March 10, 2008
Today, the patrons were free during the morning to shop and tour Paris on their own. That meant that I was also free to fill my first day in Paris. Trying to decide what to do first in the city of my dreams was an overwhelming task, especially after traveling through two other amazing cities in the last four days and battling a cold which seemed to be enjoying this trip too much to leave.
A few days before I left Los Angeles, I read an article in the LA Times which focused on helping people make the decision to live outside of their home country. In the article, there was a recommended list of things that a person should do when considering if another country/city would make an appropriate new home. The list encapsulated ways to explore how everyday life, which is eventually mundane no matter where you live, would feel in this potential new home. The best way to do this, the article stated, was to skip some of the tourist attractions, which you would doubtfully stop visiting after the first few months in your new home, and instead visit some of the places you would need to go to on a regular basis – laundromats, post offices, libraries, grocery stores, etc. So, on my first full day in Paris I decided – inspired by this article and my dwindling supply of clean underwear – to visit a laundromat.
The concierge at the Paris Hilton was amused when I used an awkward combination of bad English and French to ask if there was a nearby place where I could ‘self wash’ my clothes. “You want to do it yourself? We have laundry service at the hotel” He said with a bemused look which seemed to say, strange American. After I restated my request, he grabbed a map of the area and clearly showed me the two nearest lavanderies. I asked if I would be able to buy soap at the laundromat, and getting into the spirit of my plan, he suggested that I stop at a nearby supermarket and buy the soap powder for less than I would spend at the laundromat.
My adventure was slightly delayed by a conversation I had with Garrit Jan – a Travtours employee who was traveling with the Orchestra – about helping one of our patrons change her flight back to Los Angeles. He generously took time out from securing the arrangements for the Orchestra – arriving later that afternoon – to personally help me accomplish this task. Afterwards, I left the hotel with a small bag in tow.
I easily found the supermarket that the concierge had mentioned, and I thoroughly enjoyed having so many reasonable choices at my disposal after four days of dealing with the constraints and offensive prices of hotel minibars and airport cafes. I grabbed what I guessed was something similar to Tide for colors, which read MiR couleurs, a bottle of water, and some more batteries for my camera.
Finding the lavanderie was a bit more difficult. After I wandered down a couple of rues, I was surprised to find “Laverie” just as I was about to check my map again. Laverie looked tres pitiful from the outside. Inside, I panicked a bit when I saw that all the signs were in French and the washing machines didn’t have coin slots, so I decided to ask the attendant for help. She looked flustered and a bit annoyed when it became obvious that I didn’t speak French since she did not speak English.
Determined to figure this out or ruin my clothes in the process, I watched some of the other customers and slowly started to realize that the machines were controlled by a central machine, similar to the ones you’ll find at an Arco gas station. I put my clothes in one of the washers, added the soap – the compartments were clearly labeled – and typed the number of the washer into the central machine. It asked for 4 euro and 30 cents which was vastly more expensive than the washers I’d used in America, but still considerably less than the 5 euro per blouse that the hotel’s laundry service would have charged me. As soon as I entered the last twenty cents, the washer started and I enjoyed a brief moment of satisfaction before I realize that I had forgotten to select the appropriate water temperature. I paused momentarily before selecting the “45 degree/60 degree” button on the machine. I realized later, when I went to dry my clothes, why the degree button caught me off guard. The dryers and several labels on the washer were in English and the machines were apparently from America. Michael Rosen would later comment, as I relayed this story to him, that if the instructions to clean the machines were in English that it was doubtful that the machines were ever cleaned or at least not properly. He compared it to what would happen if a machine in America had writing in a foreign language on it. When I thought about it, I had to agree because I had been personally guilty of ignoring writing in languages I didn’t understand. While my clothes dried, I decided to grab a snack at one of the many nearby boulangeries.
I was moments away from my first taste of Parisienne bread, and I was smiling from the excitement. The woman behind the counter cheerfully greeted every customer with a “bonjour,” so I started mentally preparing to use the limited French I could remember. “Une brioche chocolat, s’il vous plait.” I confidently requested while pointing, unfortunately, to the wrong pastry. The woman behind the counter smiled, showed me the brioche chocolat, and explained that I was pointing to the brioche sucre. Trying not to be too concerned about the other people watching this exchange, and deciding immediately that I would have to make time to try all the brioche varieties, I decided to take the brioche sucre. “And one water, please.” I added at the last minute. “Et une eau.” She echoed. The brioche was light, fluffy and sparingly sprinkled with small hardened balls of powdered sugar. I’d already had phenomenal gastric treats during the patron events in Vienna and Berlin, but eating that brioche while walking through the streets of Paris and snacking on the pretzel roll I had while strolling back to the hotel in Vienna were supremely satisfying experiences – in part because of their simplicity.
When I returned to the laundromat, I was happy to find my clothes still there and completely dry. Just as I was leaving, I received a call from Christina – a former LACO staff member who now lives in Helsinki, but had traveled to Paris to see LACO’s concert. She was right around the corner so we made plans to see each other, for the first time since last summer. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect addition to an already brilliant day.
So, could I call Paris home? Je ne sais pas. Before I could consider it, I would definitely need to improve my language skills, and I certainly couldn’t make such a life altering decision based on one, albeit gratifying and inspiring, day. Au revoir.