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On Friday evening Lisa and Ali invited me over for a delicious middle-eastern dinner with old friends of Lisa’s family, Patrice and Eve.

Eve Patrice and Lisa

Eve, Patrice and Lisa

Politics and religion, far from being off limits, were the meat and potatoes of our conversation. I came closer than ever before to understanding and participating in a French conversation, although people switched to English when it became obvious that I had lost the thread. I admired Eve’s passion even when I didn’t follow every nuance of her arguments.

Eve

Eve

Eve, Patrice and I headed to our respective homes around 1:30 AM, having solved most of the problems of the world (though not reaching full consensus on how Obama should have handled Osama). I knew that the métro stayed open until 2:00 on weekends but I was concerned about whether it would be scarily empty so late. Au contraire, it was jammed, mostly with tipsy young people making their way home. While the métro felt quite safe I took two additional hops to Sentier — a block from my apartment — instead of walking up from Châtelet, which Jacques had warned me against doing after 1:00 AM.

On Saturday I went on my second day trip from An Hour from Paris, to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and Andrésy, at the confluence of the Oise with the Seine.

Seine Map

Seine Map

(There’s an oddity about this map that you might find interesting. Maps of river systems generally look like veins or arteries — there are no loops, except around an island. The loops on this map reflect the many canals in the region, where water flow is managed to enable travel outside of the river’s natural channel.)

Conflans is between the Oise and the Seine, while Andrésy is on the Seine just below the confluence. The Romans recognized the strategic importance of this spot; they fortified the heights of Andrésy, and even drew a chain across the river at night to block smugglers and marauders. This is now an active barge port, and dozens of retired barges are used as house boats:

House barges in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine

House barges in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine

I had a nice lunch at a quay-side restaurant in Conflans, then walked a few miles over to Andrésy, where I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was the first weekend of an annual contemporary sculpture show installed along the riverbank and along a web of trails on an adjacent island. The photos from the outing are at this link, but here’s a glimpse of the old part of Andrésy:

Andrésy Church

Andrésy Church

I learned something concerning train travel today. I had previously noted that our credit cards don’t work in French ticket machines (2019 update: This problem now seems to have been fixed), and my solution was to find a person to buy a ticket from. This has worked well in the past but this morning there was a line of at least twenty people waiting for the lone clerk at Gare Saint Lazare. Most were foreigners with limited French and lots of questions so the line was scarcely moving. I realized that the ticket was less than five euros and I had a five euro note. The machine didn’t take bills, and there were no change machines, but I was able to break the bill at a tabac in the station and pay with coins; I just made the next train. For the return trip I was careful to accumulate five euros in coins but what I didn’t figure on was the fact that I had walked a few miles to a different station and the fare back to Paris from there was 5,15 euros. There was no clerk at the station so I had to trek a few blocks to the nearest tabac where I could break another bill. So the ultimate lesson is to carry a bunch of coins when you go on little train trips, and budget extra time to buy your ticket when it’s too expensive to pay with coins.

Mot du jour: “guele de bois.”  Literally “mouth of wood” but actually “hangover.”  Used in 20minutes.fr (a free paper similar to our Metro) to describe what the folks who had been predicting Judgment Day for May 21 had on May 22.