Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finding My Inner Pigeon

Beginnings are always exciting, full of anticipation, followed by the need for things to be perfect... much like a first date or the potential of a new friendship. So you can only imagine how excited I was for my second meet-up - a children's music session- with the English Speaking Mums of Paris (the new name to my Meet-up group, previously British Mums & Babies Coffee Morning). Not my first venture into the centre of Paris but first to Montparnasse, the home to the tower that can virtually be seen from anywhere in the city. Just keep in my mind, I am completely naïve to the new obstacles that present themselves in this new city of mine.

Missing the bus from my home, the first step in delving into public transportation, was the first sample of my day. Waiting for the next bus would make too late, so I ended up walking to the RER station. I had the genius idea of a shortcut which tacked on another 20 minutes, as I got horribly lost. Nothing in France is simple, especially the street layouts... not at all like the NYC grid, and even most surrounding suburbs. However, I did befriend a nice Brit who helped me get back on track. She looked a little Asian like me, so we had an instant kinship, but that’s besides the point.

The easiest part I will say was the Paris metro. Hey, once you study the ain't really all that scary. The Tour Montparnasse told me I was in the right place. I grabbed my new Android phone as I felt quite clever using its GPS to lead me the rest of the way. It informed me I was about three metro stops short of my final destination. That can't be right. So, I tucked it back in my pocket, deciding to wing it, and thinking technology ain't all what its cracked up to be. My inner pigeon has never steered me wrong... never.

Winging it always brought me back to my point of origin, the Montparnasse Tower. After about 25 minutes, I was beginning to develop a great dislike for this Parisian landmark. My fidgety child strapped in her stroller just wanted to get out for the merry-go-round at the foot of this edifice. Knowing I was in trouble, I decided to call one of my new mates. Unfortunately, she is not very good at giving directions, she said so herself. About four calls later, I was getting closer but no cigar. I refused to call a fifth time. A woman with three small children was standing on a corner, so I asked her in the best French I know... which isn't saying much. The only words that registered were “deux cent metres” with a finger pointing down the street. Okay, 200 meters to an American can translate into “200 shimmies or 200 winkydinks”. It means exactly nothing. So instead, I followed the direction of her finger.

Realizing that my inner pigeon is only as good as the city it comes from, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of complete ineptness. But I knew I was in the right vicinity, so a glimmer of hope still shone. As I walked along the street, I spotted a stranger halfway down the block. Please don't move, please don't move, I thought. Exhausted and already beaten down by the hot sun, I couldn't walk any faster than I was. With each step I prepped my question in French. The address I sought, was near the post office so all I needed to know is where that was. As I got closer, I could almost taste the triumph. It wouldn't be long now. I walked up to him, he didn't look at me. And just as I opened my mouth to ask, I happen to look down. He was holding a long white stick in front of him... he was blind. Okay, that would explain the sunglasses. It was sunny so I didn't think anything of it. I debated about whether asking him anyway. Can you ask a blind man for directions? Would he tell me how many steps to go and then make a left and another some odd steps and a right? With my French being so poor, I opted against it thinking it might bring me to a new realm I wasn't ready to enter.

I continued to march down the street until I found the bright yellow sign, “La Poste” on a perpendicular street. Jackpot! The gate was right next to it, but of course... I had the access code wrong. So, I made the fifth call that I so much wanted to avoid to save what little was left of my dignity. Needless to say I was late, miffed and rattled, missing all but the last 5 minutes of the after-class lunch. My inner pigeon had failed me tremendously, a first in my book. I'll be damned if I declare my trip a total disaster. I came to meet people and cultivate some friendships, for goodness sakes! So I lingered until there were only a few of us left and proposed a little impromptu excursion in the neighborhood. We went out for a stroll and to a cafe for some drinks. I could now go home feeling somewhat accomplished. Good company always helps.

On the way home, I hopped back on the metro. About three stations before my final stop, a blind man taps me on the shoulder... yes another blind person... and proceeds to ask me if this was so and so stop and if the following stop was so and so. Just my luck or should I say his. Fortunately, my understanding of French tends to be better than my actual ability to speak. I mustered a oui to his questions. I noticed his brows furrow as my answers could have been more articulate but hey, he got the answer which is all that matters.

I vowed that would be the last time I would feel so lost, anywhere. Although I can’t guarantee, I can certainly try. But every time we have a meet-up somewhere new... I shake in my boots!