Trapped inside the Orsay clock.
Hello, everyone. Long time no see. Last I talked to you, we were getting used to rural living in the Adirondacks and learning the etiquette of the local laundromat. Fast forward a few months, and we’re on our European winter journey. There’s Steve with the technical details:
Flying to Paris (Steve):
The French airline La Compagnie began business class only flights between Paris and New York in 2014 using retrofitted Boeing 757-200s. In 2019 they retired the 757s for two Airbus A321neo aircraft.
The A321neo is a purpose-built aircraft with lay-flat business seats arranged two by two on both sides of the aisle with a capacity of 76 passengers.
They fly between Newark (EWR) and Orly Airport (ORY). The total fare for a round-trip ticket was $2,400, approximately half the usual fare.
Currently, (October 2021), travelers to most European countries must be fully vaccinated unless they come from a low COVID19 positivity rate country and/or have essential reasons to travel. Recommendations are constantly changing, but I suggest being fully vaccinated and rechecking the requirements close to travel time.
We took Amtrak to the airport. Our two-hour ride from Albany to Penn Station was comfortable and only half full, so we each had two seats to ourselves. The 15-minute Amtrak train to Newark Airport was delayed, however, so it may pay to take Amtrak to Penn Station then NJTA to the airport instead of Amtrak all the way.
La Compagnie check-in was easy. We checked in our only bag and they checked our vaccination cards. We breezed through security and got a $12/plastic cup of beer at the Belgium café to kill time before boarding, which was easy since there were only about 40 of us. The seats are comfortable and lie flat, but the window passenger has to climb over the aisle passenger to reach the bathroom. (what are you thinking?)
The service was excellent with free flowing alcohol. The cold gazpacho and the two main meal choices, cold roast beef or salmon salad, were all delicious, and so were the breakfast eggs Benedict.
Health Pass (Steve):
Since August, a French health pass has been required to enter most venues, including restaurants, cafes, and tourist attractions. They grant these passes to French citizens and fully vaccinated EU residents. For travelers, a system converting US vaccinations by on-line was instituted in September.
We applied for the pass two weeks before traveling, even though the website said you should only apply when you arrive, but we hadn’t yet received it by the time we arrived. Our apartment wasn’t ready, so we had our taxi drop us at a pharmacy (in the pouring rain). After testing us, the pharmacist gave us a three-day health pass, and the café next door let us in on our CDC vaccination cards while we waited. Thirty euros got us a SIM card that works throughout Europe, and we put the test QR code on our phones in an app called TousAntiCovid. It has a wallet for entering both vaccinations and test QR codes, as well as a Covid track and exposure notification feature. Our 72 hours negative test passes allowed us to enter restaurants and museums.
We returned to our apartment with foie gras, a fresh baguette, tiny French pickles, and other ingredients for a picnic in our apartment, including a fine nine-euro red Bordeaux. As we sipped, we received emails that our health pass conversion applications had been approved! It took 17 days after our initial application, but now we can go anywhere and hopefully drive across borders within the EU.
Le Gay Paris (Rada):
After ten days in Paris, we’ll lease a car and head South via Normandy, Brittany, and Bordeaux. But for now, we rented a tiny apartment just behind the Louvre, on top of a Parisian Cafe. It’s functional, cozy, and, at 100 euros a night, affordable – for Paris.
I wake up and write for a couple of hours, then walk across the street to grab breakfast from the tiny convenience store that has everything from toilet paper to warm baguettes and $50 Bordeaux Grand Crus. A Croissant will set you back one euro, a delicious full-fat strawberry yogurt 50 cents, a mouth-watering cantaloupe 3 euros. Alternatively, 9 euros will buy you a coffee, a croissant, one tartine (fresh baguette with butter and jam), and an OJ at any of the five cafes within three minutes walk. But getting breakfast at home is warmer and gives us a chance to check the news and the weather and plan the day.
We also take most dinners in the room. After a full day walking cobblestones and braving crowds, it’s nice to sip on your Bordeau while editing pictures and listening to the shape-shifting French radio. It’s rap, jazz, then Mexican, then opera, then Becaud, then Italian – the wonders never end. Dinner in keeps eating out an adventure rather than a chore – where should we eat, what should we order, how much should we tip. It also gives you a chance to taste the many wonders the French are spoiled with, from Foie Gras to more cheeses that one can count and slobber-inducing deserts.
Lunches, however, are always an adventure, wherever we happen to be for the day. Between Beefsteak Tartare – well seasoned raw beef served with fries – quiche, foie gras, or the meat du jour, there’s always a culinary adventure calling your name. It’s a chance to sit, watch the crowds pass by, and eavesdrop on the neighbor’s gossip. That’s what makes the tiny, crowded tables so much fun. A modest lunch for two will set you back 40-50 euros, plus 30 euros for a bottle of wine or 6-12 euros for a beer.
And since this trip we have all the time in the world – we don’t know when, or if, we’ll be back – we gave up the usual museums for some off-the-wall new adventures. We spent hours walking the cobblestoned streets and the parks bathed in the golden October light. We toured the catacombs.
Their story is weird: Some time in the 1800’s Paris ran out of space. Its immense cemeteries full of hundreds of years of bones took so much real estate there was no room left for the living. The bloody French Revolution added to the toll and made it essential to find a solution. And voila: The pragmatic French found it right below their feet. The old labyrinthic stone quarries under the city got repurposed into a city of the dead. The dry bones got removed from the city cemeteries and artfully arranged in the abandoned quarries, leaving Paris to the living. That’s why, somewhere under the Paris streets lay the bones of more than six million French, including Robespierre, Marat, and Danton. And, since no one knows who they are, they venerate every skull, humerus, and femur like it belongs to a Pater Patriae.
To continue in this slightly morbid vein, I spent my birthday at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It’s when I officially graduated from middle age into seniority, so I felt it was time for some momentous epiphany to fill me with wisdom.
Steve is not into epiphanies, so I left him home and I went to visit Pere Lachaise, the most famous Parisian Cemetery, where many dead celebrities would rub shoulders if they could rub anything at all.
I walked the five miles there to get in the mood, then I started wandering around looking for my epiphany.
I found tombs. Lots of tombs. Some new, some old, some well-kept, some forgotten, some well-known, some unknown. The one thing they had in common was that they contained dead people. Rich or poor, kind or evil, loved or forgotten, they were all dead.
I walked from one tomb to another, opening my heart to the wisdom they had to impart, but nothing happened. The only thing that came to my mind is that once you’re dead, nothing matters. Nor who you were, what you liked, or if anyone remembers you. Once you die, it’s over. Better make the most of it while you’re alive.
But that wasn’t the epiphany I wanted, so I kept walking.
I visited Oscar Wilde, whose white marble tomb gets defaced by lipstick kisses. Edit Piaf, who moved back with her parents. Modigliani, whose name you can barely distinguish. Jim Morison, whose tomb got fenced to prevent his fans from littering it with love notes, joints, and whiskey bottles.
I strived to think great thoughts, but the only thing that came to mind was lunch.
Greatness is not for me, I guessed, so I gave up. I left no wiser than I started, but I stopped for a bowl of Pho on my way home. It was fragrant and loaded with tripe, meatballs, and fresh mint. That helped.
I also stopped for a haircut. That helped too.
At home, Steve looked me up and down.
“Nope. Just a haircut. You like it?”
“It will grow.”
That’s it for now. See you next week, I hope, for more Parisian adventures and THE CAR.