Just returned from Paris, two weeks living with basically the staff of the UN. How I ended up in a Villejuif apartment with two Turks, a Syrian and two Australians (one of whom is also Chinese) I cannot tell you. That last sentence was a lie, I am going to tell you now.
I met Leanne (Australian #1) kind of because we had a class together but mostly because four years ago she suffered the same exact type of spinal injury, except hers was for an acceptable reason (falling down a flight of stairs) rather than a dumbass reason (falling out of a tree.) Leanne is the definition of badassery: 30-something, multiple (legal!) passports, over 60 visited countries under her belt (her life goal is 200, lofty considering there are only currently 196 in existence.) She has been a dirty hippie and a rich bitch, been fat and been thin, and has left a trail of lovers all over the world (basically I’m aspiring to spiritually become her.) Leanne’s magnetic personality and clinically confirmed “unrealistic optimism” about all things in life make her an exceptionally adaptive human being and quick to build a social circle, hence the mixed-heritage carpool plan. We (the Syrian, the American and the other Aussie) “helped” her move out of Lyon to join her Turkish boyfriend Ilkem and his roommate/best mate Erke at their flat in Paris. (Worthy of note: Erke and I shared a white-hot romantic chemistry which culminated in his uncomfortably placing a hand on my shoulder/armpit area in the kitchen on the fifth or so night and stammering, “You’re good.” Mon dieu, Erke. Seductive skills top-notch.)
Aside from this whirlwind romance, the highlights of the trip are as follows.
- Commuting: Driving in France is a lot like being on a bumper car track if everyone else on the route has had a considerable amount of wine and a couple hits of crack cocaine. On the freeway, after being cut off by a middle-aged fellow in a small van, Leanne honked and Gareth stuck up his finger, and the force of his gesture fired an invisible channel of lightning directly up the man’s ass. He immediately began screaming and swung the van as near as he could alongside us, rolled down his window and slapped at the rear view mirror on our car, finally managing to knock it sideways. He continued in this manner for the better part of ten minutes, not allowing us to get away, throwing things (mainly lighters, what a sad waste of lighters which are often inconveniently expensive in these parts), swerving and basically having a time of it all over the freeway. It was almost cute, in a way.
- Getting cozy: Sharing a single-sized futon every night with Gareth, a lovely gay Chinese-Australian fellow, which was pretty easy for him as I now sleep like a log thanks to a combination of busted back (read: no moving) and a good-sized dose of Nortriptyline (read: no moving, no dreaming, no breathing or making of sounds whatsoever); more difficult on my end due to Gareth’s considerable snoring problem and random jerking about of limbs. Usually this resulted in sleeping Gareth slapping the side of my ass, which did not have pants to cover it after night #2 when I gave up on that venture. Anyway, Gareth and I got real close real quick.
- Nightlife: Had a nice little break from street harassment, believe it or not, but traded it in for a lot of bar harassment. One guy asked to take a picture with me in the bathroom, and before I had a chance to refuse he leaned over to snap a selfie and hurried to set it as his Facebook profile photo. Another night, a little tiny Arab guy drunk off his tits actually bought me a rose from one of the unfortunate souls that toots about selling single flowers out of bouquets at bars on the nightly (a common profession in France though doubtfully very profitable.) Little fella just couldn’t take no for an answer and consorted to kissing me all over the freaking face while I mostly just made noises and swung my hands about in a flurry, turns out I really need to work on my ‘no’ skills. When he stumbled to the toilet Gareth and I ducked out and jogged a good half-mile away from the bar, only to realize his scarf was gone. Though I offered in earnest to replace the scarf, as it was 100% wool it was clear that neither of us actually possessed the replacement funds; we opted instead to go back. Of course, we ran into the little meatball halfway up the hill and were forced to duck into a fancy Chinese restaurant to escape confrontation, where we were promptly seated and served with shrimp crisps while we perused the menu with no money. Leaving was uncomfortable.
- #MuslimXmas2014: A valiant effort on Leanne’s part to get the Turks, both raised Muslim, excited for a Christian holiday. It ended up being pretty fucking adorable: some really terrible Christmas music accompanied by Erke crooning “Jesus, Jesus” over and over, a baby tree topped with a mishmash star I folded out of wrapping paper, a raclette dinner, a small white elephant exchange and a breakfast of TimTams (a fine Australian delicacy/art form), shitty mimosas and earl grey, all helped along by that friend among all cultures, a healthy dose of Jackie D. We ended the day by smoking under the eiffel tower, as one does.
- Getting lost: Busting out on my own now and then, wandering through Belleville and hunting for street art, discovering “the only 666% metal bar in Paris” which was important, though laughably over the top, getting lost in the international district, drinking espresso between old French men and their newspapers, eating the best almond croissant I’ve ever dreamed of, bumbling through vintage shops, and trancing out watching an old homeless man feeding pigeons, surrounding him like gusts of wind in enormous waves.
- La Vielle: One grey morning in line at the bustling pâtisserie, a lovely old Parisian woman fawned all over my hair, so curious about my life and studies, insisting I had to see Florence because apparently Florence is just the best place ever. She then bought me an entire box of baby macarons and wished me a très bonne fête, which blew my heart up like a gross meat balloon to the point of bloody bursting.
- Queueing: The Catacombs, bane of my existence at this point. Number one thing I planned to visit, and visit I did — three days in a row without ever getting in. The queue is a debatable 2 to 4 hour wait, they stop taking people in an hour before close, AND close two hours early sometimes without warning, hooray! The catacombs literally employs people to just hang about near the end of the queue on the daily and tell folks who have been in line for hours that they probably won’t get in, which is likely the second worst job to have in Paris (#1 is definitely working the counter in paid toilets and turning away people with no money who need to shit.) Fortunately the hours on hours spent queueing for the ‘combs was time enough to make fast friends with a lovely group of British/English gals on holiday from Sheffield-slash-Yorkshire-I-never-quite-figured-it-out. Awesome people, feminists and kindred spirits with whom Gareth and I spent
- NEW YEAR’S! Jogging through the Paris metro with a gaggle of people all shouting and laughing in different languages, bursting out of the elevator and scattering up the hill in Monmarte, pushing up towards Sacre-Coeur and the bustling crowds of semi-drunks all singing and screaming and kissing each other, the sky alight with gold and bursts of fireworks, the tower and all of Paris sparkling out before us. We shared two bottles of cheap champagne and a beefy cigar (which I then pawned off on a drunk in a truck — we concluded cigars are on the whole little more than a really nasty-tasting design to stroke the male ego.)
To think, last year at New Years I was sick with the flu in my brother’s old twin bed, asleep by 9 PM. Feels like eons away now, a different era — or maybe it’s just hard to see through all the torrential merde that 2014 slung about. Shitfest that it was though, it was transformative beyond measure. I see myself so much clearer for its trials and triumphs; my awe and gratitude are too great for words — for the incredible love and incredible loss, all of the pain and the enormous joy. I’m resting with open heart and open mind for new lessons, new adventures, new chaos and new passions.
Buckle up, ladies and gents — 2015 is gonna be a wild one.