I went to sleep at 2 AM the night before but this didn’t prevent me from waking up eagerly and naturally at 7:30. It was finally the day that had been lingering nebulously in the back of my mind for three or four months. I don’t know why I had the idea, but it came to me one day while walking aimlessly around Paris. Perhaps I wanted to wander less aimlessly. They aren’t normal tourist attractions. In fact, I’m sure there are people who come to Paris and never notice a single one of the 19 mairies of Paris. Although the twentieth is pretty difficult to overlook. The Hôtel de Ville de Paris is practically crying for attention. A massive stone affair dominating a huge square in the very heart of Paris, at night it sparkles and flashes, and in the winter the square is occupied by a large and popular outdoor skating rink. It’s fun to go there just to watch the skillful show off and the skill-less throw their caution to the wind with jolting and cringe-worthy results. A month ago, Tori, Amanda, and I were enjoying a nighttime spectacle of skill, fear, joy, near collisions, actual collisions, when an Italian woman came up to me and asked, “Scusi. Questo batimento [indicates the Hôtel de Ville], Notra Dama?” –“No. Notre Dame, là [I indicate Notre Dame standing majestically on the other side of the river].”
So this one, this Hôtel de Ville, is difficult to miss even if you’re not looking for it. The other 19 mairies, the seats of the municipal governments of each of the 20 arrondissements of Paris, could be easily overlooked. Other than the tricolore out front and a couple security guards, for the most part they look like any other fancy building in Paris. Well, one day when I was walking around the idea came to me that I should try to find all of them (not that it would be particularly difficult since they’re each marked on my map) just so that I could see some other parts of Paris that I would not normally see—the parts of Paris neglected by tourists because they don’t have any highfalutin Mona Lisas, Eiffel Towers, or Sacré Coeurs. But this in itself was only one part of the somewhat less than sane idea that sprung involuntarily into my head: I would have to visit them all in one day. The practicality of visiting them was still less than clear; all I knew was that I didn’t want to use the metro. This leaves a few options: walking, biking, and bus-riding. Even until the day before I wasn’t consciously sure what I would do, but I think my subconscious was decided from the very beginning, because when H-Hour arrived I didn’t think twice. I took the metro to the first mairie on the route I had planned out and then continued from there on foot.
I snaked my way up and down Paris. I started in the 19th arrondissement at 10:00, and by 12:45 when I was sitting down in the Arènes de Lutèce to eat the lunch I had packed, I had visited the mairies of the 19th, 20th, 11th, 12th, and 13th arrondissements. Two and a half hours to visit five mairies. It was clear then if it hadn’t been before that this was going to take quite a while. Around 2:30 PM, on my way to the mairie of the 18th arrondissement—the arrondissement that includes Montmartre, Sacré Coeur, and the cabarets of the Pigalle neighborhood—when I still had 10 mairies left to visit, I started jogging for the first time all day. After losing some time and composure because of turnarounds in the 7th and 6th arrondissements I was growing impatient and tired, so for the remaining three mairies I set out at times at a brisk and purposeful jog and at others at a sort of foot- and world- weary half-trot. Compounding my impatience was the fact that while I didn’t have a fixed time limit per se, I was supposed to go to my PE-teacher friends’ apartment for a guys-night of beer-drinking and Playstation-playing, so I didn’t want to show up too late.
I saw all of that and more. But there were lots of people yesterday who may have noticed a strange sight. Some guy dressed in street clothes, a green tee-shirt and Levi’s, seemingly in a rush (he was running after all) suddenly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, pulled out a camera, a map, and a notebook, took a picture of himself and jotted something down in his notebook, then took off running again.
There’s lots to see in a city as big as Paris.