The Grumpy Guide to Paris
Recently, I had the honor of spending a week in Paris, a majestic city in Europe, where I had a variety of experiences. Paris is the City of Lights, the Capital of Europe, the Windy City, the Big Easy, Cheesetown, and the Hog Butcher to the World. It is a favored destination for American tourists and German armies alike, and I have obtained valuable intelligence which may assist anyone who wishes to visit this magical place.
At several points in this article, I will reference interesting locations and shops, which you too may visit. I will not dwell on this information overmuch in the body of the article, as it would interfere with my main purpose, which is to work through certain poisonous psychological issues.
First, you may ask, why should I visit Paris as opposed to some other well known location like, say, Afghanistan? Well,
Why You Should Go To Paris Instead of Afghanistan
1. Human life has value in Paris.
2. The health care. In Paris, there is some.
3. Ladies! Veils aren't mandatory!
4. Both countries have many interesting, ancient works of art. Paris puts them in buildings and lets you look at them for a reasonable fee. Afghanistan blows them up with rocket launchers.
I think you will agree that Paris, by and large, is the place to go.
But, once there, what can you attempt to experience? A number of things are listed below. With each, I have presented an estimated S&K Factor. S&K stands for Snails and Kidneys. The S&K factor of a location is equal to the average fraction of people passing through these on a given year who are, to the untrained ear (such as mine), indistinguishable from being French. For example, the Eiffel Tower might have an S&K as low as 0.05, while a stinky cheese shop at the ass end of nowhere might have an S&K as high as 0.99.
The Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe. Notre Dame. (S&K = 0.05 - 0.1)
The Stations of the Cross for any visitor to Paris. These are big things with lots of stairs. You take pictures of them. You climb up them. You take more pictures. You move on. Their key purpose is to serve as flytraps for visitors and keep them away from the real Parisians as much as possible. Parisians spend as much time at these places as the average New Yorker spends hanging around the Empire State Building. Zero.
These spots are for the rubes. However, if you go home without pictures of them, you'll feel like a jackass. So blast through them as quickly as possible.
Museums (S&K = 0.05 for the Louvre up to as high at 0.8 for the Pompidou)
The warehouses in which our mutual, rich human heritage is stored. Get an all-day museum pass and you can enter without waiting in line. Blasting past a mile long line of idiots and waltzing right in is frequently more entertaining than anything inside the actual museum.
There are three sorts of museums:
Old Crap (e.g. the Louvre) - Ancient statues of naked goddesses and uncircumcised men. The Mona Lisa and other things you want to see because you've actually heard of them. Rows of paintings with names like Madonna With Child, Madonna With Child on Shoulder, Madonna With Child In Beige Room, Madonna With Child On Flaming Stick, and so on. Many works of awe-inspiring intricacy and beauty.
True Parisians avoid this stuff like the plague.
19th Century Crap (e.g. The Orsay, The Rodin Museum) - Impressionism. Post-impressionism. Pre-impressionism. Cathedrals painted entirely out of dots. Naked chicks picnicking with fully clothed men. Stuff that doesn't look exactly like it’s supposed to, and, yet, due to the skill of the artist, actually manages to look more like what it's supposed to than an exact image. Many works of awe-inspiring intricacy and beauty.
True Parisians avoid this stuff like the plague.
Modern Crap (e.g. The Picasso Museum, the Pompidou) - Women who look like squares. Random painted squiggles. Paintings that are white on a different shade of white. Paintings that are all black. Paintings that look like spew on a board.
If you want a museum full of actual Parisians, go to the Pompidou, the primary repository of Modern Art. When I was there, in March, you could immediately enter any museum in Paris except the Pompidou. There, the line was around the block.
If you go to Paris, by all means visit the Pompidou. There, you will experience the highest purpose of art: making you feel stupid.
The Metro (S&K 0.9 - 0.99)
People in Paris don't drive, or, at least, don't drive in any way we understand it. They drive tiny cars, for which gas costs like $80 a gallon, and they park in the street so tightly packed together that they can't get their cars out without a crowbar and a gallon of Crisco.
That is why they, and you, if you know what's good for you, will use the Metro to get around as much as possible. The Metro is the Paris Subway system. It goes just about everywhere, and does so very quickly.
This is a great chance to observe Parisians being all French. You will frequently see them reading on the subway. They will read serious books, with lots of words and no pictures, like Camus and Proust. In the U.S, by comparison, the average person is struggling through the latest Garfield collections or Chicken Soup For the Simpleminded Soul. We shouldn't feel bad, though. In Japan, on the other hand, they read comic books in which schoolgirls are violated by giant tentacles. So all in all, it could be worse.
Frequently, musicians will board your train and start playing the accordion. They want you to give them money. At first, you may be afraid that this is genuine local color and that, as a tourist, you have to like it. Relax. Watch the genuine French people on the train avert their eyes and you will see that true Parisians wish for the musicians to be struck with sudden, music-impairing embolisms no less fervently than you do.
Restaurants (S&K = 0.5 to 0.95, depending on how far you get from tourist areas)
If you don't like French food, you don't like food.
French food has a reputation in the US as being insubstantial, fruity stuff. A little glob of goo in the middle of a big plate. Do not be fooled. The mainstay French dishes are:
Steak Frites - Steak with french fries.
Croque Monsieur - A ham sandwich with cheese.
Croque Madame - A ham sandwich with cheese, with a FRIED EGG on top.
Think about this. The French are the only people on Earth who can look at a ham sandwich, dripping with cheese, and go, "You know what that needs? A FRIED EGG."
There are two keys to getting a good meal in Paris. First, get away from the tourists. Most restaurants in touristy areas are full of crappy food and staff who hates you for eating it and themselves for serving it. The negative vortex of psychic energy will be almost enough to distract you from the fact that the duck, the veal, and the salmon are covered with the same beige sauce.
When you're far enough away from the tourists, you will be able to tell because nobody is speaking English. This is why the second thing you need is a book which helps you translate the menu. This is very important. You may know that "veau" means veal, but, unless you know that that word next to it, "rognon", means kidneys, your food experience may take a sudden, terrifying turn
If God meant us to eat kidneys, he would have had McDonalds serve them in little styrofoam boxes.
Also, be warned. The French don't serve ice in drinks. Only rarely will they be able to provide ice, even if you request it. If you do request it, you will often get a disdainful look. This is why I recommend the first sentence everyone learn in French is, "You're not the boss of me."
Pigalle (S&K = 0.25)
Pigalle is the infamous and sleazy red light district, where small, homey strip clubs rub shoulders with intimate, historical peep shows. Parisian artisans show off their fine, hand-crafted porn, and everywhere there is the buzz of hard work and industry, the industry in question being helping tourists to masturbate.
Though Pigalle is almost entirely frequented by tourists, you will see the occasional French speaker among the clientele. After all, French men need DVDs of hot lesbians just as much as everyone else.
One worthwhile stop in Pigalle is La Museum Erotique. It's only a few bucks to get in, and a bunch of the exhibits are neat. Plus, they show constant videotapes of European pornographic films from the 20s and 30s, which, for my money, is the greatest entertainment you can find on God's green Earth.
Cafes (S&K = 0.9 - 1.0)
You can't make it ten feet in France without finding a café. A café is, basically, a smoky Starbucks with booze. In the morning, you can stop in for some probably good espresso and a baguette. In the afternoon, they will happily make you a sandwich. And, at night, you can chain smoke and drink hard liquor.
One of the most important qualities of cafes is that their food is usually, well, bad. Eating in one is an excellent way to remind yourself that France does not exist inside some magical, all-consuming "good food" cloud. However, when actual French people come in, sit down, and pay good money for inedible slop, you should resist the urge to wave your arms and shout, "What are you thinking? You're French and you eat this crap? Run for your lives!"
Food Shops (S&K = 0.8 - 0.99)
Going into some of the nearly infinite range of Parisian bakeries and charcuteries (butcher shops) is a great way to sample the local culture and avoid stupid tourists. No trip to Paris is complete without entering a small food shop and smack into a wall of thick cured meat and stinky cheese smell. Once you can absorb this all-powerful aroma and think, "Yum!" as opposed to, "What died?", you are that much closer to truly belonging.
French food shops provide many opportunities unavailable to the American shopper. For example, cheese made from unpasteurized milk is mostly banned in the U.S., but common in Paris. Raw milk cheese is a great time saver for busy souls who are tired of digesting their own food and wish that it would just digest itself on the plate in front of them.
While in Paris, we also stopped in the Maison du Miel, (House of Honey). It was a small boutique dedicated to all things honey. There, we tasted a variety of different honeys, made from a wide range of different plants, some of which weren't exactly appropriate for the task. Some of the honeys tasted like orange or lavender, while others tasted like cough medicine, or ass.
Wander the streets at random and you will find many fascinating things. Whether you're after chocolate, wine, oil squeezed out of things you didn't know had oil, or meat with the hoof still on it, Paris is the place to go.
Yes, Paris is a land of magic and opportunity. The food is great. The old stuff is great. There are naked chicks on the posters in the subway. It is not Afghanistan. And you can buy honey so bitter it'll curl your short hairs.
Finally, please remember, when visiting, not to be an ugly American. Say "please" and "thank you", smile a lot, and choke down the kidneys. If you think any mean thoughts, please refrain from expressing them in any way.
There will be plenty of time for that when you get home.
Like computer games? A great fantasy adventure awaits you here.