Saturday, October 1, 2011

This Ain’t Boot Camp

We’ve been doing a good job of following a leisurely pace here in Paris, knowing we’re lucky enough to have lots of time to explore. We channel the spirit of my sister-in-law, Laura, as we plan our time. Several days into her postnuptial trip with my brother, Rich, Laura stopped, put her foot down mid-sprint along the Seine and folded her arms defiantly. “Slow down! I did NOT sign up for honeymoon boot camp,” she commanded as my well-meaning brother dragged her across the capitals of Europe. We keep Laura’s mandate in mind and limit ourselves to just a couple of things on our to-see list for each day.

Neither of us misses the nonstop, frenetic, must-get-out-of-bed-in-the-morning pace of full-time work. But after too many days of doing the grasse matinée thing and sleeping ‘til lunchtime, we’ve decided to put ourselves on some kind of schedule. It is so incredibly easy to just stay in bed and sleep – especially when there is little natural light in our studio to help waken us. We’ve determined that consistently sleeping in leads to lethargy and so we’ve added some discipline to our days. The alarm goes off at 7, we’re out of bed by 7:30, tune into France Vingt-Quatre for the news, have our breakfast while catching up on world events, emails and apartment chores and then head out the door by 10:30. Some structure is a kindly and necessary partner when unlimited time is yours.

Joe and I have settled nicely into the roles with which we’re most comfortable: I do the bookkeeping and he handles the electronics; I’m in charge of maps and navigation and he gets us on the right bus and metro; I do the communicating with the locals and he keeps us current via the New York Times; I do the dishes and he sweeps the floors. Doing what we’re good at complements our daily routine and adds to our contentment.

We’ve all heard that electronic spreadsheets were the killer application that launched the personal computer revolution. But I suspect the creators of VisiCalc did not envisage their excellent app as a tremendous travel tool. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to think in spreadsheets. (Confession: I occasionally suffer from obsessive-compulsive tendencies and as my friend Davida has noted, OCD never goes on vacation.) Joe and I created an Excel list compiled from our trusty Frommer’s guide, years of newspaper and magazine clippings, Internet sites, recommendations from friends and anecdotes from strangers, of all the things we’d like to see and all the restaurants we want to try in Paris. I then added the number of the corresponding arrondissement to the to-do/see/eat/drink list in a separate column, sorted the list by the neighborhood number and voilà! -- a perfectly organized roadmap for our jaunts in Paris. All our destinations in the 4th -- the Marais quarter – are now grouped together (the Musée Carnavelet on the history of Paris, Victor Hugo’s Home, the Mariage Frères Maison de Thé and L’As du Falafel), so we can very easily map our route for the day. It’s much like the system I used to work a tradeshow: I listed all the companies I wanted to see, added their booth numbers from the show directory, hit sort and then started walking up and down the aisles numerically, checking off each exhibitor as I visited. It helps that Paris has a numerical quartier system that lends itself to spreadsheets, but I’m sure we’ll use the same system for future cities. We’ll just substitute the names of neighborhoods for numbers and let Excel suggest our itinerary. There’s little more satisfying to me than the discovery of a timesaving system, especially when it helps me see and do more in Paris. But this is definitely not Gap Year Boot Camp. Our arrondissement spreadsheets are friendly guides that let us wander more efficiently but don’t dictate our pace.

Parisian Arrondissements 101: Never having been a resident of Paris before, I was not an expert on the Parisian neighborhood numbering system when we arrived. Those I know who have lived here refer to the arrondissement numbers with ease: “That museum’s in the 5th; I lived in the 9th; my favorite cafe is in the 11th.” One of my goals for our stay in Paris is to increase my fluency in the arrandissement vernacular. I’m proud to say I’m much better now than when we arrived and I’ve picked up some helpful hints along the way:
  • The 20 arrondissements are arranged in a spiral circle -- think  escargot shell -- with the Louvre and Palais Royals in the 1st in the center.
  • Those in the know refer to the arrondissement by number only; you simply say “I live in the 7th,” never, “I live in the 7th arrondissement.”
  • The first two numbers in a city’s ZIP code indicate in which of the 96 continental departments of France, numbered more or less alphabetically, it is located. The last two numbers signal a location’s arrondissement. Example: our apartment’s address is 49, avenue de Suffren, 75007 Paris. Paris is number 75 on the list of departments and we are in the 7th arrondissement (oops, I mean we’re simply in the 7th). It’s all so French, that is to say, logical.
  • Each arrondissement actually has it’s own governing body with its own Hôtel de Ville (city hall) and mayor. Of course, the city of Paris overall has its own Hôtel de Ville and mayor as well, but from what I’ve read, each of the local leaders has significant power over what takes place in his or her neighborhood.
  • And finally, most of the lovely deep blue and green painted street signs affixed to the corner of buildings wherever streets intersect, list the arrondissement in which you find yourself. 

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