every time I tried to sit up I was pulled back down.

Finally I extricated myself, and lowered him down to the floor. He was in a delicated state for the rest of that day.

He was genuinely sick that day, but for the last few weeks he's been acting oddly. He's been brooding. He's been annoyed. He knows that something's up.

At the end of this month, I, who seldom leave my apartment if I can help it, who even puts off checking his mailbox most days, am stepping outside, getting into an airplane for the first time in my 42 years, and am spending a week in Paris, from February 28th to March 7th. See, I'm not a hermit and a recluse after all--not really. I just have to have a really good reason to go anywhere.

My friend James recently sold one of his domain names for a tidy amount, so he wants to celebrate his birthday in the City of Lights. I am about to run out of the savings I've been living off of for the past year, and I would hate to think that I spent all that money only within a half-mile of my front door. If I have to go back to being broke and working more dead-end, spirit-crushing jobs that have nothing to do with my writing skills, then by God I at least want to have some memories of the Good Times. So a trip to Paris seems the thing to do.

But I took a great deal of convincing. My mom, for instance, will shit a Miada if she ever learns about this trip, so I've somehow got to keep it a secret from her. A friend told me that taking this trip was a bad idea, at least until I get a few job-related business trips out of the way first. But everyone else I know has encouraged me to go.

A few of my former students went to study abroad last August, and one is still over there. He's based out of Barcelona, but he's also been to Madrid, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, and Paris. His e-mailed accounts of his travels really whetted my appetite.

And then of course there's my former Citysearch copyeditor, Seth Sherwood, who's a big shot travel writer for the Washington Post and New York Times now. He's based out of Paris and I envy the shit out of his lifestyle.

James and his wife Nyssa go to Europe every summer for about a month. Her parents usually rent a house or an apartment over there. They did the south of France last year, Venice the year before that, and Paris in 2003. When J&N arrived at the airport, her parents, Howard and Tharelyn, who had arrived a week before to set the house up and establish a beach-head, greeted them by saying, "Bankston would love it here. We'd never be able to drag him away." I do not doubt it.

(Now James is trying to talk me into going with them to Rome in May. They've already bought their tickets, and the rental apartment, located by Santa Maria Maggiore, reportedly has a terrace. I said if I did go to Rome--I don't know how in hell I could afford to do that too--I would stay with them about a week, at least long enough to attend a Wednesday Papal audience, then take off on my own across Europe, at very least hit Paris, see my Dutch friend Tobias in Amsterdam, then fly out of London. But I'm not holding my breath that I can do that. And I guess Venice, Vienna, and Berlin will have to wait for another time.)

Of course my chief worry is Fred. He's 14 and we've spent less than 14 nights apart in the 10 years we've lived together. We are deeply, co-dependently attached to one another. He has a fit when I'm away for more than eight hours at a stretch. He began pissing the rugs in annoyance in 2004 when I had a part-time job.

I have tortured myself imagining how Fred will take my being away for a week, afraid he'll forget me, or feel so depressed he'll give up his will to live. But everyone has assured me it'll be okay, that he'll handle it well. I was going to leave Fred with my vet friend Tree, but she's not always home. Fortunately my friend Jennifer works from home, and has two Border Collies she keeps inside and walks and plays with frequently, and she's willing to take care of Fred. I am sure he'll enjoy getting to play with some other dogs for a change--I just hope all goes well during the week.

Of course the reunion on the night of the 7th should be something to behold. It'll be like the slow-motion ending of a "Lassie" movie.

Yes, I am 42 years of age and have never been in an airplane. Many people assume that this is because I'm afraid to fly, but actually, it's because I've never had the opportunity. When you're a kid you travel where your parents go, and my parents weren't big on traveling and my mom was afraid of flying. And after I left home I never had enough money to go anywhere.

I am not so much worried about the fact I'm a citizen of the most hated nation on earth, a nation that's too worried about being politically correct and not offending anybody that it won't do searches of suspicious-looking people at airports. Nor am I worried I will be hurtling thousands of miles above the ground in a highly-flammable tin can. No, the things I'm sweating over are the long-ass flight, in tight seats, and getting to the right place in the airport at the right time. I'm very worried about dealing with baggage carousels and losing my luggage. I plan to take one carry-on on the way over, though I expect I'll have to buy another bag over there for my purchases.

So on Monday, February 27, I'll drop off Fred, leave Austin at 1:41pm, arrive at O'Hare at 4:16, leave there at 6:05, and arrive at Charles DeGaulle on Tuesday the 28th at 9:20am. I'll probably take the Metro into Paris, find my hotel or hostel, shower, then go out to greet the city. I'll leave Paris on Monday, March 7th at 2:25pm, arrive at O'Hare at 4:50, and will ideally get through Customs in time to catch my 6:32pm flight which lands in Austin at 9:20pm, soon after which I will re-united with Fred.

We will have exactly seven days. J&N did most of the touristy things the last time they were in Paris, but they want to take it easier this time, even though there are places they want to revisit. James is saving his money for over-priced drinks at the Buddha Bar and other hip joints. He also wants to seek out some absinthe. I might write an article about the latter and try to shop it around.

James says his big thing to see in Europe is churches, and they usually devote the rest of their time to historical museums and art museums at a 50/50 split. James says I would dig the catacombs tour, but strangely enough, I would rather check out the Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Elysees. James is not a big cemetery-goer, but I intend to go see the ones in Montmartre (Truffaut's there, along with Nijinsky and Careme) and Montparnasse (Baudelaire, Sartre, Beckett, Cioran, Cortazar, Duras, de Maupassant, Henri Langlois, and Serge Gainsbourg are there), then Pere-Lachaise if there's time (to see Balzac, Proust, Oscar Wilde, and the Lizard King).

James has no interest in the Pantheon, even though that's right by where we're staying, but I'll have to go in and pay my respects to Zola, Hugo, and Dumas pere. (Okay, I just got off the phone with James and he's willing to see Pere-Lachaise. He was a little surprised I have an agenda for the cemeteries. He just thought I'd walk in and look around, whereas I actually want to look specific people up, maybe put flowers on their graves, and so forth.)

Okay, here is my Paris travel agenda:
--Tuesday--February 28th--
Arrive, go through Customs, take the Metro into town, check into my hotel, shower, then hit Notre-Dame, St. Chappelle (noted for its walls of stained glass), Shakespeare & Company bookstore, St. Julien-le-Pauvre, maybe the Pantheon, and a few other sites in the Latin Quarter, then get to bed fairly early. (We're going to be based in the Latin Quarter, but in separate hotels.) There's a concert commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Michael Haydn, brother of Franz Joseph, at Notre-Dame at 8:30pm, but I don't know if we'll make it.

--Wednesday--March 1st--
Get up early, go to the Ash Wednesday Mass at Notre-Dame, then spend the day at the Louvre, since it's open until 9:45pm on Wednesdays.

--Thursday--March 2nd--
We are unlikely to get to all the things on today's agenda, but I have so much wiggle room during the other days I should be able to see all these things sooner or later. We'll go to St. Sulpice Church and (more importantly for me) the religious antique stores nearby, the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, walk past the Graceland of France, the graffiti-covered home of Serge Gainsbourg, then go to Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides and maybe the War Museum there, the Eiffel Tower, the Musee de Homme at the Palais de Chaillot, and maybe the Balzac house museum (where I should be offered a job as a tour guide because of my resemblance to the great author).

--Friday--March 3rd--
I expect we'll start at the Musee d'Orsay to see the Impressionists, then go to the Arc d'Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, maybe tour La Madeleine Church and the old Garnier Opera (where the Phantom hangs out), stroll through the Place Vendome, then cut through Beauberg and the Marais neighborhoods, before winding up at the Canal St. Martin. We'll probably have dinner up there.

--Saturday--March 4th--
We'll hit Eglise St. Augustin, stroll around Montmartre, tour Sacre Coeur Church, the Montmartre Cemetery, check out the Erik Satie apartment museum (one room--reportedly the smallest museum on earth, so that shouldn't take long to see), and rue Caulaincourt (where a lot of the action in "The 400 Blows" takes place), then maybe take in the Art and Crafts Museum, which has lots of models and gadgets showing how things work. Since J&N don't like modern art, I may spend the afternoon alone, checking out the Musee Picasso and the Pompidou Centre.

--Sunday--March 5th--
I'll try to find a church with a really great musical program for the morning. After that I want to go to Montparnasse Cemetery. James wants me to go to the Catacombs. Then we'll go to the grand Mosque for some mint tea in the garden. I may also go for a sauna and massage there, since the "hammam" is open to men that day. And anyway, after all that damn walking I will certainly be sore, so I can think of no better cure than to let a Middle Easterner in a pair of Joe Namath slingshot briefs have his way with me for three or four hours.

--Monday--March 6th--
J&N are not big cemetery people, but are willing to go with me to Pere-Lachaise. After that I may hit the Jardin Des Plantes, the zoo, and the Natural History Museum. This should be my big mop-up day, where I'll try to catch up on anything I missed. I have a feeling I'll be getting a lot of taxis this day. At night we're going on one of those cruises of the Seine, which are admittedly touristy, but also beautiful.

And of course there's the nightlife. James wants to celebrate his birthday at the Buddha Bar. I'd like to hit some jazz and/or chanson clubs. Our first night in town is the last night for a Robert Wilson production of "Madame Butterfly" at the Bastille Opera, and "Rigoletto" is playing there most of the rest of the week. There's several restaurants I want to try, including one of the famous literary cafes--most likely the Deux Magots--and such country French eateries as Chez Denise and Chez Robert et Louise.

I'd also like to go to a movie, ideally at the legendary Cinematheque Francaise, although it's recently moved from its old home in the Pallais de Chaillot to a Frank Gehry building over in the east part of town. And my old Citysearch copywriter, Seth Sherwood will be busy writing (just coming back from the Middle East and on his way to the US), but he promises we'll have a big night out.

And let's not forget the shopping. We all want to go by the Muji stationery store, as well as the trippy Deyrolle taxidermy shop.

I've never been to a Virgin Megastore, so I want to go to the one on the Champs-Elysees, and I'd like to check out one of the huge old department stores (La Samaritaine is closed indefinitely for repairs), and the old "passages" that Walter Benjamin found so fascinating, that were the forerunners to today's malls. And of course there are the bookstores: Shakespeare and Company, Le Hune, Gibert Jeune, the Red Wheelbarrow, 7L (Karl Lagerfeld's place), and the WH Smith by the Louvre.

(In the next installment, I settle on a hotel, planning, technique, and scheduling problems emerge, and delightful discoveries are made.)


At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cioran site...

At 5:27 PM, Blogger SportyChick said...

Big KUDOS, JS, for exploring. Paris is amazing. Soak it all in, try everything once, spend time doing nothing but sitting at cafes facing the street and looking at people, and stay at least one night in the best hotel there is (Hôtel Plaza Athénée gets my vote). And get a big gulp of cigarette-free air before you go. Umm, unless you smoke in which case you'll be in hog heaven.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

I used to smoke, for 20 years in fact, but quit after a five-week bout with flu and pneumonia. Damn shame really, as I'd love to stroll the rainy streets of Paris at night with a Gitane hanging off my lip like I was Jean Gabin or Belmondo or somebody. As it is now, I managed to not get lung cancer, but I've had fluid in my lungs off and on ever since quitting.

I'll actually be staying at a cheap but funky old hotel, since I don't expect to stay in my room much. I'm going to be pissing away so much money in every other way I thought I'd economize there. But I'll hold forth on that in the next blog, assuming I get it sent to Triple J before I leave.

As for Cioran, well, a writer friend, Todd Smith, turned me on to Cioran's writings. Todd blew his brains out with a sawed-off shotgun ten years ago this April, and I had hoped to read a Cioran passage at his funeral. (He'd caught his fiancee fucking one of his friends in what was to be their matrimonial bed, then went into a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol.)

Todd was an atheist/agnostic, but his family turned the service into a big Southern Baptist thing, with hymns and crappy VH-1 songs he would've hated. His mom asked me if I wanted to say anything, just as I walked into the chapel, but I didn't have the book with me, and am not good at extemporaneous eulogies. I knew had I asked them in advance they would've allowed me to speak, but I figured the funeral wasn't about me or making me happy, it was about them and Todd.

As it turned out,though, the funeral was an atrocity--it had nothing at all to do with what Todd was really like. At the reception afterwards I was the only one of Todd's friends who got to read his suicide note--that was pretty intense. I've always said if I ever become a famous writer I'm gonna use my pull to get his novel published.

So yeah, I'd like to visit Cioran's grave, as a gesture to Todd's memory if nothing else.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger tj1972 said...

Can't wait to read your observations of Paris. You should get a webcam for Fred.

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

Have a great time...I like that city quite a bit. Its where my kin are from.

BTW, I spent an hour in that Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Elysees you mention. I looked for every Athens, GA obscure band I could. They surprisingly had a bunch too.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

See, that's one of the things my buddy James and I are going round and round about. He doesn't understand why I would even want to go into a Virgin Megastore. He says he's been in that one and "They have pretty much the same stuff every record store everywhere else does."

I'm thinking that's not so. I'm thinking the selection will be huge, with all sorts of obscurities I can't find easily over here. And anyway, I'm a magazine junkie. I've gotta hit Virgin and WH Smith and see the magazines. I've never been to a place that stocks as large and diverse an array of magazines as would suit me.

A Fred webcam would be good, though I would be tempted to check it too often. At the same time, a webcam image of Fred wouldn't be that much different from a still photo, considering how sedentary he is.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger incognato said...

have a good time in Pareee!

I suggest a drink or two on the flight, then sleep.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Incognato, you'd be pleased to hear my friend James says the neighborhood we'll be in is full of French comic book shops. The special thing about that is their comics come hard-bound. I asked if French comic book geeks look the same as American ones. He said they did, but have a higher level of hygiene.

At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The top of the Sacre Cour has an incredible view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower. One of my favorite spots in the whole city. Worth every stair.

Get to the Musee d'Orsay early. The line wraps around the blcok very quickly.

Go to the Champs-Elysees late in the afternoon. Then you can see it in the day, dusk and night in just a few hours. It is very beautiful and different at each time.

At 8:59 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

I will apparently be alone for 50% or more of the trip, as my friends aren't big on shopping or dining out, and there are certain museums they either do not want to see or have seen already and do not care to see again, because they either dislike modern art, are bored with impressionism, or have had their fill of 18th century painting.

We will spend a day at the Louvre, though maybe in different galleries, but they're not interested in the Musee d'Orsay, Les Invalides/Army Museum, Picasso, or Pompidou. I will go with them to the Catacombs, but am actually more interested in Montparnasse Cemetery a few blocks away.

I'm definitely getting the week-long museum pass, so I can skip all the lines, though I'm hoping here in the off-season the lines won't be so bad. I don't mind the weather being all overcast as long as it's not too cold, since the weather in Paris always seems overcast in all those old French New Wave movies I've been watching lately.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

because i get bored at museums i like the smaller places like the jeu de paume or the musee rodin -- they have great collections and you can buzz through and be smoking your gitanes before your next nicotine fix kicks in. also, since you seem big on movies, paris is one of the best places to see movies -- there are an unbelievable number of movies playing all over the city -- and always subtitled. i know -- first trip to paris, why would you want to spend it in a movie theater -- but some downtime is nice too.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Actually, movie-going is definitely on my agenda. They moved the legendary Cinematheque Francaise, but I might be able to make it to some of the revival houses in the Latin Quarter where I'll be staying, including one that Truffaut used to manage. And the Centre Pompidou will be wrapping up their Scorsese retrospective while I'm there. Of course, I don't expect Paris movie-going to lead me into some wild menage-a-trois the way it did with that kid in "The Dreamers," but if Gerard Depardieu can be a sex symbol in France, why can't I?

At 12:58 PM, Blogger princessmalin said...

you must go somewhere, anywhere, and order a pain-au-chocolat and a cafe-au-lait.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

That's pretty much what I have on tap for breakfast every day. My friends are not big foodies and are scared of French food, so I expect to be eating on my own a lot. My plan is to get up early and for a week be a regular in the neighborhood cafe.

I've also heard the Laduree shop on the Champs-Elysees has macaroons that make the giggly Japanese tourist girls squeal and scream with delight.

I'm gonna try to eat in more country French/regular home-style places than in the really fancy ones. Sadly, my friends plan to mainly get food at the grocery store and eat in their rooms.

At 11:17 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Anybody have any foot care ideas? I have a broken-in pair of Docs I'm wearing, and even bought special, pricey wool walking socks from REI, but the gel insoles I bought aren't worth a damn. I've heard Paris is all about walking.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger SportyChick said...

Just wear what you normally wear and don't try to break in anything new two days before your trip.

For tons and tons of suggestions and a forum to ask questions of avid travelers, look at the Fodors talk section on Europe:

Bon Voyage!

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Martin McFriend said...

Tell everyone you meet on the street that you are from Texas and you "love the shit out of this place."

Safe travels.

At 7:03 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

I just hope when they learn I'm from Austin they don't ask me a lot about Lance Armstrong, because I don't know and don't follow the Tour De France.

Somebody on message board suggested I go into the suburbs waving a Danish flag and see what happens.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger CHW said...

Man, order a crepe from the street damn good.

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

couple suggestions -- feel free to modify as suits the situation --

-- wear a black beret, a shirt with 3/4 length sleeves and bold red horizontal stripes with black capri pants and tell people you just want to "blend in"...

-- if you run into any americans studying in their junior year abroad at the sorbonne and they say things like "even if i haven't eaten, just sitting in a cafe with a demi-tasse people watching fills me all the nourishment i need" or "americans are so crass and provincial and sexually repressed compared to people on the continent", remind them that george w. has really turned things around in the last couple months and things are definitely looking up stateside. Maybe add a "yeehaw" for punctuation, since you're from texas.

-- when you talk to parisians, tell them it's nice to meet some "real frogs", then punch them in the arm and tell them you're just joshin'....

-- everytime you're on the metro (use an atm, see someone on their cell phone), say loudly "i can't believe you people have a subway (atms, cell phones), too!"...

At 11:26 AM, Blogger sasefina said...

Don't skip the Musee D'Orsay. Stunning.

And walk along the Seine! Hope you have a few nice weather days there. I would say a sporty sneaker is the way to go -- white sneakers just scream tourist over there.

Bon voyage!

At 3:54 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Had I gone to France just a few years ago and everyone discovered I was from Texas I'd have had to answer questions about JR Ewing and Southfork Ranch. Now, instead, I have Bush to answer for.

I'll probably dress more or less all in black, so as to be able to recycle the fewest amount of clothes in seven days. I'd rather take seven days worth of clothes, but won't have the room in one bag--I want to travel light.

Knowing my seething hatred of cell phones, I would be more likely to say,"Oh Christ! You have those fucking things here too? I thought Europe was supposed to be civilized."

Walk along the Seine--hell, I can piss in it from where I'll be staying. I'm maybe two blocks from the front of Notre-Dame, in the Latin Quarter.

My friends have no interest in modern art or the impressionists, so I'll probably go see Musee d'Orsay by myself.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

I will confine my speaking to just laughing "Huh huh huh" like Maurice Chevalier.

At 5:24 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Here is a jaw-dropping 360-degree photo of Paris at night, taken from a roof next to Notre-Dame. Scroll to the side to see more.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

And hey--here's the link that people who are not dumb asses know to provide:

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad Mommy found out!


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