Posts Tagged ‘Zazie dans Le Metro’

The Arrival

Ryan had used the many miles he’d accumulated traveling for work to buy us two round trip tickets to Paris. We were flying business class and only had to pay the taxes on our tickets. Oo la la.

I’d spent a couple of disastrous months as an au pair in a charming city near Versailles at the age of 21. It’s a long story, but suffice to say the only joy of the experience came from weekend visits to Paris. I’d long wanted to return under different circumstances, with a partner, and with the benefit of adult means.





We were all set with logistics. Ryan had booked us in a hotel that had received rave reviews on Trip Advisor.

Why, don't you *look* ever so charming?

I set out to research all we should eat, drink, shop, and see. I collected literary passages tied to key places (The Beats and 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur, Julia Child and Les Deux Magots, Hemingway and Shakespeare & Co, Zazie and Le Metro), traced maps, made flexible itineraries, booked reservations. It was practically all I could think about!

We arrived in Paris on Wednesday, December 7th in the evening. Ryan had booked a car to take us from Charles de Gaulle to the hotel. It took another two hours to get into the heart of the city but the moon was full and we could watch it through the moonroof. It was raining – a good sign because, as Audrey Hepburn tells Humphrey Bogart in the movie Sabrina:

“This is what you do on your very first day in Paris. You get yourself, not a drizzle, but some honest-to-goodness rain, and you find yourself someone really nice and drive her through the Bois de Boulogne in a taxi. The rain’s very important. That’s when Paris smells its sweetest. – It’s the damp chestnut trees.”

Arriving at our hotel, the courtyard, with its tiny Christmas lights was as picturesque as it looked in the photos on their website. The interior of the lobby was tiny, the elevator tinier, but this was Europe. Then I stepped inside our room and my heart sunk. The room was almost as small as the elevator. The bed, which was merely a double, had two hard small excuses for pillows. There were no night-stands. I took a deep breath and decided not to say anything because how often does one get to Paris? I’m lucky to have traveled internationally at all – let alone several times, and with my partner.

But the bathroom shower, while it looked clean, smelled like a high school boy’s locker room. There was some gross bodily fluid or other on the wall next to the toilet. The spare blanket in the closet was covered in hair. There was nowhere to plug in Ryan’s CPAP. It reminded me of places I stayed when I took a tour of Europe at age 14. It reminded Ryan of places he’d stayed while traveling through Europe at 23.

Were we too tired to see the charm? Were we too grown-up to stay in such a place? Were we being too snooty by thinking that maybe we were too adult to stay in such a place? How much would we end up spending by moving to another hotel? Could we rally and move then and there – or should we spend the night and think on it?

That our jet-lagged minds could even form questions at what was now after 9:00pm Paris-time and over 15 hours of travel was of surprise. While I sat there having a muddled debate in my head about privilege, our current finances and our known expenses for the coming year, my husband quietly pulled out his iPhone and booked us for a week at the Westin Vendome. Ryan for the win.

Down the stairs we went. We fully intended to pay for the first evening and just eat the cost. But this was Paris, and apparently checking out of a hotel isn’t always so easy.

You can’t check out. You’ve booked a week. And if you don’t like the room, that’s not our fault. You picked it.”

“You misrepresented it online. We’d like to pay for tonight and cancel the rest of our stay.”

The receptionist picked up the phone, called the manager, and handed the receiver to Ryan who was told that we could not cancel our reservation because it’s just not done and that – –

“It’s your fault. That’s not a good room.”

!!!!!???? Excusez-moi?!?!?!?

We were offered the chance to see other, presumably “better” rooms but had no interest. If you offer rooms in your hotel that even you think aren’t up to par then why the hell would we think that anything else would be better?

We asked what the cancellation policy was and the manager, sensing a losing battle, pulled a figure out of his ass. Before I could argue further, Ryan paid it and we left. (It turns out there is no official cancellation policy on their website and we are American suckers.)

So please now picture us, exhausted, rallying to drag our suitcases through Paris at night (though also invigorated after our first Very French cultural encounter) trying to avoid dog poop (which Parisians en masse refuse to pick up) and finally arriving at the beautiful Westin hotel to find ourselves much, much happier. Twice the price is apparently also infinitely more comfortable.

Tres Jolie!

We made a pact that this comfort would be our Christmas gift to each other. Sealed it with a fist bump. And finally fell asleep.

Bon Noël à nous!

I’ve been trying to get my husband, Ryan, to go to Paris with me for years. Horrible stories about rudeness, free-roaming cats, and lack of attention to what we Americans would consider proper food handling and hygiene had turned him off of the French.

But on a business trip last year he found himself having dinner in a centuries-old farmhouse in Bordeaux. And he tasted the bread. And that marvelous French butter.

And I think the experience may have piqued his interest.

Of course, he’s also traveled to many places in the past decade: Norway and Korea, Germany and England, Australia and Japan – he’s become accustomed to, adept even, at embracing different cultures with grace (or at the very least, professional patience). Some of these places we’ve been able to visit together. But Paris wasn’t yet one of them.

A Surprise for Zazie

On our first date – nearly 13 years ago – we’d sat at the B&O on Capitol Hill, ate cake, and chatted about our favorite books. He said I reminded him of Zazie, the eponymous heroine of Raymond Queneau’s Zazie dans le Metro.

Zazie is a potty-mouthed, smarty-pants little girl who on a visit to her uncle in Paris for the weekend only wants to do one thing – ride the metro.

But the metro is on strike.

This, naturally, pisses Zazie off to no end.

“Oh, the dirty bastards!” Zazie exclaims. “Oh, the buggers! To think they’d pull a trick like that one me! . . . Oh shit, it gives me a real pain.”

Ryan said that the book was hard to find, and that he would procure me a copy. Procure he did, and presented it to me 2 days later on our next date. (He’d had it overnighted from San Francisco.)

A few years later I found out that the book had been adapted into a film and directed by Louis Malle.

I called local gem, Scarecrow Video, and by coincidence, they had just procured a large inventory and had a copy on VHS which I bought and gave to Ryan.

Zazie dans le Metro was recently released by Criterion, and I dropped a hint on Facebook – something of the ZOMG! variety.

Ryan had been informed by his friend, Kristofor, that whenever a woman posts something on the social networking site with a link and a ZOMG! that means she wants it. So – a none too subtle hint it was.

For my birthday, which, by the way, is also the national French independence celebration, Bastille Day, I received a beautiful copy of the film. I hugged it to my chest and said, “Oh, Ryan. Will you promise to go to Paris with me someday?”


“For reals?”

“For reals.”

“Even though you don’t like the French?”

“Yes, Jen. I promise I will go to Paris with you someday.”

Not believing him in the least I proceeded to check out the interior material of my new DVD. Nestled inside was an envelope addressed to “Zazie.” The card read “Meet me in Paris” and then had the dates 6 December – 13 December.

I couldn’t believe it!!!!! On y va!

*Illustrations by Jacqueline Duheme from Olympia Press edition of Zazie dans Le Metro.