19 April – in Paris

We have arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris after a mostly smooth flight and there on the baggage carousel, after a few anxious minutes, is my backpack in its nondescript black bag with a rainbow baggage strap. That is one concern put to rest.

Then I pick up SIM cards for my phone and my iPad. Here’s something new: when you buy a SIM card now, you have to register it with photo ID within 15 days or it is deactivated. Probably it’s something to do with counter-terrorism.

The next move is to go outside and find a taxi. Last year when I was here I found a bus, but finding it and taking it into the city took about three hours. The taxi from the airport is a little pricey, 70 Euros, but it is worth it for the Le Mans ride the driver gives me. On the major roads, motorcycles drive not in the lanes but on the lane markings, so they weave in and out of traffic, with inches to spare, at a very high rate of speed. And we drive along beside the Seine and past the Eiffel tower. It’s still huge as you get close to it.

There are a lot of construction cranes everywhere and barges full of sand and gravel on the Seine, so I don’t think that the economy is quite as bad here as we read in the North American papers.

The hotel is directly across the road from the Tour Montparnasse, a black highrise office tower of perhaps 60 stories that is completely out of character with the neighbourhood, and very close to the Montparnasse train station, not the Bercy station that I thought I was booking near. Right city, wrong train station. This is the second time in less than a month that I have booked the wrong location on line. The other one was much worse.

I was trying to book a small Austrian resort, the Salzberger Hof Resort in Batchawana Bay on the Eastern shore of Lake Superior for a couple of days in August. From their website I was taken to another, booking.com, where I entered data into the right fields and was finally rewarded with my confirmed reservation for the Salzberger Hof, only this one WAS in Austria. It took me several emails to Austria and to booking.com to get that sorted out and the Austrian place informed me that I should know that Austria is not in Canada.

I expect to spend a quiet day here. The weather is cool, partly cloudy but not raining, so that’s a plus. I will be off tomorrow morning by train for points south. I am anxious to get on the road. I sleep for a few hours, then go out to find something to eat.

At 7 pm I am sitting in a little bistro, the Odessa, facing out to watch the fascinating people as they walk by. It’s cool and raining lightly, but turns sunny as the evening progresses. Fashion sense is still good here. Most people are in pants, jeans, etc but every once in a while a fashionista walks by. There is one, an older woman, head held regally high in a stunning patterned yellow jacket and skirt. She could be on a fashion show runway anywhere. People are smoking, walking dogs, carrying baguettes – so it is not just an old myth. There are very very few overweight, none obese. North American agribusiness has not penetrated here … yet. I see only one identifiable Muslim in the passers-by, although the pleasant and helpful hotel clerk is Mohammad, which is a clue. This is not a good place to jaywalk. Cars and motorcycles are fast and the roads narrow.

I am absorbing the sounds, smells, feel of Paris as I sit here. An old couple goes by, arm in arm, laughing. It reminds me of Carroll and me. We are so lucky. Almost 54 years married and still best friends.

Off to bed. We will see what tomorrow brings. All being well, I will be at La Ferme Barry in Aumont-Aubrac in time for dinner, for which Vincente, the owner, is justly famous (I ate there last year but we could not get accommodation.)

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