The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

September 8

A compendium of observations and musings on life in and around Paris:

Last week I went from Paris' Gare du Nord to London's Waterloo station on the Eurostar, my first trip through the Channel tunnel. Because I made my reservations at the last minute, I paid a steep price, about $140 each way. (Later, a ticket agent told me the one-way fare goes as low as $70 if you book at least three weeks in advance and stay over a Saturday.) The boarding process was efficient, with more security precautions -- repeated passport checks and baggage inspection -- than at European airports. The staff was bilingual, and the trip was perfectly comfortable, lasting 2.5 hours. About 90 minutes into the trip, we entered the tunnel, crossed under the channel in 20 minutes, then emerged. And suddenly, it was England.

I'd been to London many times but on this trip was able to contrast these two capitals: London, with its real urban pulse and cultural diversity, and Paris, quiet, harmonious, unruffled, a museum city.

Still, Paris can surprise me. The other day I was walking from a yoga class in the northern part of the Marais to Art Deco Rex Cinema on the Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle. (I especially like the intersection of Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle and Rue Poissoniere, though I can't exactly say why.) Anyway, I veered onto Rue Blondel, a little street that runs east to west between Boulevard Sebastopol and Rue St.-Martin, just like any other really, with storefront shops selling cheap clothes. In almost every doorway was a prostitute talking to a man or silently smoking, in a skin-tight skirt, halter top, high heels, flashy jewelry. Of course I've seen hookers before, but the thing about the ones on Rue Blondel is that they're all gigantic and fleshy, like something out of a Fellini movie. I exchanged a polite bon jour with one of them, trying not to gawk, wondering what to think of her and what she thought of me.

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