Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Back to the 90s

This past weekend I did a little bit of time traveling in that I retraced my 20-year-old self's steps in Paris. My original plan called for seeing the school I attended, then taking the train to the dorm where I stayed. Back in 1990 when I originally traveled from St. Cloud to St. Denis (both suburbs of Paris) I took an SCNF train to Gare St. Lazare in the center of Paris, then a train line near the university. Then a 15 minute walk to campus.

Flash forward 25 years. The metro station that was under construction when I was there now takes students to within meters of the front of the campus. The line "these kids are so spoiled" crossed my mind.

I actually have very little recollection of the campus. I went to my classes. I went back to St. Cloud (pronounced Sa(n) Clue). The trip must have taken me at least an hour each way, but it was my life so I did it for three months.

The biggest change I noticed is now everyone has to go through security when
they first enter the campus. There is a white wrought iron wall around the campus. Oddly enough, once I passed security I did feel calmer. The bustle of Paris was behind me (as well as the super packed metro) and I could relax. I walked around more than I probably did as a student. I definitely took more pictures. I had lunch in the cafeteria, which is when it dawned on me I don't remember ever eating out when I was living in Paris. I remember grocery shopping and making my own meals, but I don't remember having a "Cheers" kind of place where I hung out. Poor college student?

I practiced my selfie skills:

^^ A crepe truck? Kids these days are so spoiled!

After tripping through memory lane, I decided rather than hopping on at the new station, I would retrace my steps to the old station. How hard could that be? Obviously harder than I thought. I followed the signs for the Carrefour (sort of like a Super Walmart long before Sam Walton started building his stores), turns out it was a different Carrefour. I bought some sustenance (read: cheese and chocolate) and tried again. 

I passed a mosque. I don't remember noticing that 25 years ago (later I wondered if I went down the wrong street). I was most impressed by the number of people walking inside to pray at 1:45 PM. A couple of men saw me looking at them from across the street (and through the bushes -- I would not make a very good spy) and talked to me. They invited me inside, but in the other door with the women, not their end of the building on the first floor. I was not allowed to take any pictures. I said I didn't understand what they were saying. They said that's because it is in Arabic, but every so often they translate into French. Okay, I was game. I had to be cleared by a few other people. By now I was feeling white prejudice all the way. A secretary led me in past two rooms of praying women into her office so I could hear, but not be seen. After 15 minutes, and still no French, I thanked her and left. I felt awkward because she would not let me take off my shoes like everyone else and because I had nothing on me with which I could cover my head like everyone else. The prayers sounded beautiful, and I am of the mindset it is the same God. If we all understood each other better, maybe some of the world's problems would go away.

Carte Orange circa 1990
Carte Navigo 2016
Same idea with improved technology
I continued my walk. I finally gave up on finding my metro stop and took a bus to a different metro stop. My handy Carte Navigo (which used to be called Carte Orange, back when they were orange) got me on all of my mass transportation for the few days. It only costs 22 euros (plus a 5 euro processing fee, but I can renew it up to 10 years before I need a new card) for a week of transportation, versus the tourist one that is over 50 euros for the week. The one difference is the tourist one is for any seven days, Carte Navigo always starts on Monday and ends on Sunday (or the 1st-31st of the month). I was leaving pretty early on Monday, so the Carte Navigo it was. It also made me feel like a local.

I ended up at the top of line 12, instead of on line 13, which took me to a different station in Paris. I found Gare St. Lazare. It has really grown in the past 25 years. I was intimidated by the long line for tickets, and wasn't sure if my Carte Navigo would work on it. I debated about pressing forward to St. Cloud (where all I would do is say "yup, that was my dorm") or returning to Marne la Vallee and Disneyland Paris. I opted for Disney, which meant finding the RER station and traipsing through crowds of people.

On the one hand, I was disappointed with myself for not spending another 2 hours tripping down memory lane. On the other hand, when I arrived at Disneyland and realized they were only open until 8:30 PM, and that was my only chance to see the fireworks, I was happy with my decision. Hopefully I'll return to Paris someday.

Some more pictures from Paris VIII

At the end of the day I was left with an appreciation and awe for my younger self. How did I find the place the first time? This was in the days before the internet and smart phones. Who told me how to get from the train station to the school or did I just follow people? How did I know to get from St. Cloud to the school? How was I naive enough to go to Paris with hardly any money and no place to stay and be sure it would work out (and it did)? Where did that faith go? How do I reclaim that child-like faith in my life again? How do I regain that sense of passion and adventure? When can I do something big and new like that again?

A few pictures from the day before in Paris:

THIS would have helped me in the 1990s.

Now THAT is a chocolate section.

Charge your phone and get some exercise too.

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