I'm back home in London after covering the Eva Longoria-Tony Parker wedding! A fun time was had by all, except for me. I am dead-tired, wiped out, KNACKERED.
I ended up waiting 7 hours outside the Church of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois with about 1,000 other paparazzi and curious tourists. I ended up with a PRIMO spot, and knew if I left I would never get it back. So for 7 hours I held my bladder and ate only a day-old baguette for lunch. Next time I'll pack a picnic and wear Depends! Anyway it all worked out well. I saw Eva Longoria, Nicolette Sheridan, Felicity Huffman and her hubby William H. Macy, Sheryl Crow, Jessica Alba and my personal favorite, Mario Lopez of "Saved by the Bell!"
If you asked me last week about my favourite city in the world, I would have said Paris. Yeah it's a cliche answer but I've always felt at home in the City of Lights. But after this most recent trip, I may reconsider that verdict. We've lived in Europe long enough that we're starting to see the underbellies of cities here. I've been to Paris about a dozen times over the years, usually to visit my sister who, sadly, has now moved away back to the good old U.S. of A. And on each of those visits, we usually do the usual touristy things and see the touristy sights, along with some hidden gems that my sister introduced to the Two Crabs.
Compared to London, Paris is absolutely beautiful. The city looks cleaner (except for the dog crap everywhere). The architecture is old and classic. Despite the stereotypes, Parisians are quite friendly and eager to please foreigners. They take pride in their appearance, unlike the many slobs in London who are beginning to adopt the fashion sense of Kevin Federline and Britney Spears.
But on this particular trip, I was working. So without my blinders, I was exposed to some seedier, negative signs of Paris. Like the piss.
Yup, I'm talking urine. I have never seen so many men so quick to drop their fly and piss anywhere, anyplace, anytime. In Melun, I saw a guy take a leak in a corner outside the main entrance to the train station, right in front of women and children. While changing trains in Gare du Lyon, I found an empty spot on the platform and set my briefcase on the floor. My expensive Kenneth Cole black leather briefcase I use as my laptop carrier. When the train arrived, I gathered my gear and suddenly felt a sticky substance on the shoulder strap and bottom. It was all over my fingers too. I sniffed my fingers. I sniffed the strap. NO FRACKING WAY. Yes, it was piss. Human urine. Somebody had taken a piss right there on the platform. Somebody's urine is now all over my hands and luggage. As soon as I got to Gare du Nord, I ran to the toilets and scrubbed my hands until they were raw and chapped, and thoroughly washed my briefcase. When I got home, I washed everything again and took a long long shower.
Then there's the homeless. Oh sure, we've got homeless in London just like in any big city. But they are nowhere near as aggressive or visible as in Paris. At Gare du Lyon, I literally had to step over a sleeping guy who was lying sprawled out at the top step of a staircase to the Metro. Most people were going out of their way to avoid him and taking long detours to another staircase. I just stepped over his legs. He didn't even flinch. For all I know, he was dead. Two policemen passed me on the staircase, walked past the guy and kept going. They didn't even check to see if this guy was alive, or wake him and tell him to move on. You see these homeless everywhere, even at the major tourist sights like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower Metro stops. On the banks of the River Seine, there are entire homeless campsites. Near my sister's house, there used to be a camp of homeless tents directly in front of the Asian art museum around the corner from the Eiffel Tower. It was there for two years before the city finally did something about it.
And if it's not the homeless, it's the gypsies. I know it's politically-incorrect to use that term now. But for a lack of a better word, Paris is FULL of gypsies. They, usually women and children, accost tourists and locals alike, begging for money, sticking their hands in your face and demanding money. Around the Eiffel Tower they are particularly adept pickpockets. You just don't see that crap in London. And if you do, the police are usually all over them in a heartbeat and deporting them faster than you can say "illegal immigrant."
There is one stereotype of the French that, sadly, I would say is true. It's one of personal hygiene. On my way back from Paris to Melun yesterday, I was stuck on the most crowded train I've ever been on in my life. I imagine this is what it's like to take a train in India, but without people on the roof. I was squished in the train so tight that I could not even raise my arm to hold the bar. Everyone around me clearly had no concept of soap or deodorant. For about 30 minutes I had to breath through my mouth to avoid burning my nostrils from the noxious fumes.
The more I visit Paris, the more I love London!