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Then I Think About Being Done with no Resume

Last full day in Paris


View Europe on Soseki's travel map.

Today was the day that “I'll do it tomorrow” stopped being a valid statement. Technically, there's still time tomorrow, but there wouldn't be enough time for all of the things that I really did want to do, but hadn't quite gotten around to yet. So today, I finally did them.

There was a yarn store that I passed when I'd been in Paris for only a couple of hours. Today, I decided to go back when it was open. The skein of yarn that I found reminded me of Paris a bit after sunset- fairly blue, kind of dark, and with a lot of sparkles. While I browsed, I half-listened to the employee diagnosing problems with yarn/knitting. I wasn't able to follow that much of it, but I also wasn't paying that much attention. Now I know how non-knitters feel when I start complaining about a project...

My general approach to exploring cities involves treating everything as a mini-quest. I set a goal destination, I figure out how I'll get there, and then I set off, keeping an eye out for anything interesting on the way. But even if I find something that fulfills the motivation behind my destination (say I'm looking for a grocery store, and see another one on the way) I can't stop there. I need to keep going to my destination.

That happened today with postcards. There are dozens of places that sell postcards throughout the city. The closest of them is just around a corner from the apartment where we're staying. But somehow, I got the idea that I wanted to buy postcards near the Seine. It's a postcard. What matters is what's printed on it, not where it was bought. But it would be so picturesque to be strolling along the Seine, and then to stop and write a short “letter...”

So I walked to the Seine and ignored every other stand that sold postcards I passed on the way. I chose which ones I wanted, then looked around. It was an outdoor stand, and while there were plenty of people nearby, I couldn't tell who the stand belonged to. So I held them in my hand and looked at other items. No one came over to help me. I looked around, lingering my gaze on someone who might possibly own the stand. No one came over to help me. I walked slowly past some of the other stands which may or may not have belonged to the same person, then back. No one came over to help me. I continued to pace around in small circles until finally someone came over and I could pay for them.

It would have been so much easier to buy them in an actual store.

I'd passed nearly as many crepe stands as I'd passed postcard stands since being in Paris. Today it occurred to me that after all this time in France, I still hadn't gotten a crepe. So I stopped at one, ordered a honey crepe, and watched as it was made.

The batter had already been mixed, and the cook poured some of it onto the stove in front of him. Then he took a smaller version of a rolling pin and spread out the batter. He spent a fair amount of time carefully going around the edges, loosening them, and checking the bottom, which allowed him to flip the crepe without breaking it. (I'd thought I'd heard that “real” French crepes are only cooked on one side. I'd either thought or heard wrong.) Then he spread honey over a quarter of the cerepe, folded it in half, folded it in half again (the honeyed portion was now completely covered by three non-honeyed layers) and finally folded it in half again and put it in a bag, telling me “honey was a very good choice.” I'm not sure why I'd chosen it instead of something chocolate-based, but both I and the crepe-maker were right- it was delicious.

The last thing I wanted to do while I was still in Paris was something I hadn't realized I wanted until it happened. I wanted to give someone accurate directions.

The initial thrill of “they thing I have an idea what I'm doing! That's so cute!” that had been present in Geneva was gone by this point. I was tired of people asking me for help and me just staring at them blankly. (I'm not actually tired of staring at people blankly. I've had a lot of practice with people who want to talk to me in English and sell me tacky souvenirs.) I wanted to be able to help them for a change.

I had three people ask me for help today. The first time, I said “it's that way” without having really heard where she wanted to go, just thinking that sounded vaguely familiar. There's a 25% chance that I was right, and a much lower chance that I'll ever see her again.

The second person (technically people, because they were a family) to ask did so with a map. I stared at the map for a while until I realized I had no idea how to help them and apologized.

The third person asked for the name of the street I had just come from. She seemed skeptical (“That small one”) but I assured her it curved and continued on. It didn't even matter that she'd asked all her questions in English- I'd been able to help her.

I can't normally help people with directions. Even when I can get back myself, I can't normally help other people. So the fact that I'd been able to help someone find her way around Paris meant a lo to me. I've been building up my mental map of the city as I've explored, adding streets as I notice or take them. And the fact that someone was looking for something on my mental map meant that I'd done something right.

After half a day's exploration, I could navigate my way from the Louvre to our apartment. Which meant I could never get hopelessly lost, because if I ever thought I was, I could ask “which direction is the Seine?” (and either follow signs or ask someone else there “which direction is the Louvre?”) and get back.

Being able to help someone else is a lot more sophisticated than that. It's not a level that I normally reach with cities. It felt nice, like I had an OK familiarity with Paris.

I really hope that first woman didn't get too lost...

Posted by Soseki 15:46 Archived in France

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