Classes have finally begun. I may have a bank account open and operational tomorrow. Things are settling down. It is at this point that I begin to feel more Parisian and less like a tourist. However, my very touristic tendancies toward mouth-watering pastries and warm, flaking baguettes have already become addictions that I am finding very hard to kick. On my 40 minute walk to the Sorbonne in the mornings, I probably pass by at least 14 different pastisseries and boulangeries. The smell of freshly baked bread and the sweet hint of jellies and frosting seep out onto the neighboring rues and boulevards - mixed with the crisp morning air, the allure is sometimes too great to pass up.
When I show up to class and begin to disrobe, a small colony of croissant flakes often spill out of my scarf and the particles of my delicious breakfast must be wiped off my coat lapels, leaving a lovely pile of breakfast residue below my chair. The cleaning people must love me! Although I walk almost everywhere I go in Paris and rarely take the metro, I fear that my love affair with pastries would ultimately force me to "upgrade" my wardrobe, and not in the preferred way. And that is why I am the newsest cardholder of the Club Med Gym system of Paris.
Now anyone who has been to a gym in America, or anyone who has simply witnessed the fast-paced, diet-conscious, "I'll have a Big Mac with a DietCoke" mindset of American culture, knows that Americans have a very particular approach to working out. Amidst the advertisements for "10-minute abs" and weight loss regimes that promise that you will drop 20 pounds in 15 days, people flock to gyms to work out incredibly hard, incredibly fast, hoping for incredible results.
This is not true of Paris.
Around 5:00 on Thursday afternoon, I went to my local gym to get a quick workout in before I went out for drinks with friends. I have never seen so much spandex and hot shorts in my life - and these were among the men. Actually, the entire gym was populated with men. I was the ONLY female in the entire building. This fact alone is enough to blow my mind since back home the treadmills and especially the eliptical machines are nearly always claimed by women. But I am living in the Marais, which is a well-known home to Paris' gay population, so I try not to be alarmed by the strangely dressed men bouncing along on every eliptical device in sight.
I get on the bike that is situated at the rear of the weight room, so that I get a good view of everything that is going on. This might be the best spot for people-watching that I have found yet! First there is a guy to my left who is interested in a machine that works your gluts and hamstrings. He is wearing what look like black dress socks with Hugh Heffner style, navy blue slippers. He is also wearing white, and fairly see-through, shorts that probably were an appropriate length to start, but are now rolled multiple times, exposing his incredibly pale thighs. And although I have already been on the bike for about 10 minutes, I have yet to see him actually use this machine. Instead, he is just kind of leaning against it surveying the rest of the room.
Actually, only about half the people who are involved with one machine or another are actually using them. The rest are either leaning against or simply sitting on the machines. One guy in front of me has his head down on the arm rest for a tricep curl machine - I try to pedal as quietly as I can since it appears that he might be sleeping. Another, who is sitting at a kind of thigh-squeezing machine, is reading the newspaper, Le Monde, and hasn't even begun to move his legs at all.
I continue to pedal, dripping sweat and breathing pretty heavily. I think my sweating might be offending the guy on the eliptical machine beside me. He is wearing brightly colored spandex from head-to-toe and seems to be very proud of his "assets" as he sways his hips and his head bobs happily to his iPod. I have no idea how long he's been going at the machine, but he continually sweeps his sweat-less hair out of his face in a flourish and seems quite content to be going very slowly with no particular excercise objective at all, except to watch the other scantily clad men waltz over to the water fountain. He casts furtive glances at the stats on my bike's screen and I can feel his eyes looking at me up and down, seemingly puzzled as to why I would allow myself to get that sweaty.
I think these men were really surprised when I headed over the free-weights area of the gym. This was definitely no-woman's-land. As I tried to select the appropriate wieght and do the conversions from kilos to pounds in my head (math was never a strong point for me, so this took a while), men all around me were huffing and grunting. They weren't all lifting weights though - mostly they were checking out their rearviews in the mirrors. You won't find any muscly, body-building types in these gyms. Instead, most of these guys' waists have probably about the same girth as one of my thighs. So when they watched me, with a kind of horror on their faces as I began my squats and arm lifts, their puzzled faces seemed to ask, "Qu'est-ce qu'elle fait?!" and they stood there, leaning against a wall or absent-mindedly holding a pair of 4 kilo weights at their sides, staring at me.
Mission accomplished: I felt incredibly uncomfortable!
I finished up my workout and headed downstairs toward the women's locker room. I passed a big dance studio that looked like some kind of yoga or pilates class was about to begin. I pushed open the locker room doors and actually came to a sudden halt that jolted me awake from my post-workout fatigue.
Naked women everywhere!
All ages, all sizes, all naked.
I guess they were getting ready to attend the class that was about to start. I tried to shuffle my way through the throng of bodies, undressing and dressing, to get to my locker. I did a version of the right-of-way-shuffle with a topless woman, who looked about the appropriate age of a grandmother, that left me frantically hugging the wall of lockers to let her pass me by. Nudity really doesn't bother me; it was just the sheer number of exposed breasts all at once that caught me off guard. By the time I got out of my shower, most of the women were gone. I dressed, returned my towel, and left the building.
Now, I thought, I am definitely ready for a drink.