It was not the season for tourism. We arrived in Paris by overnight train from Barcelona, entering the City of Lights via the shabby Gare de Paris-Austerlitz. Mounds of pigeon feathers lined the halls like drifts of gray snow burying stained paper cups and sandwich wrappers. My companion was ill, and he spoke no French, so at the Buffet de la Gare I must make do for us both. The middle-aged waiter had no patience for foreigners. The menu bore only six items: I ordered deux croque-monsieur et deux café; the prix service was fixed at fifteen percent. Afterward we walked to our hotel, wheeling our luggage along the damp streets, through patches of fallen leaves. The elevator cage was out of service. We carried our bags up two flights of cracked marble steps to a small room, where one must sit on the bed for the other to enter the toilet. We were in Paris.
—Lester Smith, 13 November 2008