The night I left for France was actually in the morning. I stayed up until three to catch a cab. I woke Tina so she could lock the door and ventured out into the cold, wearing my suit jacket over a sweater (You see, I had no coat at the time). My host mother’s always criticized me and told me I needed to buy a jacket. “In Paris my mom will bring me one!” I repeated time after time. At three in the morning, with my breath visible before me, I would have definitely appreciated the jacket.
I wandered down the street, looking for cabs. Seeing none, I headed over to the busier street a block or so away. Two cabs turned on to my street and drove past me. I waved them both down, but neither was vacant. Regardless, one driver signaled that he would turn around and pick me up once he’d discharged his current client. I waited on the side of the road until I saw him coming back for me. As I got my gear ready and stepped toward the street, a woman came out of nowhere and hailed him from between two parked cars. It was 3:06 am in Mukhiani and my freaking cab had just been stolen out from under my nose. What the hell are the chances?
I quickly found a new cab and he agreed to take me to the airport for twenty lari. Not a bad price from where I live! We got to chatting as he drove past the Tbilisi Sea along (as Cristen pointed out) “the sketchiest route ever!” He told me about all the old problems of Georgia in the nineties and what a huge step backwards the country had taken since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For example, he’d been some sort of economist in charge of importing paper products to Tbilisi from the rest of the USSR (Mikheil Scottshvili?) and now he was “reduced to driving a taxi at night while my family sleeps.” It’s actually a rather sad reality throughout the entire former Soviet Union. I won’t dive into a discussion of post-Soviet economics and the effect that the collapse had on the Republics’ political, social, and economic well-being though I may seriously want to. Less weighty topics are at hand!
More happily, he told me about how his daughter had gone off to get her masters in Germany and met a nice Germany boy whom she’d since married. They come to visit for a month each year because the German wants to live in Tbilisi rather than Bremen. The wife disagrees. As these things often go, I suppose (having never been actually married [only married on stage or pseudo-Georgian-married]), the wife holds the real power in the marriage.
The Tbilisi airport is a curious beast. I learned from my cabby that it was built by the Turks (“Lord knows we Georgians could’ve used the construction jobs!”) a few years ago and it’s quite modern. For some reason most of the flights arrive and depart between the hours of 3 and 6 am. I suspect that it’s out of deference to Europe. If you leave Europe at a reasonable time you land in Tbilisi at three and if you leave Tbilisi at three you land in Europe at a reasonable time. It’s a vicious cycle (Not to be confused with a viscous cycle).
Therefore, the Tbilisi airport is surprisingly busy during the witching hours. This isn’t typically a problem, as the Tbilisi airport is pretty small. So I hurried my way through passport control and security to wait, dozing, in a chair by the gate and listening to Let It Be. Not a bad way to pass forty five minutes.
Moving right along here, we landed in Poland and remained there for a few hours. Here’s a photo of Poland at 6 am. I took this for you, Ian and Pauli.
Moving right along here, I arrived in Paris, France around 11:30, finding my way to the Rue Serpente where the hotel was located. When I entered the hotel, I asked the clerk in rusty French whether my mother and brother were there. He said they were out but that I could leave my bags in the room. I did and headed out on the town. I threw my windbreaker on underneath my suit jacket (Fucking classy.) to ward off the cold and wandered out into the streets of Paris in search of Notre Dame de Paris, which a street map had led me to believe was nearby. Long story short, I found it.
I walked past the statue of Charlemagne and his buddies, tailing some soldiers with enormous automatic rifles, and headed towards the entrance of the great cathedral.
I wandered around the cathedral by myself, taking photos of the Rose Window, a statue of Jeanne d’Arc, and some penitent Catholics. Just kidding! I didn’t take pictures of people at prayer. That seems crass. I left Notre Dame behind me and wandered off towards the Seine. I figured I’d take a more circuitous route back to the hotel.
Beggars in Georgia can be a bothersome bunch. Lots of gypsy children get very aggressive on the street and many other beggars use the popular hold-out-a-picture-of-a-saint or have-a-visible-disability method. It’s usually rather heart-wrenching and hopefully effective. In Paris there are a few different tactics that I saw. One in particular was completely new to me. I call it, “Snuggling adorable puppies.” Along the Seine I saw one woman sitting in a folding chair with a blanket wrapped tightly around herself and her sleeping pooch. The dog’s head was all that stuck out from the blanket as it nuzzled into its masters neck. The woman seemed to be asleep to. All she had to do was look adorable with her puppy to garner people’s sympathy. It was not an entirely uncommon practice either, from what I saw.
I continued to wander the streets, vaguely searching for my hotel, but mostly enjoying the sights and sounds of the City of Lights. The neighborhood we were staying in was a curious area chock full of cathedrals and comic shops. It seemed like a Catholic nerd’s paradise. Well, if said nerd speaks French, anyway.
I checked in at the hotel to find my family still missing. Though I had gotten from the airport to the hotel with little trouble, I was a bit worried about my sister. She’s 21 and can certainly handle herself in a foreign country (She even got freaking thumb surgery in China. Now that’s hardcore.), but she doesn’t speak a word of French, beyond what she picked up from those old Muzzy commercials. She’s cleverly bastardized them to enable her to say things like, “Je suis ta jeune fille!” She can also curse a little, say hello and thank you, and point out that she doesn’t speak French (Prompting one café proprietor to quip “C’est claire.”). Unbeknownst to me, she was already happily united with my brother and mom.
I saw a sign for “National Medieval Museum” which piqued my interest (Yes, I’m a nerd. I also love Star Wars. Deal with it.) and so I spiraled towards it, taking winding side-roads and short detours throughout my journey.
I arrived at the former-Roman bathhouse and tried to weasel my way into a cheaper ticket price. “Can I have a reduced-fee ticket, please?” “Why?” “Uhhh, because I want one?” I offered with a sheepish shrug. The French ticket salesman laughed and asked, “Are you a citizen of the EU or a student in it?” “I’m an American who is teaching English in Georgia, does that count?” “Hahahaha, no. But I’ll give it to you anyway.” Sweet! Saved myself like a two Euros!
I wandered around the museum, taking note of the religious knick knacks, the Roman busts, and the golden Slovakian temporary exhibit. One item on display caught my eye, as it reminded me of Georgia:
The French must’ve learned how to party from the Georgians! I moved on, past a bevy of saintly statues and noticed a particularly creepy one against the wall:
Some adorable French schoolchildren sprawled themselves across the floor in several of the museum’s rooms, sketching the pieces therein. It was a phenomenon I grew used to in my brief time in France.
I finally left the museum and headed home towards the hotel once more. The clerk pointed to the space where the key to the room hung, indicating that the key was missing. He nodded and said that my family was upstairs. I was hoping to surprise them with my return and so was a bit disappointed when they were all basically napping. Myles especially was pooped, having stayed up all night two nights in a row for the Cast Party then a Red-Eye flight. Silly boy. I ate some Oreos and Rebecca and I went out for coffee, instead of napping.
After a nice sibling chat, we returned to rouse our family. Everyone got dressed nicely and we went to a fancy-ass restaurant.
This was my first restaurant experience in France. My vastly more franco-experienced mother told us that we were obscenely early. As I hadn’t eaten much and was operating three timezones ahead, I had a hard time believing her. Until we walked in the back door of the restaurant and discovered the staff enjoying a meal before dinner started. Nonetheless, we were right on time for our super-early reservation, so they seated us.
I didn’t have anything for the coat-check girl to take from me, but she was really quite good-looking, so I handed over my scarf. That’s just an aside with no purpose, other than to let me mention the attractive young French lady. There are lots of them in France! None of them seemed impressed with my windbreaker, though. Clearly not the girls for me. (Note: I did not wear my windbreaker to Thanksgiving dinner.)
We ordered some delicious non-Georgian food and shared a laugh over the useless languages we could collectively bring to the table. (To brag for a moment, between my sister and me we speak six languages, including Chinese and Georgian—two languages that aren’t terribly useful at centuries-old French restaurants.) My sister enjoyed the English, Spanish, and Chinese menus, opting not to try to “Little Cow Head,” which translated from Chinese means, “Boiled calf’s head,” and we all ended up with some delicious stuff!
Admittedly, this was already somewhat of a non-traditional Thanksgiving (Fancy food in France? You mean the Pilgrims didn’t do that?), but in an effort to be as festive as possible, I ordered duck shepherds’ pie (It has fowl in it!) It was soo good.
We had a nice bottle of wine as well, which was another nice change of pace from Georgian wine. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about Georgian wine in depth, so I will now! Georgian wine is really tasty. It’s usually home-made, especially the further afield you live. Whenever I visit Zugdidi, Marissa’s host dad wants to share his latest batch of wine with me. We even got to see where and how he makes the wine that time we went to the village. The thing is, with Georgian wine, you toast and you down it. You take shots of wine. Big shots. And, as I learned last night, you cannot stop. There’s a certain order to the toasts and the third one is usually to the dead. You CAN NOT STOP DRINKING after toasting the dead. It’s probably the worst luck you can have. You have to at least wait until you’ve toasted the living. That means if you’re drinking with Georgians you can count on a four-drink minimum.
In France, you sip your wine daintily. That’s something I had been more accustomed to from my regular life. It was somewhat surprising to get back into the groove of things, but very pleasant to slowly enjoy my wine, rather than going “bolombe” with each drink.
We wandered home, via a used bookstore, and crashed pretty early for the night. We only had two and a half days left in France and a lot to do and see, so we had to make sure we used our daylight hours wisely.