Once again, dear readers, I’ve waited far too long since my last post. Then again, a lot has happened since Christmas Day. I’ll fill you in in installments, though, so that you’re not overwhelmed. Here’s your first one:
How I spent three days of my Christmas vacation with a 14-foot U-Haul truck
You may or may not know that I still own an apartment in Washington, DC, where I lived for 8 years before moving to Paris in 2010. Since I haven’t really worked since 2009, maintaining a mortgage on that piece of prime real estate no longer made any sense and I put it on the market a few months ago. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for a beautiful, 1100-sq.-ft., 1927-build, Beaux-Arts apartment in Adams Morgan, send me a message and I’ll put you in touch with my broker!) What that decision meant was that I needed to move a LOT of furniture and personal effects out of the place, so Michel and I planned a three-day excursion to DC right after Christmas to load up what was left of my stuff and move it back to my parents’ place in South Carolina. That couldn’t possibly be TOO difficult, right?
It’s been a week since my last post, and I apologize for the delay in posting something new. It’s been a very hectic and discombobu-lating 7 days.
Right after my last post, we traveled from balmy and sunny South Carolina to cold and drizzly Washington, D.C., to visit friends and ready my apartment there for a tenant. Being face-to-face with my good friends after such a long separation was like a homecoming for me. These little visits (my second one to Washington since leaving last August) remind me of how much I miss that city and the life I built there: my apartment, my church, my circle of friends … but being there this time with Michel also reminded me that my home is wherever I’m with him, whether that’s in Washington, in South Carolina, or in La Courneuve.
Châtelet-Les Halles is not only located at the very geographic center of Paris, it is also the transit hub of the city. It is actually a complex of two Métro stations (Châtelet and Les Halles) and a pôle d’échange, or central exchange station, for the RER (Réseau Express Régional or Regional Express Network, Paris’s commuter light rail system). The RER station services three of Paris’s 5 RER lines: A, B, and D. Métro station Châtelet services 5 of Paris’s 16 Métro lines: 1, 4, 7, 11, and 14. Métro station Les Halles services the 4 line.
The first notable thing about Châtelet-Les Halles is that it’s huge! The southern end of the RER station connects to the Châtelet Métro station and the northern end connects to the Les Halles Métro station. The walking distance from Châtelet to Les Halles is almost half a mile (750 meters)—a distance 50% longer than the average distance between stations in the Paris Métro system! Thankfully the transfer is facilitated at one point by a nice, long people-moving conveyor belt … or you can just take the 4 line and save the shoe leather.
The second notable thing about Châtelet-Les Halles is that it is the busiest underground transit station in the world. Each weekday, Châtelet-Les Halles hosts about 750,000 travelers (more than the average weekday traffic in the entire Washington, DC Metro). During rush hour, 120 trains arrive in and depart from Châtelet-Les Halles each hour! That’s a lot of people scurrying here and there. No wonder Châtelet-Les Halles is, in my opinion, the most overwhelming and disorienting Métro station in Paris.
So, the question that I initially set out to answer: why is it called Châtelet-Les Halles?
If you’ve ever spent much time in Paris, you know that the Paris Métro is enormous: 16 lines, 381 stops in 297 stations (of which 62 provide correspondence between lines), and 132 miles of routes. It’s not as large as New York’s subway system, of course, which has 24 lines, 468 stops in 421 stations, and 209 miles of routes, but it is much bigger than the Metro system of my hometown of Washington, DC: the DC Metro has 5 lines, 118 stops in 86 stations, and 106 miles of routes.
Paris’s Métro is one of the densest subway systems in the world, with 245 of its stations located within the 34 square miles of the city of Paris itself. Since the Métro was designed at the end of the nineteenth century to comprehensively serve the city, the stations are very close together: only 548 meters apart on average (about a third of a mile or 600 yards), ranging down to 424 meters (a quarter of a mile or 465 yards) on line 4 and up to one kilometer (about six tenths of a mile or 1,100 yards) on the newest line 14. With all these Métro stations and their maze-like transfer tunnels, it’s no wonder that Paris has been described as a véritable gruyère.
In my last post, I talked about my family weekend—the one where I ended up feeling like a drunk bee, remember? One thing I didn’t mention in that post was one of the cutest moments involving my nieces and nephew from the weekend. Here you go … you’ll chuckle, too:
Saturday evening, we were at the home of my mother-in-law, whom I call Belle Maman. (I’m sure that to a French speaker like her, that name seems completely banal, but I just love that “mother-in-law” in French translates to “beautiful mother” in English. But I digress.) Anyway, before dinner, I was occupied with the kids: my 6-year-old niece Tiphaine and my 4-year-old nephew Romain. The more I get to know her, the more I think Tiphaine is a little like me personality-wise. She likes to play school, and she’s very good at playing the teacher. After searching for some paper and a pen, she instructed me to have a seat at the desk and draw something for her. No specific instructions, just something good. Continue reading “C’est Washington !”
A friend recently posted an article on Facebook about former Manhattanites living in my former hometown of Washington, D.C. Manhattanites exiled to Washington search for fellow sufferers is a humorous piece in the Washington Post‘s lifestyle section reporting on the “stranger in a strange land” lamentations of the members of a group called the Fellowship of Unassimilated Manhattan Exiles. It’s pretty funny because these folks are self-styled “exiles,” as if they had been banished from Manhattan to the hinterlands. And it’s even more entertaining because the article is rife with the stereotypical over-inflated New York ego: Continue reading A Bitter-sweet Exile