Way, way, way back, like all the way back in 2008, I stumbled upon an article (I think it was the Guardian piece I linked to here) about the Bird and Flower Market of Paris (Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux). As a former southern belle and country girl at heart, I am always sorta intrigued by “markets.” Like you go to one and get the thing. Markets always make me think of “the good old days” (whenever that was), when people would get groceries from the butcher, and the grocer, and the baker. I don’t know- it always seemed so quaint.
The Paris Bird and Flower Market was interesting to me, because, like most everything in Europe, I thought that it would be cool to stroll along the cobblestones where generations before me had shopped and socialized. Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux has been around for over two centuries. Plus, if we are being quite honest, I am quite fond of shiny, pretty things.
I was already interested in seeing the market when I heard an absolutely brilliant piece on Snap Judgement. It is a cool story and features birds (with a cameo by the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux).
When my dissertation advisor sent me a note about a demography conference in Paris earlier this year, I submitted to it. Ultimately, it was accepted and away I went!! I had hoped to figure out a way for my favorite boys to come with me- but it just wasn’t in the cards this time.
Forgive me for what I am about to say-I kinda want to kick my own ass for it. So here it is:
The trip wasn’t great.
Anthony Bourdain has this to say about enjoying Paris:
“What does it take to enjoy Paris? A F%CKING plane ticket! That is what it takes! You get on a plane and come to Paris and you wander around freely. Even if you’re eating badly in Paris, its a good thing… Let’s put it this way: if you are lucky enough to have a passport and a few bucks in your pocket and you find yourself in Paris… if you can’t find your way to a good time somehow, then there is no light or joy in this world. How could you not enjoy Paris? Having a miserable time in Paris is the best time ever…”
Shame. I bring shame to my family. I know.
Here is the thing: I am getting old, y’all. Or maybe not old-old, but just too old for five day trips to other time zones. Because I could just not get the jet lag sorted out. Of course, it didn’t help that I did not sleep well the two nights leading up to my trip. And I had great ideas of sleeping on the flight. I even bought a neck pillow. A neck pillow!!
Maybe I was too excited about going. Because I could not fall asleep on the plane. Know when I got sleepy? Just as we started our descent in Charles de Gaulle. Like it was amateur hour. By the time I got into Paris at 6 in the morning, I had gotten about 6 hours of sleep over the previous three nights. It wasn’t great.
So I was wiped out. And I just couldn’t get my Paris legs under me. I was mis-informed by the internets about the availability of sim cards for my “unlocked” iPhone. Why did this matter? Well, when I got a smart phone, I purged the “map-reading” and “spatial awareness and navigational” files from my brain. Because I didn’t need them anymore. My brain needed the space- for remembering important things, like lines from movies. Look, man! Something had to go! So it was map-reading.
Also, I hadn’t bothered to learn any additional french, beyond the french that I already knew:
“Bonjour, madamazelle, I like your chapeau!” (Good day, m’am, I like your hat!)
“Enchante” (Enchanted- and I only learned that because it sounded fancy).
“Merci beucoup!” (Thank you).
“Parle ingles?” (Do you speak English- duh! American!)
“Allez putain!!” (Go Whore!!- This is in reference to when your team is doing badly- I wouldn’t have actually said this to a Parisian sex worker).
Why? Why would I have not needed any french?
Two reasons my friend!
Exhibit A). I think this one is obvious- but my french is quite terrible and on previous occasions, most French people would rather stoop to my useless American tourst level and speak English than listen to the likes of me butcher their beautiful language.
Exhibit B). I was supposed to have a phone with access to the interwebs via a data plan purchased for use with said SIM card, which should have worked with my bullshit phone.
My plan (flawed as it was) did not require conversing all that much in French nor worrying too much about navigation because I would be able to navigate myself around. And even if I did need to speak French, I would be able to access the internet, which would have provided me with useful customized phrases via apps.
How did that work out for me?
It was a shit show.
I drove the jetlag struggle bus the entire time I was there. My first two days there required me being at a conference, so I didn’t do much then. Friday night I went with a girl from the conference to a nearby area of the city that had a street full of side-walk bistros and cafes. I had fish and chips, because it looked really good (which it was) and Creme Brulee, which I wasn’t sure I had ever had before (if we are being honest, I wasn’t that big a fan of it. I thought the texture was a little weird).
But then I had what could have been a lovely Paris weekend to myself, to get lost and day drink and nap. And I just couldn’t- mostly because 4 hour long naps really eat into the day and make it so you have a hard time falling asleep. And waking up. Also, “Work Travel” JBR showed up- to put the brakes on almost everything.
I did manage a couple of really fantastic meals while I was there-including lots of baguette. Do you now how you could improve the taste of a salad? Put it on a baguette. Honestly!! I checked out Shakespeare and Co (a bookstore), which had a double bonus of selling booze- so you know that was my jam. There was a little cafe near Place d’Italie (where my bnb was located), where I had dinner on Saturday night. I had escargot cooked in basil and olive oil, that was wonderful. You know what I did with that bread, right? Used it to soak up basil and olive oil, like a boss.
My last full day there was a Sunday, which was the day I headed to Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux for the birds and the flowers!
I don’t know what the usual turnout is for the market. But it was a rainy early fall day- so there weren’t very many vendors, nor shoppers (which was fine by me). So it’s hard for me to say much about the experience, other than most of the birds that were on display were small. Beautiful, but small, little guys, pink ones, grey ones, and light blue ones. It’s a great thing that I would have had quite the time getting it through customs, because all of a sudden, I wanted to buy a bird. Can you even imagine? “M’am, do you have anything to declare?”
The flowers were mostly garden center flowers (and supplies), meaning that most were in pots. I sort of expected stalls on stalls of cool cut flowers- but that is okay. They were still gorgeous. But again, same issue, with customs. Plus, I was already going to have a tough time toting my stuff back on the plane, can you imagine having to carry a giant potted plant back on a plane? That would have been fairly annoying for everyone around me.
So, while the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux was slightly underwhelming, the experience did lead to a fantastic meal. On the way back to the place I was staying, I grabbed a late lunch at a cafe nearish the Eiffel tower. It was probably toursity- so don’t judge. Also, it had fast free wifi, so who was winning? My server spoke pretty good english (as did most of the French people I encountered). She talked me into a lambshank special that was heavenly. Plus french onion soup, baguette, and beer? I died a little. It was divine!
Altogether, the trip was okay. I am glad I went (and really glad I got to cross off Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux from the list.) In the future, it would do a lot better to be well-rested in the days leading up to the trip. This way, if some of my plans don’t work out, it is no big deal. And have a better plan for telecommunications. Or take Dave- Dave’s french is decent by most standards. It would have really helped on this trip.