Thursday, September 17, 2009

Le fighting dixhuitieme

Paris is divided into districts called arrondisements. They have them as well in Seoul and Tokyo, cities of comparable size, but in a victory for Asian languages, they're called gu in Korean and ku in Japanese. On the other hand, they have long names that reflect position relative to the river in Seoul, but here they're numbers. The first one is i the centre of the city, and they extend outwards in a lovely spiral (the Eiffel tower is in the seventh), until you get out here to the 18th arrondisement, or as the locals call it, the Fighting Eighteenth.

The Eightenth is located close to the highest point in Paris, and is located way up in the hills. To get out of the nearest subway station requires climbing a tight spiral of 92 steps, and successive streets are either steep sets of stairs or steep streets unto themselves. Getting out is going downhill and getting in is going uphill. The Fighting Eighteenth is a great place to stay. Line twelve of Paris' fourteen subway lines takes you elsewehere in the city, and the area itself is a nice mix of quiet bakeries, cafes and no tourists.

Given the number of arrondisements, the odds of bumping into someone in Paris are probably very small. I never did it in Seoul, which is of comparable size, but I did it in Istanbul and I've done it twice in two days here. In Istanbul it doesn't really count because even though there are 16 million people there, and a comparable number of octogenarian tourists with pants up to their nipples, most of the latter never stray far from the tourist quarter. That's how I saw the same elderly couple at dinner on consecutive nights: the restaurants were on the same side street near the Blue Mosque.

In Paris, it's a little stranger. I saw some well-dressed Japanese girls at the Arch of Triumph and wondered if they were tourists because of how ridiculously well-dressed they were by the combined standards of Japan and France. Six hours later, I noticed that they were standing right behind me in line to go up the towers at Notre Dame.

Yesterday, I bumped into the Bavarian beefcake who sleeps in the bunk under me near the Louvre. The beefcake in question is a nice enough fellow who I call a beefcake only for alliterative purposes and because, even though I've talked to him at length for three days, I don't know his name. He's the same age as me and extraordinarily well-travelled, but his voice and appearance make him look like a high school student.

No comments: