Friday, September 25
Ever since we got here we’ve been wanting and meaning to take one of the river tours that everyone says you should do. Friday seemed to be just the day. Partly sunny weather, temps in the sixties, no precipitation in the forecast, almost no wind. Perfect for a cruise on the Seine.
There was even a boat dock near our apartment just across the river. So we really thought this was the day that was preordained for us to enjoy a quiet ride gliding up and down the Seine to take in the wonders of this enchanted city. Uh . . . well, no it wasn’t.
Previously Mary Ann expressed her reservations about getting stuck on a full boat of people, so in an effort to assuage her concerns, I produced a picture of a boat that I had taken a few days before that had maybe thirty people on a boat that held 1,000. That convinced her that ours would be one of those boats!
We approached the building to buy tickets, hurriedly went in and plunked down our 30 or so Euros. But what we failed to notice before we bought the tickets was a wildly exuberant tour group of about 500 Chinese tourists itching to get on the boat along with us. Their excitement was palpable.
The boat had two decks, upper, offering an uncovered and full view of the surroundings, and lower with the upper deck above it, offering protection from the sun and rain. And then in front of the boat was a smaller, open area of about 100 seats. Nobody was sitting there, so we thought we could avoid the noisy tour group by sitting there, and also have an open and unobstructed view from the front of the boat. Unfortunately, our being the first people in this section seemed to convince others in the tour group to do as we had done. And soon we were in the middle of a group of people walking around in front of and around us, all of whom seemed to have selfie sticks, and who would, for the next hour, continue to stand in the way shooting countless pictures of themselves with one or another beautiful Paris vista back behind them. Three or four women seemed to delight in taking dozens of group shots of themselves with many different cameras in many different poses, some formal, others goofy (picture holding fingers up behind certain heads). Behind us another group carried on a loud, animated conversation most of the way, drowning out much of the tour’s narration. And this went on for the whole trip. Selfies, great laughter and partying, conversations, and all of these people pretty oblivious to these majestic sites, except to use as backdrops for their selfies. (We were in Italy two years ago, before selfie sticks were even invented, I think. It was so much more pleasant then…)
There are without doubt other noisy groups than these 500 or so Chinese folks. In 2007, we remember a group of Scottish guys who got on a flight in Edinburgh roaring drunk and partying wildly, to celebrate – in Prague – the upcoming marriage of one in their group. The carousing continued for hours in the aisles of the plane. It was the most miserable flight I think I’ve ever been on. Thirty years ago I was actually part of a group like this, a youth orchestra traveling through the UK (not quite as noisy, but rowdy enough at times, and quite wayward, with stragglers showing up at the bus an over an hour past the departure time throwing things badly off schedule. So this post isn’t meant as any kind of specific knock on Chinese people. Rather, it’s a knock on any inconsiderate group of people who are so self-absorbed that they’re completely unaware of the effect of their bad behavior on others. We wouldn’t put up with this kind of cacophony in a movie theater.
What offended (and fascinated) me most was this insatiable desire on the part of so many in this group to only see Paris and it’s wondrous views second-hand, through the screen of a salfie-stick, and inside of a photograph that placed themselves at the center. In other words, Paris was a backdrop to what — back home — would be an ongoing picture show about ME, ME, ME! On our travels, Mary Ann and I take relatively few pictures of each other, concentrating instead on scenes and things we see that we have some kind of emotional response to. In our time here we have seen many of these selfie sticks in the hands of many tourists. And I can see a value in an occasional picture of Mary Ann and me in the context of our trip, both of us together, the kind of picture you used to see tourists accomplishing only with the help of a stranger willing to pause long enough to snap such a shot. As it was, we did take pictures of each other the next day in the Tuiliries, but with just trees as a backdrop, and well away from other travelers so as not to inconvenience them. For us, this trip is about Paris, not about US, US, US!
So no, what happened didn’t turn out to be a gliding reverie evoking some calm Debussy Prelude. When it was finally over, we got off pretty frazzled from it all and found our way to the nearest sidewalk cafe for some café au lait and dessert treats. These boat tours aren’t expensive*, so we may try this again, but not until we’re certain we’ll be on a boat with a smaller, more engaged, and considerate group of people (if it’s possible to do determine that). This experience was completely avoidable if we had only been looking around.
- A note on what things cost in Paris. We have been struck by how inexpensive it is to get into any of the museums, attractions, etc. that we’ve gone to. Even a Paris Museum Pass (more on this later) costs as much as $69 Euros to get you to the front of the line — and into — dozens of these attractions over as many as six days.