07/12/12 Evening. Hustling toward l’hotel Ariane Montparnasse, Paris.
Since our hotel was located by the Pernety métro station, we gathered from a metro map that this entailed 15 stops along lines 4 and 13 with one transfer at Montparnasse Bienvenüe from le gare du nord.
Okay, so the thing about Parisian métro stations, in all their charm, is that they have been constructed for the sole purpose of testing the number of stairway spirals, twists, and turns a human being can rationally tolerate before rewarding the exasperated soul with the desired platform. Not a trifling task when you have 4 worn-out travelers lugging 3 bulky suitcases and a couple of touristy backpacks. The underground hallways are like a blueprint for Temple Run. I speak of Montparnasse station in particular, which resembles Central MTR Station in Hong Kong except, for some impossible reason, with an even more confusing layout. Then again, I marvel at the density of this century old engineering feat. Le Métro de Paris is the second busiest metro system in Europe after Moscow, carrying 4.5 million passengers a day, and one of the densest rapid transit networks in the world, squeezing 245 stations within 87 square km. If you’ve ever visited UC Berkeley, that’s like squeezing 14 stations into one campus alone! I call that in-dense! Honestly though, I would board a train everyday if it can take me from Oxford Street to Lewis Hall for my 8am lecture. #berkeleyproblems
It was raining when we emerged from Pernety Station. On one hand, nothing ends a long-winded subway ride more cheerfully than a welcome party in the form of rain. On the other hand, nothing makes arrival at your hotel sweeter relief than escape from a rainy evening. L’hotel Ariane Montparnasse at 35 rue de la sabliere, 14, is an unassuming haven tucked into a neat little street between quiet residential buildings that sit obediently above the local boulangerie, charcuterie, and, to my delight, a legit creperie! The entire hotel embraces an hourglass theme so, while you’re waiting for your bubble bath to fill up, do flick through their adorable booklet detailing the history of the hotel, the family who runs it, good food they recommend, and something along the lines of a magical personality test.
Although we had just set foot in one of the food capitals of the world, my family, burned out from a full day of train rumbles and hungering for a taste of home, ventured two blocks away to dine at La Cité Impériale, a Chinese Restaurant run by an energetic young woman and her team. Sinking into the familiarity of this cozy, family-style setting, I let myself be amused by the father gushing story after story to his two kids at the neighbouring table, not because I understood what the heck he was spouting, but because he ended each anecdote with a peal of laughter so awesome that it turned heads from Paris to Pisa. Never in my life have I met a man more entertained by himself. Such is the good life.
While I couldn’t appreciate it in the dark, I eventually observed that many buildings in Paris are very white. This didn’t strike me until I drank in the city atop the Eiffel Tower two days later. As historical novelist Thad Carhart notes, this aesthetic quality resulted from a significant transformation in the 1960s, when de Gaulle’s Minister of Culture initiated the cleaning of the stone edifices in central Paris. The black and white posters sold on the banks of the Seine river depict this “atmospheric” Paris, mattified by coats of coal dust. After two decades of cleaning, people could barely recognize the strange newness of the city: the buildings in Paris weren’t black and grimy after all, but white and airy as a romance novel. This albino version of Paris is what I see today, though its historical grace prevails from the wide boulevards to the intimate stone balconies overlooking the banks of the Seine.
Now I know I’ve hardly gotten to the crux of what you’d expect from a trip to Paris- the perfect croissant. Oh, and le Louvre, la tour Eiffel, le Centre Pompidou, and l’arc de triomphe… à poursuivre, mes chéris.