Paris, kinda

Paris, kinda

Events move fast and it’s hard for me to keep up, especially at my current glacial pace of writing. Just a few weeks ago in the shower I had what I was sure was an awesome hot take on the then-ongoing Supreme Court drama, but by the time I got out of the shower and had breakfast, my observations had been overtaken by events and the moment was gone. My hot take was cold.

Then I was all excited about going to Paris and coming back with some observations and witticisms and profundities about the French capital from my hopefully unique perspective, but by the time I was done exploring Notre Dame and finding lozenges for my suddenly-sore throat, my vacation was over.

If I failed to take any profoundly new pictures of Paris during my whirlwind tour there, I can take comfort in knowing that this is one of the most-photographed places on earth, and on a first visit I certainly wasn’t going to bring anything new to the picture.

I did eventually find cleaner bathrooms, so there’s that. And I learned that either I am extraordinarily lucky or the Parisian reputation for rudeness is thoroughly undeserved. I was pleased to find that people really do walk down the street casually holding baguettes in their hands, but dismayed to learn that it is impossible to buy throat lozenges at seven in the morning because everything is closed at that time, even the allegedly-24-hour drug stores. Once it woke up, though, Paris reminded me of New York way more than I had expected; it looked like the Upper East Side with only about 30 percent more French on the signage. I feel like at some point in my life somebody should have mentioned that. On the third day I even woke up to jackhammering in front of my apartment.

If you’ve been to Paris, or have even just heard of it, then you’ve seen these pictures before. Nonetheless, this is what I saw when I wasn’t busy trying not to swallow.


First impressions of Paris

First impressions of Paris

Because it is a long weekend and because I have been growing increasingly restless (and probably because I’m terribly financially irresponsible or whatever) I am in Paris this week, holed up in a little apartment just off the Place de la Republique.

I’ve never been to Paris before. When I was young I lived for a time in southwest Germany, not far from the French border, and my family forayed regularly into France to feel the warmth of other supermarkets, but I take it as a measure of my parents’ idiosyncrasies that they dragged my sister and me all over Europe but never showed any interest in Paris. Indeed, my father always dismissive of the idea of going there–”Nothing but traffic and tourists.” (The only other city I heard him show such contempt for was Venice, because he saw a picture of clothes hanging on a line and declared the whole thing “ghetto.”)

(My sister, for the record, did spend two weeks in Paris on an exchange, and she did her best to convince us that we should go, but my father’s attitude infected us all and we left Europe without going.)

Given how much I’ve traveled it seems like a curious hole in my biography to have avoided Paris. I have nothing against the French, of course, and greatly admire the food, culture, and history. I cringe whenever anyone makes anti-French comments, and agree enthusiastically whenever French friends tell me I must see Paris. “Yes, I must!” I declare.

So with Ugandan independence day this weekend, and all my colleagues taking that as an excuse to miss the whole week, I bought a plane ticket and booked a room. Not bad, huh? Being an adult means never having to show self-control! (Um…what?)

Now, an American can never just go to Paris, the way one can go to London or Berlin. Every time someone at the office asked where I was going for the vacation, I was reminded of the weight that Paris, alone among cities, carries on the American imagination. Sometimes I couldn’t even say it. “I’m going to France,” I’d say, or even “Europe.”

When an American goes to Paris, or even just suggests the possibility of going, he or she is immediately placed on the continuum of obsession that is at least as deeply rooted as apple pie. An American in Paris follows in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, Josephine Baker, and the Fourth Infantry Division. An American in Paris must partake of Hemingway’s movable feast, and carries the burden of every fanny-packed tourist who ever joked about freedom fries and cheese-eating surrender monkeys. An American in Paris hears the echoes of a million honeymoons, and honors the wishes of every housewife whose only dream is to someday go to “Paris, France,” and every theater major who drives her roommates nuts singing Phantom and Les Mis.

It’s quite a history.

And so it is with a heavy heart that I must confess that I came to Paris extremely unprepared.

I don’t speak French, something which was noted at customs. (“Why not?” the officer asked.”I don’t know.” “ ‘I don’t know?’ This is not a good answer.”)

But mostly, I don’t know anything about Paris. I don’t even know what there is to do here besides the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and croissants.

And so I arrived in one of the world’s greatest cities as if I’d just wandered into a little town in the middle of nowhere. What proceeds now are almost pure first impressions.

First, Charles de Gaulle Airport is the least welcoming airport I’ve seen outside of America. (My country, I admit, has some truly awful airports.) Dark, brutalist, with few amenities. But that’s okay, I’m a New Yorker, and our airports look like disasters.

How is every building so lovely? And what did this city look like before wrought iron? And when there is just one perfectly-placed flower box in the window of a building, is it because only one person cared and they hit upon the most perfect way to beautify the whole building, or are all the neighbors choosing to forgo their own flower boxes for the aesthetic purity of that one box?

What is up with the toilets here? I went to several, and all were gnarly.

Seriously, why don’t I speak French by now? All I know are Serge Gainsbourg lyrics, and I’m pretty sure it’s hard to work “Je vais et je viens entre tes reins” into a normal conversation. Funnily, whenever someone asked me a question in French, I felt the need to answer in Russian. Could not stop saying “da” to everyone.

Heavy cloud cover means I still haven’t seen the Eiffel Tower. Maybe today it will clear up.

My first day was all aimless wandering, rewarding but exhausting after the long flight, and once I checked into my room i found I didn’t have the energy to go out again. It’s a new day, though, and I’m looking forward to exploring more. I kind of like that I am here without any useful background knowledge. I’ll have to see where the day takes me.

Oh inertia!

Oh inertia!

The trouble with living in a land with no discernable seasons is that time really does slip away. I haven’t been here since February! Not because I have nothing to do or say—heck, that never stopped me before—but because, well, I just didn’t. After my little mini-safari it seemed anticlimactic to talk about my regular boring life (a new pizza place opened! yay!); and then I was determined to write another novel (10,000 words in then decided it was rubbish and needed to start over; now back up to 1,000); and then I was like, “Oh, it is April already? Crap.”

And then I went on summer vacation. I had very lofty ambitions. I bought fancy camera equipment and make a very elaborate itinerary and was going to take five thousand pictures. Instead I took about a hundred.

And didn’t share any of them.

And now it’s September and I feel guilty even doing this. But hey, if I don’t get back on the horse, then I’m not going to go anywhere.

Had I shared my rough draft, it would have begun something like this:

The first rain of the season began as a papery whisper passing a secret through the dry grasses and the dying leaves. It was mere rumor, laden with anxiety and disbelief, but then the first drops came, miraculously cold and heavy, and even if it stopped now they would all know that the rains were coming, and it would be good.

And if I had shared pictures, they would have looked something like this:

That was an up-close encounter with a cantankerous peregrine falcon in New Hampshire. Beautiful bird, though a little goofy-looking up close.

And then I would have shared some of these appealing rustic images from Vermont.


And I would have definitely shared pictures of some of the things I saw in a museum.


But I didn’t do any of that when it was timely, so I’m getting it out of my system, and will be returning once again to at least semi-regular posts. Because darn it, I miss this all. And the seasons are never going to help me mark the passage of time, at least not while I live here, so I have to just make sure I do it myself.



There are cheeky monkeys, and then there are baboons. At the ferry landing, a big male was hanging out by the gift shop of all places, acting like he was waiting for it to open so he could buy a trinket or something. We opened the door to our safari car, and in seconds the baboon shot across the parking lot. We were all sure he was going to steal one of the children in the car (to be fair, the little ones are snack-sized), but instead he reached in a deftly snatched one of the pack lunches. We can marvel for a moment about how aware this baboon was that he could spot a paper bag in a dark car from thirty meters away and know it contained lunch; and admire his ability to go right into the midst of a crowd of people and steal their food and get away with it; but mostly my take-away is that an animal that can do that can really mess me up if it wanted to.

When we returned, the same baboon was leaning against the driver’s-side door of someone else’s car, like a primate gangster demanding protection money.

Continue reading “Baboons”

Nile River cruise

Nile River cruise

The point of the river cruise is to see the actual Murchison Falls, but along the way you get a bonus mini-safari along the river. The river guide tried to his best to explain what we were looking at, but the crowd was a bit noisy, and there were some concerns that if we all stood on the same side the boat might tip over and we’d all get eaten by crocodiles, so I must confess I didn’t learn much. I did, however, see more elephants, which is always fun.

IMG_4241 Continue reading “Nile River cruise”

Murchison Falls game drive

Murchison Falls game drive

It is possible to stay at a resort inside Murchison Falls National Park, but it is cheaper (and, I am told, a bit more fun) to stay at one of the many lovely lodges outside of the park, so that’s what I did. The trade-off, though, is that you have to carefully plan your trip and wake up really early. There are no bridges across the Nile at this point, so to get into the park proper you have to take a ferry. The ferry operates from 7am to 7pm, and it only holds eight cars at a time. And because it is dry season, the animals are going to spend most of their day in the shade and out of sight, so if you want to see one, you really have to be on the 7am ferry. Which means you have to wake up early, have breakfast, and make sure you are there in time to be one of those first eight cars to go across.

Since I am a maniac, I woke up at around 4 and grouched at everyone in my party to get in gear so that we could leave on time. As it turns out, ours was the second car to get to the landing point, and I felt my grumpiness vindicated. Continue reading “Murchison Falls game drive”

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls, just east of where the Nile takes a rest at Lake Albert, bills itself as the “Most Powerful Waterfall in the World.” I have learned not question these kinds of claims, as nothing positive can come out of that sort of conversation. After all, in my hometown the Empire State Building claims to be the world’s most famous building, which can be disputed by a number of other buildings around the world, but who cares, right?

After leaving Jinja I decided I needed to go someplace new, so I am now up at Murchison Falls National Park. I took a riverboat to the falls with the intention of hiking to the top, but then someone told me that you can just drive up, so I stayed in the boat, turned around, and then drove to the summit. Much easier. Here’s what I saw.

Continue reading “Murchison Falls”

Another Nile sunrise

Another Nile sunrise

I spent the weekend at a place called the Hairy Lemon, which is a small island in the Nile about an hour north of Jinja, which has somehow become my go-to weekend destination. The island attracts kayakers, mostly, but I don’t do that, so mostly I sat around drinking, avoiding monkeys, and overhearing people talking about kayaks.

But in the morning, while all of those fit young types were sleeping it off, I had the island entirely to myself, and I spent it trying to capture the sunset. Here are the best of my pictures. Continue reading “Another Nile sunrise”