17 November 2007

Headed to St. Pancras

The trip to Paris is over and we’re back on the Eurostar to St. Pancras. There’s just a sliver of the sun still visible and I can see nothing but open fields, a few trees, the occasional wind farm, and one massive IKEA store. We’re traveling so fast that if I had blinked at the wrong time, I would have completely missed IKEA.

Ah, it was good to be back in the Nutella belt. I imagine that England has access to Nutella (I think I’ve seen it), but that hazelnut ambrosia isn’t really a staple in England like it is in continental Europe. I would like to express my gratitude to the woman who first came up with the idea to slather that hazelnut and chocolate spread on a crepe. Credit is also due to the men and women who sell these ‘crepes au Nutella’ every ten metres in the streets. [Like a typical philosophy paper,] this post will now diverge into two drastically different directions: one heading toward transit strikes and the other heading back toward crepes.

On Strikes
But I’ve come to learn this: if Nutella is prevalent in a place, there will also be transport strikes there. I haven’t really done any research on this correlation, but I would imagine that this relationship holds pretty consistently (Italy and France being my only examples to speak of). Be sure to look out for a future post that will explain the effect of hazelnut spread on the solidarity of transit workers.

An Italian Train Strike
During a sciopero this spring, I spent the night in the Pisa Centrale train station. I was on my way to the Cinque Terre for a weekend away and the compounding effect of two late trains and a daytime train strike put me in the station overnight. Sleeping in that station gave me the opportunity to meet some perfectly nice people and some perfectly strange ones too. The strangest, by far, spoke no English (of course). Fortunately I knew enough Italian by that point to understand what she was telling me. She was a bonnet-wearing vagrant with an extremely distinct chin who always slept in train stations. There may or may not have been a mole on her face. She told me about the various stations that she’d slept in: she’d been to Rome thirteen times, the station in Paris was too cold, the station in Monaco was beautiful (and likely her favorite), and La Spezia used to be a good spot to sleep but now they only treat you well in La Spezia if you are very important. I remember that she seemed pretty happy with Pisa Centrale.

A Parisian Train Strike
The transit workers in Paris were on strike this weekend. One of the lines was at full capacity, one of the lines was totally shut down, and the rest were running at reduced capacity. Our first attempt to get on the metro at Gare du Nord was a miserable failure: the doors were open and every car was already overcrowded. I grabbed onto the top, inside edge of the door to give myself enough leverage to force myself onto the train, but the people inside the car could not compress any more than they already had. [I even tried to use Oprah’s Secret: putting myself on the train by imaging myself on the train. This, too, failed.] After eight or nine attempts, we knew we were walking to the hostel. It ended up taking us about ninety minutes to get to our accommodation (including some wandering and a stop for a baguette). It turned out to be a nice walk and a good way to see a lot of the city that we would have otherwise missed. So, in a way, I have the striking transit workers to thank for that.

On The Florence Crepe Market
Florence seems to have an extremely limited selection of crepes, almost entirely dependent on Nutella. I took a walk last night in the Latin Quarter and saw that the Parisian selection of crepes extends far beyond mere Nutella. The Latin Quarter was filled with drinking establishments and people around my own age. Ergo, there were also street vendors selling crepes in the middle of the night. Where an American student in the same position would end up at Taco Cabana (or Taco C, for enthusiasts), the French have access to and take for granted a food that we’d consider a delicacy. I can’t imagine leaving Northgate and stopping off for a crepe filled with Gruyere, Asperges, & Jambon on my way home on a weekend evening.

I’m underneath the English Channel right now and my ears are popping. I’ll make ‘part deux’ of this entry once I’ve returned to flat thirtysix. Until then…

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