Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | June 15, 2010

Parisian Lost and Found

I got lost in Paris. And I don’t mean “got lost” as in got carried away, became immersed in my surroundings, became one with the city. I mean, quite literally, I couldn’t figure out where I was.

According to my training schedule, I was supposed to go for a long run. However, between jet lag and disorganization, I wasn’t feeling fully motivated. I was running along the Seine trying to get my head in the game when I looked across the river and noticed the road along the Seine was filled with cyclists and roller-bladers. I had forgotten it was Sunday, and on Sunday the road is closed to automobile traffic. I immediately knew what I had to do: ditch the run, get a bike and head along the river.

If you have been to Paris lately, you know that they have this wonderful Velib program, a low-cost, public, self-serve bicycle rental program. Bikes are located throughout the city, you pay a small amount at an automated kiosk to rent them for a short time, and you can return them to any Velib kiosk, located throughout the city, when you are done. It took me a little while to figure out how to work the system, but before I knew it, I was on my clunker and coasting down the road.

I spent some time watching other cyclists in order to figure out the traffic-rule norms, because I always try conform to the local customs. Yes, I know cyclists all over the world technically should follow the rules of the road according to the letter of the law, but I also know that generally doesn’t happen.  I wanted to see what the standard acceptable behavior was in Paris regarding red lights, sidewalk riding, lane usage, etc.  Not surprising, since it is Paris, it was pretty much a free for all (although it was very orderly compared to Hanoi, thank heaven).

After internalizing the local riding standards (in other words, realizing that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted within reason), I decided to explore the surrounding neighborhood. Well, perhaps saying I “decided” to explore the neighborhood would be overstating my intent. I inadvertently explored the neighborhood. I kept getting stuck in the right turn lane and was too chicken to move out to the left lane. I figured right, right, right and straight would be the same as turning left, correct? Ah, wrong. So very wrong. I kept finding myself in various “places” or near attractions that I could identify, but I had no idea how I got there. Sometimes I simply had no clue where I was.

The nice thing about being by myself was that I didn’t really care. If I had been with someone else, I would have felt a twinge of compunction about getting so terribly lost. But since I was the only one affected by my directional mistakes, I didn’t feel bad at all. In fact, it was rather enjoyable. I biked down little streets I never would have ventured on otherwise. I saw some sights from completely different angles. I almost ran into a lamp-post while trying to ride and sightsee at the same time, but other than that there were no mishaps. After several thoroughly enjoyable wrong turns, a couple of sheepish wrong-ways and many quick u-turns, I finally made it to the Seine and down along the river.

Parisians and tourists alike were out in full force. As you would expect in Paris, there were hordes of young couples holding hands and kissing. There were families out and about, parents strolling along slowly while children weaved ahead on small bicycles. There were hundreds of adorable, pampered little dogs running about, pooping at will with no one picking up after them. There were cyclists, roller-bladers, runners, and some guy running with something similar to Kangoo Jumps but much taller (the footwear, not the guy, although he might have been tall too, I didn’t really notice).  At various points along the banks of the river, people had stopped to have picnics in the warm afternoon sun. And because its Paris, there were, again, lots of couples kissing.

I decided that a river front picnic was a capital idea, so I hopped up to the surface streets, deposited my Velib, and picked up a Camembert sandwich. God Bless the French for thinking up the Camembert sandwich. I returned to the river bank, found an empty bench (no small feat), and enjoyed the scene on the Seine.  The Bateaux Mouches, crammed with tourists, passed slowly by, with passengers waving enthusiastically from the upper deck (clearly, they were not French).  Several private passenger boats glided past. On many of those boats there were, naturally, couples kissing. Good Lord, don’t you people ever take a break?

The sun was high in the sky, but a thin veil of clouds kept the temperature steady and mild. A light breeze floated down the river. The sounds of people chatting, children giggling, and waves lapping mingled together into a background hum. After finishing my Camembert sandwich and making a mental note to incorporate them into my regular diet back home, I went up to stroll along the upper road of the Seine and peruse the bookstalls. Most of the titles, of course, meant nothing to me. However, part of the fun was watching other treasure hunters searching the displays, intently scanning the spines of the books and suddenly grabbing one off the shelf for closer inspection. Book hunters are the same everywhere.

Eventually, I found another Velib kiosk and continued my bike ride. I followed the road along the Seine until it merged with the surface streets. I continued east a little further out of the city center, since I had nothing better to do. Finally, as the afternoon waned on, I turned and headed back to my hotel. Fortunately, I knew where I was going for the most part, and I managed to navigate the roads effectively.  As the song says, I once was lost, but now am found. Which is a good thing, I wouldn’t want to get lost again and miss dinner.


Responses

  1. I love the title of this one!


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