Day #24: You’re Beautiful

Thursday May 13
We barely crawl out of bed at noon and the only reason we do is because the cleaning lady, a petite African transplant to France, is making a ruckus trying to wake us up again. I look through my curtains to see her infuriated look. I am sure she would hit us with the handle of her mop if she was allowed to, but instead she just slams the mop into the sides of the bed to make sure we know she is there.
I keep my eyes shut for a while longer hoping that maybe she’ll soon go away, but then I hear whoosh, whoosh, flop and my bed starts shaking. She is changing the sheets on the bed above me again. “Will she ever go away?” I wonder. It seems not, but I keep my eyes shut and wish her away. Then I hear the slide of tired feet across the floor and the door swish shut too and I realize that Redmond is now awake, which means the end of my attempts at sleep. It is now time to wake up and I feel like crap.
Okay… actually I don’t feel that bad, just that hung-over glaze that happens no matter how much water or ibuprofen you have in the night. I had the obligatory two glasses of water and two ibuprofen before bed and awoke a few hours later to repeat the same. Mama didn’t raise no fool, I didn’t want to wake up stumbling all over myself. Still even with all the extra caution, I knew that there was no rectifying the amount I drank the night before, so I felt a little sluggish, it was better than the alternative, being Redmond and wanting to puke all day. Unfortunately no one told her about water and ibuprofen and I forgot that this is something she hasn’t learned yet because she is only 19. 19 year olds don’t know these tricks yet, but I think after this she will.
It takes us two hours to get ready, not because we are primping but because we are moving too slowly to get ready any faster. The shower feels good and I stay in for almost fifteen minutes even though I have to press the knob every 45 seconds to keep the water going. By the end of the shower I feel like it is a little game I am playing, pressing the shower knob just as the water is evaporating and whalaaaa it turns back on!
When we both get back to the room we sit and talk about the night before, attempting to drudge up any memories we can that have evaded us. We look at her camera, she has pictures. “Are you serious? Did that happen?” I ask looking at pics of us dancing with crowds of people and her covering a bald guys head with her mane after he has asked her, like Rapunzel, to let down her hair.
“Oh… shite!” I say. “Post those ones, but not those ones. I don’t want to remember that.” Everything is coming back as she scrolls through the pics.
I think that maybe we should get going, but I look outside and it is cloudy and looks a bit like rain again for yet another day in Paris and then I don’t care anymore. I decide that it doesn’t matter if we waste our whole day in here, but then both of us realize how hungry we are and decide we should head for food.
Then suddenly a petite bubbly brunette walks in. “How are you? What’s your name? Where are you from?” It is fast and my brain is running slowly. “Oh… you don’t have to answer all of those, but yeah. My name is (we’ll call her Sarah since I have forgotten it) Yes, I just got in from London, a transplant from South Africa. Yeah, omg… tell me everything, everything!”
She is too fast for us to answer, but when we do. “Omg, I just love your accents! Tell me everything about the United States. I’ve never been there, but I just know I’d love it. I just know it! I think I’m going to move there, I just need to find a man and marry him. How do I do that? Is it hard to find an American man?”
It is hard not to laugh because she is non-stop, but she is charming, so I tell her it won’t be a problem. “They’ll be charmed by your accent and your beauty.” In truth she’s not very striking, but I think that guys would like her because she is certainly cute and quick witted and she would be snapped up right away. She is happy and grateful.
“Really? My accent, but all my friends just laugh at me they think it is so funny.” She is referring to the SA accent, which sounds like a mix between Australian and British to me at least.
“Yes, they’ll be charmed. They’ll have no idea where your accent is from, just the very fact that you have one will make the guys fall head over heels for you.”
“Oh, I just know I will love it there! I already do!”
This conversation continues for a while and we all decide that we should continue it over food. I think mainly me and Redmond decide that we need to continue it over food and Sarah wants to continue it over drinks, because it’s now 2pm and Londoner’s like to get a head start on drinking. No, I’m not really being facetious here, Londoner’s start drinking damn early. I mean pass out by 7pm kind of early, so we set off with her friend she met in the lobby, Alice, on a search for food.
It really shouldn’t be that hard to find food, but we walk down the main road and the only thing we can find are kebabs. Kebabs abound, but none of us are in the mood for it at the time. We find out Alice is a London native and that Sarah just “loves her accent!”
We talk about London men and I say I have no problem with them, they seem friendly and were all very nice to me. It’s Paris men I have a problem with and we begin telling stories. “Ooh, Paris men they have eyes that stare right through you.” I tell them about the thwarted attack and we all decide that in Paris one should be very very careful when out by herself. “Mmhmm, Mmhmm,” they say. Of course we say this as we are walking and realize that we have come to a not so savory neighborhood, luckily we are walking in a group of four.
“Where the hell are we and where’s my drink?” Asks Sarah. “I don’t really need food, but I could go for I don’t know… a good stiff drink.” We all laugh. She seems really hard up for some alcohol and I could really just use some food to end this daze I’m in.
After roaming around streets filled with endless graffiti we make it to a cute restaurant that serves both sushi and pizza. I look at the menu and for the first time during my time in Paris do not see jambon on the menu. “Where’s the jambon?” I ask. Then we all look around and we notice the yamaka’s. We are in the Jewish District.
“Oh thank God! I am so tired of jambon and I love the Jews!” I say.
“Really? Like what about them?” Asks Sarah.
“More specifically their noses.”
“What?” She is taken aback. “What about their noses?”
“I just love how big and pointy they are.” I shrug and she shrugs, but I don’t think she gets it.
“To each her own, eh? I would never date a guy with a big nose.” I laugh and I don’t explain to her that I have loved the Jewish nose my whole life since seeing Elie Weisel’s photo on the back of his novel Night, and falling in love with him. Ever since then I’ve been looking for a good Jewish boy to love, but haven’t found him.
After we eat, Redmond and I decide that we need a nap because it’s been hours since we last slept and we know that it’s going to be a long night again. We are going on the Paris pub-crawl. This will be my second time on it and Redmond’s first. Lee and his friend Ben, also a Kiwi, have also been on the crawl before. We want to be able to meet them on time tonight instead of being fashionably late and so we try to rest up as much as we can earlier in the day.
We meet Lee and Ben a little after 7 in the hostel bar and find ourselves making our way over to Montmartre for the third night in a row. Our quest is to find food quickly before the 9pm crawl meet up time. We walk up and down the streets looking for anything, but everything is full, people are out tonight because the rain has abated. I look at all the meals and try to decide what I should attempt to eat in Paris tonight because frankly I am tired of Parisian food. I keep thinking about how much I want meat, more specifically a big juicy steak, but I don’t know where to find that. Then I see something utterly disgusting. I see a stack of raw ground beef topped with a raw egg. I honestly feel a little nauseous seeing this, but hold everything in and hope never to see it again.
We finally find a restaurant and order. I order a chicken salad because I want something light for the first time in a while, but instead there is a heavy cream dressing and chicken pieces with fat attached atop iceberg lettuce. I wonder if they have ever heard of romaine here? Oh well… I still eat it since I’m paying and decide at this point pretty much to never eat meals in Paris again. I am grateful that I only have a few days left. Everyone else seems perfectly happy with their meals, Redmond’s being a nice chocolate mousse, which of course would make anyone happy.
After dinner it’s time for the pub crawl. We get there and I suddenly remember how much I don’t really like this bar. It is an Aussie bar that is fairly empty unless there’s a football game on TV. I don’t really feel much like drinking, but I get a tequila sunrise anyhow, which I am pretty sure they have forgotten to add alcohol to.
The next bar is a little better because it’s an Irish pub and there is live music there this night. I am being a bit of a party pooper and not drinking here, while Redmond, Lee, Ben, and a random group of Americans have decided to start doing shots along with a chant that some Swede’s taught them a few nights before. All I remember is the end, “why do we drink? because we’re sexy!” Everyone lifts their shots and you think it’s time to drink, but no. It’s not time to drink, everyone shouts, “Up! No, no, no, no no. UP, No, no, no, no, no. UUUUP!” Then the drinking begins. By the end of a night full of chanting, one wants to find the Swede’s that taught them this and strangle them.
We make it to the night club and I am exhausted and tired of all these tourists. Granted, I am a tourist, but I didn’t come to see tourists drink, I came to see the people in the country. We do a few shots of Absinthe and I tell Redmond that I need to go. She is sad, but she has decided to dance with Ben, to Lee’s chagrin, and I say I’m off to bed. By the time I leave the metro has stopped running and I am a little annoyed, but taxi it back with another girl from the hostel. When I make it back I intend to head to bed but I notice the couple from last night, Adrian and Phoenix in the bar.
“Hey, whatcha doin? Where ya been?” They ask.
I am not sure I’m in the mood for this, but I smile and say, “Oooh, just out.”
“Drink?”
“Oh, no, no, no. I’ve had too much already. Actually I’m going to go to bed.” Phoenix looks dumbfounded. She looks at her watch, then at me, then at her watch, then at me.
“No! It’s too early, too early,” she says with the soft French/Japanese/American accent shaking her head hard at me. It’s 1:30am and I think it’s a reasonable time for someone of my age. Unfortunately, I can’t use age as an excuse with her because she is 31 and her brother is 30. “Just a little while longer.”
I am reluctant, but I decide to stay awake for “a little while longer.”
“I’ll be right back.” Phoenix runs off with some sketchy African guy and comes back a while later with a napkin full of… leaves.
“What the hell is that?” asks Adrian.
“I don’t know. Looks like some funky weeds he just pulled off a bush outside,” she says.
“I hope you didn’t pay for that!”
“No, no, no. He said I could try before I buy, but I think it’s just leaves! I think that’s why he let me walk away with it.” We all laugh because the African has tried to dupe her. “I will go talk with him.” She goes in search for him, but he has disappeared.
The bar in the hostel soon closes down and we head outside. There we talk to the French Reggae band that has just been playing and they are interesting and nice. We talk of music and how it is to live as musicians in Paris. “Very hard, very hard,” they say, “but we love living here, so we stay.” Most of them have dreads and look to me like they could be a band out of Berkeley, then of course they break out the weed. This time it is real weed and Phoenix and Adrian seem very happy. All the guys are rolling joints out on the street and smoking.
“Is this allowed?” I ask.
“Well… no one’s stopping us,” says Adrian. I shrug and watch them smoke weed.
“Don’t you want none?“ asks one of the musicians.
“Yeah, aren’t you a musician?” says Phoenix, as if to imply that all musicians most smoke reefer to play.
“No, I don’t smoke. I’m allergic.” This is both true and untrue. I have smoked weed in the past and it makes me cough and sneeze, but also it doesn’t make me feel anything except hungry, which is the primary reason I don’t smoke it. I don’t see the point in using something that doesn’t make me feel anything.
Then I see Redmond and Ben. “Omg, omg! You’re awake!” She is excited that I am awake and that we can hang out some more, but when I look at my phone I realize it’s already 3.
“Oh, but I’ve got to go to sleep soon.” This is actually true because I have to get up at 9 in the morning and get my stuff packed to get ready for my flight to Venice.
“But pleeeeeeease, pretty pleeeeeeease! It’s our last night together!” It is hard for me to say no to her and this is very true. In fact I realize that I may never see her again.
“Okay.” I realize when I say this, that at 3am, this may only be the beginning of what will turn into a very long morning.
“You’re beautiful, you’re so beautiful.” I think I am hearing James Blunt, but not exactly so beautiful. I turn around and there is an Indian man looking at me and trying to serenade me with his not so fantastic version of Blunt. “Yeeees, it’s true.” He is so drunk I think that he may pass out here in the street.
I walk away and he follows me and I sidle up next to Adrian like he’s my boyfriend and hope that it will make him go away. Adrian puts his arm around my waste.
“Hey man, this is my girl.”
“It don’t matter none man. Youuuuuuuu aaaaaaare beautiful! So beautiful!” He gets louder and louder and tries to grab my arm for a dance. I am stunned and don’t want this to be happening. I am so happy to be leaving France tomorrow after a long nine days of crazy men.
Adrian pushes him away. For once in my life I am happy to feel protected by a guy. Usually I am the kind of girl that wants to stand up for herself all the time, but I feel just fine having someone else do it for me.
“Why don’t we go?” Says one of the singers of the Reggae band.
“Yeah, let’s go to another bar,” suggests Adrian. Of course, I once again look at the time and realize that it’s now almost 4am and am very reluctant.
“Oh, come on! You only live once! Besides the bar is only ten minutes away,” he says. And off we go. It is a beautiful night, though still a little chilly as we walk along the canal. There is amazing graffiti all along the canal and the side streets. We talk with the musicians more about living in Paris and one of them asks me why I am going to leave.
“Stay, you should stay.” He smiles. I know what that means. He walks nearby and brushes his arm against me and tells me about the beauty of Paris, though I am unsure that he can truly convince me that Paris is the most beautiful place in the world. He is nice though and he is handsome. We walk and walk until we come to a point where we must part with the musicians and I am sad to see them go. They are down to earth and people I could hang out with for a long time. In only a few hours time I feel like they are my friends.
“Au revoir,” we all say and kiss each other on the cheeks. It is nice to kiss each other on the cheeks, first on the left and then on the right as Paris has taught me to do, but I am sad to say goodbye. They walk their direction and Phoenix, Adrian, Ben, Redmond, and I walk another.
“Soooooo… where is this bar you said we’re going to?” I ask.
“Oh, it’s just ten minutes from here.”
“But you said that waaaay more than ten minutes ago.”
“Let’s just keep walking.” We do and we talk and we walk and we talk. Twenty more minutes has passed us by.
“Soooo… how much longer till we’re there?” I realize that I am starting to sound whiny, but I look at the time and it’s nearing 5am.
“Well, perhaps we should take a cab.” I wonder why we would need a cab for something that is ten minutes away, but we hail one and stuff four of us in the back seat and one in front and drive off to this supposedly open bar. In about eight cab minutes we arrive at our destination. Eight cab minutes would have meant another almost 45 minutes of walking.
“Hmm… ten minutes eh?” I say.
“Well… it was ten minutes in a car.” He shrugs and smiles and we walk into the 24 hour bar.
The four of them order drinks but I don’t because I’m not feeling too well and don’t want to hurt in the morning, but it’s 5am which could to some be considered breakfast time and so I order an omelet avec fromage et jambon.
We laugh, we eat. We laugh some more. I am happy, but exhausted. I have to wake up soon. The dawn begins to break and all the street lights begin to turn off. It is a beautiful morning that I should not be privy too. I see people go down into the Metro and am happy to see that it is open again. We finish up food and drinks and head down the stairs.
“Let’s keep in touch,” they say, because everyone that meets like this always says that.
“Yeah… let’s,” of course I don’t believe that we will. Ben, Remond, and I head one direction while the beautiful couple heads the other. It is 6:30 now and we are boarding a train.

Day #23: Sexy Show

Wednesday May 12
Hostel sleeping at St. Christopher’s is quite luxurious because of the curtain surrounding the bed. If not for the thump, ching, thump, bang of the lockers opening and closing all morning by other hostelers I could sleep all day. Well… then there’s the cleaning staff. Today is the day the cleaning staff gets angry at me and Redmond for being lazy and sleeping past 10am. We didn’t go to bed until 3, but this African-French woman doesn’t know that and it’s apparent in the way she flips the mattress on the bed above me and rams the mop into the sides of the lockers that she is a little annoyed that we haven’t gotten our asses out of bed.
She pretty much wakes us up and we figure that we did as much as we could in terms of sleep, but we are both still exhausted. What to do? I had certainly had it with museums at this point and she wasn’t looking forward to going to any, so we agreed on going to the shopping district over by the Pompideau and just checking it out. A few days before on my way to the Pompideau I happened upon-this means I got lost and found- a shopping mall underneath the ground. It’s hard to explain how I did this besides I just started walking down some stairs thinking that all stairs that go down always lead to a metro. Apparently this is actually true, but the metro was about five or six flights of stairs down beneath this shopping center.
Redmond and I find an H&M and a wide variety of other Parisian stores that have exactly the same style of clothes as H&M. I am in love with all of the stores and want to buy something, but #1 have absolutely no idea what my size is in Paris and #2 everything is ridiculously overpriced because it’s in Paris. Instead we become master window shoppers and drive by hangar stalkers. It is mostly fun except for that the style of shopping is very different there. Large groups of friends hang out in the middle of stores and talk like they are coffee shops and it gets a little annoying trying to get around them.
We remember around 5pm that we are meeting Lee at 7 and need to take a nap before this happens. Shite. Okay… but we’ve also got to get ice cream before this happens too. So we grab some ice cream and head down the extra flights of stairs to the station and “omg, this thing is so f’ng huge, it’s like some kind of airport.”
We are on our way to train #2, or #4, or… who the hell knows, but we’re on our way to a train and we see signs for getting there, but it seems we never may. We got up escalators and up escalators and then onto one of those moving platform escalators, then we walk. We walk and walk and then go down some stairs. “Are we almost there? Did we take the right turn?” Then we walk more and another platform escalator. Approximately a mile and a half later (this is not an over exaggeration, I swear) we make it to the train platform. I realize that people here are certainly not thin because of their food, it’s because they have to walk everywhere, even their metros are a workout. I feel we could have almost walked to our hostel in the amount of time it took us just to get to the train.
We make it to the hostel right after 6, which means not much time for a nap, but we both need naps or we will be completely faded by about 9. I pass out almost immediately but Redmond decides she has to e-mail her mom before rest. I put my earplugs in and forget to set an alarm and at 7:20 I wake up confused and delusional. I think I am in my bed at home and am looking for the light, but it’s on because the sun is on. The sun is still bright and shy outside and will be for another 2.5 hrs. Yes, that’s right, it stays light till almost 10 in Paris.
I get downstairs and Lee and Redmond seem to be doing okay sitting in a chair. I’m so glad she got up and I am feeling really irresponsible. Oh well… he seems happy and we make him wait longer for us to go and freshen up. We are definitely girls that like to make men wait.
Time to leave and we head to Montmartre and do a tour of the same thing we did last night except for that it’s earlier and we get to do a tour of the inside of the Sacre-Couer. I am happy that I get to see it again and with a lot less people since it’s almost closing time. More photos of the city, more photos of the lights, the city is turning beautiful again.
We head to the area where we had pizza the night before in search of more good pizza and end up at a really sub par pizza place, though I’m not sure how. This is how it is in Paris, things are always hit or miss. We should have just gone to the same place as the night before, but in our attempt to try something new we find something really just okay. It’s okay though, things will be okay soon.
After the meal we head down Montmartre to the seedy red light district and walk the Boulevard. It’s okay to walk the Boulevard here because there don’t seem to be any street walkers since everyone is inside dancing at a club. The lights are gorgeous and it feels like Las Vegas, except for that every light says, “Sexy Show” “Good Time” “Cum inside.”
In between all of the clubs are fancy restaurants that well dressed couples are dining at. Then as we pass a club a woman invites us in and says, “You only live once, it’s time for a show,” and winks. We all laugh and walk on looking for a bar. I decide we should just go to the club that the pub crawl ended on a few days ago since it’s nearby and a lot of fun. Lee and Redmond just want to go inside, so
Once we are inside it is time to drink. First we decide to share a bottle of red wine in the bar area and after two glasses I am still not sure that I feel anything and so after order a gin and tonic. We move to the club area and we are still not drunk enough to dance.
Absinthe!” says Redmond. “I want to drink Absinthe!” Lee and I decide that perhaps yes this is a good idea and head to the bar to buy some. I look at my watch and it is 11. I think, “oh no… this could either end up really really great or really really badly.” We all do the round of shots and watch some Spaniard dance and laugh. After approximately ten minutes has passed we all decide it’s time for another round. We head to the bar and order another round of Absinthe, except this time the tender puts in sugar and lights them on fire. “Pretty.” We are like children taking our first look around in the world. We are stunned while in the meantime our drinks are flaming away. The tender gives us straws to drink them with, we stick them in and suck them up as quickly as we can. I think it’s quickly at least until I realize my straw and my thumb have started on fire a little. I quickly blow them out. We are good. We are all ready to dance, except for now we realize that the we should probably leave soon because the metro closes early on the weekdays.
Damn, we were all really about to dance. Luckily the hostel has a bar and a club. We get back and this is when we meet Phoenix and Adrian. Phoenix and Adrian are one of the most beautiful black couples I have ever seen. Phoenix is 5’7, svelt, dressed in fitted jeans and a snug red blouse with a ___ hat tipped to the side. Adrian is 6’3, muscular, bald, and looks like he just exited an Abercrombie ad. I find out that they are from Orange County, CA. “Oh… that explains it.”
“What? What?” says Adrian.
“The look, the attitude, the everything,” I say.
“Whatever,” he scoffs. “You guys want some drinks?” Of course we want some drinks, who doesn’t when they’re on vacation? He orders up Jaeger Bombs for us all. We all talk and dance up in the bar, the same old thing.
“Why are you here? Where are you going next?”
“Study abroad, holiday, traveling for a year. Nice, Madrid, Cinque Terre, Barcelona for the World Cup.”
“What? Hold it right there. The world cup!” Okay, I don’t much watch soccer, but I am extremely jealous that the couple is going to the World Cup.
“Omg! A couple, you thought we were together?” says Adrian. “Why I would I buy you drinks if we were together?”
“I don’t know, just thought you were being super nice.”
He nods his head. “Girl, you’ve got issues.” I don’t disagree, but I am just confused now. “Let’s go dance.”
We all head downstairs, I am officially more drunk than I’ve been all European vacation. All I want to do is dance, but the last thing my feet want to do is dance, so instead I roam and talk to random people. “Who are you? What is your name?”
Adrian buys another round of drinks. I look at the time and it’s now 1:30. “Oooh… I should stop, I don’t want to feel like crap in the morning.” Only thing is that I already know I’m going to feel like crap in the morning from everything I’ve already had to drink, so… I drink some more!
Phoenix is flying around the room and every time I talk to her I attempt to figure out why she has this soft almost European accent because it doesn’t make any sense. She is from California and currently lives in Tokyo, so where is this coming from? I don’t ask, I just wonder and steal her hat. Her hat is perfect, I would take it, but for some reason she wants it back. I think… I should buy a chapeau, it suits me better than my hair does. This begins the search for something that may never come.
At 3am another drink, a shot of gin this time. I am trying to at least not drink outside of what I’ve already had at this point, though I honestly don’t know where the last hour and a half goes.
“Redmond! Where’d the last hour and a half go?” I also don’t remember seeing Redmond for the last hour and a half and she smiles and says she doesn’t know while her body tips to the side a little and she smiles.
“Want another drink?” She says as she makes her way back over to the bar.
“No, no, no, no, no.” I mutter this just to remind myself that I cannot have another drink at 3am because it would be my ruin, but she and Lee go ahead and have another shot.
Suddenly it is 5am and the lights are coming on and we are saying our goodbyes.
“Nice to meet you!”
“No, nice to meet you.”
“Have a great rest of your trip.”
“Yes, yes! And you!” Everything is well wishes and smiles.
“Seriously? You’re actually going to bed right now?” Asks Adrian and Phoenix. Glamour couple/siblings look like they are still going to stay awake.
“I however am not going to be peer pressured into staying up beyond this time because it’s 5am and I know the sun is going to rise soon. I make it a point to go to bed in the dark.
“Goodnight.” Kiss on the cheek, kiss on the cheek. Oh, how very French we are. Redmond and I make it to our room.
“Damn, we are going to feel like shit in the morning aren’t we?” I say to her.
“Yeah.” I get my stuff to get ready for bed and head to the bathroom. Redmond says she’s going to meet me there, but never shows. I find her passed out in her bed with her clothes still on. It was a night to remember that I don’t seem to really recall.

Day #22: Crime and Punishment

Tuesday May 11
Nacim makes a French Press for breakfast of coffee that he calls strong, but I’ve definitely had stronger. I am happy to have something warm after being awake most of the night chilled like a good jello. I was happy when he got up because I knew that it meant I could after laying awake hoping that it was time to start the day. I did not stay long to say goodbye, because just as his English is bad in the morning so is mine. I was feeling cold and rusty and ready to get going.
I didn’t take a shower since it felt like I had taken one on the bike ride back home the night before. It wasn’t hard to look my worst and I was okay with that after the previous days happenings. I left my bags at his place for pickup later and said au revoir and headed for the metro. With my still very scotch taped camera I made it to the Musee D’orsay since I had promised myself I would make it there one more time. I walk in with no plan except to see Crime & Chatiment (Crime and Punishment). It is a series of artwork that works through the history of crime starting with Cain killing his brother Abel until present day murder and punishment. I am literally stunned by the beauty of Alexandre Falguiere’s “Cain portant le corps d’Abel,” which means Cain carrying the body of Abel – after he has killed him. In the painting you are struck by Cain’s guilt after he realizes what he has done, this is the first instance of peracide in history.
The installation goes over instances through history of infanticide, patricide, genocide, and more. A part of the installation is to bring the viewer to question whether the death penalty is lawful or not, ergo the punishment part. The viewer is given the crime and then given the punishment and left to decide whether or not it was justice. However, it is obvious at the beginning that whomever put this installation together clearly wanted to make known that he/she does not celebrate the act of “penal justice” and notes that Cain was not allowed to be killed as punishment for killing his brother by God’s creed. He was made to feel the guilt for his act.
The art they have chosen is almost better than any in the main gallery and in there are the works of Van Gogh and Degas so this is saying a lot. It takes me a full two hours with my guided audio tour to walk the course of the guillotine, Andy Warhol’s “Electric Chair,” The Assassination of Marat, and my two favorites the Phrenological studies and Anthropometriques – which is basically the beginnings of criminal investigation. I won’t go through this, but if you’re interested look up Alphonse Bertillon.
It’s difficult to leave the museum, but I am exhausted after last nights little sleep. I decide after my few hours walking to head back to Nacim’s and grab my stuff. I want to get my stuff on the metro before the rush hour crowds get on. The problem is when I get back to Nacim’s and attempt to use his door key, I unsuccessfully turn the key left and right, gauche et droite for a good five minutes before I get the door open. At one point and older man comes down the stairs leaving what I believe is his daughters apartment and I see that he is coming down so I pretend I am just walking up to the door so as to not look like a robber or an idiot. Luckily with patience the door opens and I am relieved.
It’s not long before I metro to my new abode St. Christophers Hostel. One is never sure what expect when moving to a new hostel and hopes for the best when an abundant amount of time has already been booked. I have booked three nights at this hostel. I am in love with the hostel as soon as I walk in. There is a bar to my left and I am told a club downstairs. I get the card key to my room on an all girl floor, walk in and there are six nicely made beds with towels and comforters on them and lockers underneath. This almost looks better than my college dorm room. “Thank God! It’s time for a nap!”
Two hours later I wake up to a girl roaming about the room looking a little antsy and another girl just dragging her load of stuff in.
“Hello,” says the girl with long blond tousled hair. She is about 5’8 and one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen. She looks a little German, but she has an American accent.
“Hello,” say me and the other girl. I realize I must look a mess and try to hide behind the curtain on my bed.
“Where are you two from?”
“Australia,” says the other girl. I laugh, because I feel like the question was pointless. Almost everyone I’ve met on this trip so far has been Australian. They come to Europe in droves.
“I’m from Seattle,” I say.
“Oh… okay, I’m from Vermont.”
“Oh where?”
“You wouldn’t know it. No one knows the small places. Anyhow, nice to meet you.”
We talk for a while about traveling because that’s what you talk to everyone about when you first meet them on a trip. It’s like there is nothing else in the world to talk about except for “where have you been?” and “where are you going?”
The first girl, the beautiful one is named Redmond and she has been to London. Instantly we bond on London, because “omg, it’s just amazing” and we both “can’t wait to go back!” This is the same way you bond with everyone else on the trip it seems. It obviously means that someone that likes the same places as you has the same awesome tastes as you and so therefore you should become close and amazing friends.
I look at the time and realize that it’s almost time to go meet Hector and some others in Montmartre and ask both of them if they’d like to go and that they can decide while I go try to make myself more presentable.
When I get back Redmond says she wants to go because she wants to doooo something. I can’t honestly guarantee if it will be any fun but I am glad another girl is coming along with me. We head out to Montmartre to meet Hector at the Pigalle station and when we get there he is alone.
“I’m sorry,” he says in his Spanish accent (because he is actually from Spain but living in France) “the other girls couldn’t make it.” I assume they couldn’t make it because the rain won’t let up and it just reminds me of a Seattle thing to do, but now I am really glad that Redmond came along so that it doersn’t feel like a date. We head up to inner Montmartre and walk the streets with Hector as our tour guide. It is nice hearing about Paris from someone that has been living here for a while. He brings us to a Pizzeria, though we are in France and I order Lasagna because there is meat inside while they order what end up looking like the most extravagant pizza’s I have ever seen in my life. Hector’s is topped with fresh proscuitto, tomatoes, and rucculo (no, I still don’t know exactly what ruccolo is). I eat my Lasagna because I am hungry and have barely eaten all day and Hector attempts to give me slices of his pizza.
“No, no, I am full.”
“But you must eat! You must eat more!” I feel bad not eating his pizza, but I leave it on the side and let the waiter take it away.
We walk to the Sacre-Couer and look over Paris at night. There is nothing more beautiful than Paris at night. We walk up and down steps because Paris is also full of stairs and Redmond begins to love Montmartre too. This is her third time in Paris, but she has never been here because she is only 18 and this is the seedy area next to the red light district. We decide that we need wine now that the night has turned even colder. We find a quaint bar called Rendevous avec mes amis, which is not really that clever, but the inside has so much character it doesn’t matter. It is filled with black and white photos of faces and Frenchmen in chapeaus. It reminds me of the Hideout and I am pleased and Redmond is quickly swooning from the wine. We all talk more of travel until it’s time to leave before the metro line ends its service for the night. Hector wants to see me tomorrow and I say, “we’ll see.” That is the end of that. There will be no more Hector.
We are not ready to sleep once we make it back to the hostel around 1am. Thankfully the club downstairs is still open and so we head down for more drinks and bad dancing. It is two guys to every girl down there, but we sit in the corner and watch the drunks dance their drinks off. We see a cute guy and are not sure if he could see us looking at him or if he could feel our vibes but he comes and sits down beside us and we talk of travel. He is from New Zealand, “oh… FOTC” that’s really all I can say. I’ve got nothing else besides, “ooooh… there are a lot of sheep.” He seems really quite boring once he is talking but we all talk until the end of the night and plan dinner for the next. Great.

Day #21: Boyfriend for the day

Monday May 10
I didn’t sleep well at all in the night. The tiny mattress I find out is much like sleeping on the ground and it is very very cold inside the house. I don’t have enough blankets and the ones I do have barely cover me because I am so tall. I decide fairly early that it is better to get up than to continue being cold.
I pray that the water in his shower will be hot. After yesterdays cold shower and the nights cold sleep I want warmth for a good ten minutes of my life since I know that outside in Paris it is forecasted to be cold and rainy for the next week.
Success! The shower is warm, hot even. I wanted nothing more than to scald my skin and turn bright red. I wanted to boil my insides a little and feel complete warmth. About five minutes in, I could tell that I would have to hurry up because the water was beginning to turn cold. I knew that it might be too much of a good thing, so I finished up and was grateful for the few minutes I had.
Today I will revisit the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa because I had to. Right? So, per usual it is time once again for the metro. I hop off and easily find the Louvre since it’s on the straightest path in Paris, except not actually aligned with said straight path. Today I also notice what has really happened to camera after yesterdays fall. The door to the battery compartment has broken and now I will have to MacGyver it shut until I can figure out how and where to get it fixed. My idea is to get some electrical tape and shove something in the compartment on top of the battery to keep it closed, only problem is that I have absolutely no clue where a hardware store in Paris might be. I go to the grocery store to look around and all I find is scotch tape, so I buy it and hope it’ll work until I can find better.
I attempt the fix on the metro and am thankful there aren’t too many Parisians there to laugh at my ridiculous fix. I know it looks ridiculous putting mounds of scotch tape on my very expensive camera, but it’s the best I’ve got. The problem I find is that scotch tape isn’t really good for more than attaching a postcard to the fridge. Oh well, I think. Perhaps it will be good to lay off the pictures for a little while since I was already up to about 1500 on the trip.
It is Monday and so I’m hoping that perhaps there will less Mona Lisa visitors than there would be on the weekend, but when I arrive the Louvre plaza looks just as busy as it did a few days ago. This place is always busy and I decide to suck it up and go in. My inclination is to just go left back to Richelieu and revisit the beautiful French sculpture, but I tell myself no I go right instead. I go up the stairs and into Italian Art and begin my struggle with the Louvre crowd. There are lots of young children in school groups visiting this side of the Louvre. I want to scream, I want to tell them to stop laughing so hard and pointing at pictures of nudes like they are the most hilarious things ever seen. Of course I remember going through this phase, of being tickled by these foreign things in the paintings, but right now I am just irritated by them. I want them to act like adults and enjoy the art so that I can enjoy it more. My walk through of this side is much faster and I though I think many things are beautiful I don’t spend the time with them that I did the other day.
I find the room with the Mona Lisa and there is a large crowd looming over the space. Mona is roped off and the crowd stands a distance away attempting to take pictures of this small framed, covered in glass art work. I look at it from afar, see nothing worth forcing myself into the crowd for and walk away. I decide that I must get out of this crowd. I also decide that though the Mona Lisa is beautiful, the rest of the Louvre is filled with equally if not more beautiful pieces of art so I head for more of that. Once making it beyond the Mona Lisa the crowd begins to die down. It is soothing to have fresh air again and to be able to enjoy the art again. Breathe, breathe. I hate crowds and Paris is full of them.
It is time now to head to the Grand Palais. The walk to the Palais is quite beautiful along the Seine and I want to take my time enjoying it. I see a wonderful raven eating a shoe string and stop to take its picture when a guy stops and say hi. Of course, being the American that I am I say hi thinking he will walk along and leave me to my raven. Unfortunately I am wrong.
“My name is Aveen,” (or something like that) he says.
“Okay.” I look around and make sure I know where the Grand Palais is and begin to walk thinking I can just walk away from him. “Yeah, I’m just headed to the Grand Palais, so….”
“Oh, let me walk you.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“But you’re beautiful.”
“Oh… thank you.” I have nothing else to say to this but I hope he will go away. I have crossed the street and have perhaps a five minute walk to the Palais, but he is still following. I think, damn usually people say hi and just walk where ever they were headed.
“Can I be your boyfriend?”
“Umm… no, I already have one.” Yes, I’m lying, but I’m okay with lying in certain situations such as this one.
“That doesn’t matter. I have a girlfriend, but she’s not here.” He grabs my hand to hold it.
“Please let go.”
“But why? You are my girlfriend.”
“Nooooooo. No, I’m not. I already told you, I have a boyfriend.”
“That don’t matter none. I told you I have a girlfriend.” He persists in trying to grab my hand, while I continue to maneuver it away from him. I walk faster to the Grand Palais.
“Well then she’s a very unlucky girl,” I say. “I respect my boyfriend and would never do anything with another guy.” Blah blah, it continues this way for a minute. We make it to the end of the block and I’m only a minute away from the Palais when he tells me to “sit, sit, and we will talk.”
“No, I don’t want to sit, I want to go to the Grand Palais.” I begin to walk away and he grabs my right arm with all of his force so that I can’t get away.
“Fine. Then I will walk with you, you are so beautiful you know?”
“No, really I am fine. I can walk alone.”
Finally we reach the front of the Petite Palais, which is closed, though I am hoping for a quick exit.
“See it is closed! Sit, sit, we will talk.”
“No, I am just going to go over there.” I point to the Grand Palais, which is obviously open.
“No, just five more minutes.”
“No, I’m going to go.”
“Fine then.” Suddenly I feel his arms wrap tightly around me to give me a hug, one that I can’t get away from. “See, I am your boyfriend.”
“Stop. You are not my boyfriend.”
I cannot figure out how to unwrap his arms from around me and he begins to try and kiss me.
“I don’t like you, get off of me!” I look around and see that there are police nearby. “Leave me alone!” I nod towards the cops. At this point I am one second away from kneeing him in the groin.
He hesitates and says, “fine,” but kisses my cheek anyway. Finally he walks away and I am stunned, anxious, and feeling very violated. I feel jittery after this and walk to the Grand Palais. I can smell his cheap cologne on my cheek and it is disgusting. I want to bathe, but don’t actually want to go all the way back to Nacim’s just for that, so instead I make it to a bathroom and wash my cheek. No luck, apparently he smeared his cheap cologne all over my clothes with the hug. It isn’t until later in the night when I notice he has left a bruise the size of a an old .50c coin on my arm.
I find myself unable to concentrate on anything for a while and a little paranoid as I walk down the streets of Paris for a little while. I decide that what I need to do is get off the streets and so I head towards Pompideau Art Museum, supposedly the great modern art museum in Paris. By this time, I am ready for Modern Art.
There are different galleries you can choose from, but I am unaware really of my choice and walk into the first one that happens upon me, which happens to be an installation on female art. The artists are all female and are critiquing the role of women on/in art through their own. For some reason, at this exact moment, I realize I have just walked into probably the one space in Paris that will make me even more acutely aware of being a woman and the power and weakness that can come with being one. I had just observed the weakness part when I realized I couldn’t break free from a man’s grip and here there is the feminine playing with gender roles and critiquing male dominance in life and art. It was wonderful and terrifying. I realized then that I had to be more careful. No one ever messed with me when I was the 260lb black girl with sad eyes, they would just walk on by. I realize I am not used to this new body yet and the difference it makes to the world outside. My mind still sees me the way I was and that’s just not the way it is.
There is some very disturbing artwork and it takes time for me to evaluate how I feel about each piece. A video piece of a woman nude on a beach hoola hooping with barbed wire is simultaneously painful to watch and hard to stop watching. I can immediately tell this is her critique of Christ and the crown, but I’m still not exactly sure why she has chosen her body and if her ability to hoola hoop it is really framing the female body as strong just because she is not falling. You never see her face, you never see the pain which I am sure is on it.
Many of the pieces in this gallery are of nude women in attempt to reclaim female identity and body. It is interesting because the way in which they do most of the pieces keeps them from being overly sexualized, though I’m not sure they would keep many men from being at least a little turned on. The point is to be able to show the female nude without it being a landscape for the male gaze, the problem is that you cannot truly subvert the gaze when society has been formed around the male gaze. It is always worth the attempt, but unattainable unless somehow society changed female representation as a whole. I took a class… blah blah, wait, I’ll keep class stories for another day.
Needless to say, I’m not sure this museum assuaged the shake in my veins, but at almost seven it was time to head back to Nacim’s and meet him for dinner. Of course, I made it back late. I somehow hopped on a metro going the wrong direction yet again. When I got there I smell something wonderful… steamed rice! Steamed rice is always soothing and I am happy for the smell. It smells conventional and basic, something I have been dying for over the last week. He pulls from the cupboard a can of Ratatouille.
“You like?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll have some!” I am so happy for home cooked food. I don’t care if it’s simple and half of it is out of a can. All I know is that it’s not jambon et fromage. When we eat it in his small two person sized kitchen I smile and keep saying, “c’est bon! c’est bon!” I don’t think he believes me, but really this is the best meal I’ve had in Paris. Oh, how I love simple things.
“You like to go to bars?” He asks.
“Sure.” This is actually kind of a lie. I like about two bars and it’s because they have art and are scratch bars and I could go without the rest of them, but decide that it would be nice to meet some new people and go with him.
“Okay, great! We will ride bikes there! It’s only two miles.”
At this moment I should be thinking that this is a bad idea. Biking at night in Paris, which has drivers that will hit you at a moments notice, in the rain, without helmets. I should be thinking about how I could possibly die but instead say, “great!”
I prepare myself the best that I can by putting my rain jacket on and sealing up the hood, but I will soon learn that it’s of no use. I will soon be soaked as a nice butter sauce coats your escargot. We get on the bikes and I begin following Nacim. I think… two miles is not that bad, it shouldn’t take long to get there at all. He hasn’t actually told me where the place is, I just follow him, but early in I realize that we are not only going two miles.
At mile one I am smiling and happy. We have made it through quite a few signals and cars seem to stop and wait for us unlike what they do for pedestrians. My legs are only feeling a little damp, but we’ve gotta be close since he said it’s only a few miles. By what I am sure is mile two I am starting to get really wet and cold. I can see the my shoes are getting soaked and I ask him about how much farther he thinks it is. “Oh… not too far. It’s only two miles, you know?” Hmm, yeah I know, but I wonder if he knows what two miles is. By about what I presume is mile my hands are getting cold, but it’s okay because I think I am actually starting to enjoy being wet on a cold night in Paris. I look around and the streets are lit and I attempt to figure out where we are. At what I perceive as mile four I think that perhaps it’s okay if we don’t find the bar even though I can’t really feel any part of my body now. We swerve around cars and I think that it doesn’t matter anymore if I have a helmet or not. Right now seems kind of perfect and if I get hit it’s okay.
Around mile five is when we finally arrive at the bar. There are dozens of bikes locked up outside and inside lots of wet people.
I am quite happy to see lots of other drenched people and feel more at ease. Nacim says hi to at least a dozen people he already knows and introduced me to two of them. I wonder how he knows everyone and he tells me that this is a weekly couchsurfers get together. I don’t know why he didn’t tell me before but now I feel even more comfortable because I know there will be English speakers. I know that he is more comfortable speaking in French and says it tires him to speak in English and so I talk for awhile with the one person he introduces me to from America and then when the conversation turns cold decide to walk to the bar.
The bar is always a good place if you are alone because it often doesn’t last for long. Luckily I know that these are all couchsurfers so it is easy to talk over the red wine I buy and ask about why, how, and who people have met. Couch stories can sometimes be more interesting than they should be. I meet a Frenchman and the girl he’s hosting from Hungary at first and we play music trivia with the rest of the bar.
Everyone in the bar is saying, “oooh… I know that song. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Ahh…. why can’t I remember it.” Then as soon as they remember the name of the song, “Now who’s that by?”
“Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah, UNDER PRESSURE!” Everyone knows the two words. “QUEEN!” Everyone is excited that they know this song and the artist and then they all realize at the same time that so does everyone else, so… they’re not any closer to winning the quiz. The team that wins the quiz wins a bottle of vodka and that’s enough to give people a reason for a serious attempt.
My team loses. I mean there is really no chance. We don’t care much for the vodka and are more interested in the wine than guessing the names of some French songs we’re never going to get. Meeting couchsurfers is great fun and by the end I’ve met some good ones that invite me to a dinner and drinks the next night in Montmartre. Of course I am going to go because I don’t know anyone in the town and it’ll be nice to follow someone around in a place they know. Besides, Montmartre is the best part of the city, absolutely the feast of the town.
Three glasses of wine later it is time for us to ride our bikes back to Nacim’s house. I am a little drunk, which is unexpected because I had three glasses over three hours and thought it would quickly wear off. So I realize I will be biking drunk. I realize once again this could be a bad idea. Instead of it just being cold, rainy biking through Paris without a helmet, it is me drunk. Most of the ride is good though. The streets are barren because it is midnight and most have gone to bed. It isn’t until we are about two blocks from Nacim’s that I decide to get out of a cars way and attempt to get onto the sidewalk when my tire hits the side and I fall off. It doesn’t hurt much, I just pick myself back up and get the rest of the distance.
Nacim doesn’t see me fall off, so I never tell him about the incident, but in the morning I realize I have a couple of bruises.
It is time to go to bed. I am grateful for bed, until I realize that is so cold I cannot sleep but one hour this night.

Day #20: It’s a cold cold world out there, so you better bring your blanket

Sunday May 9
Larsen left in the morning and I decide to stay asleep and relax. How often does one get time alone in a hotel bed in France? Well… I suppose that would depend on whether or not someone felt inclined to pay enough for a bed in a hotel in France and I wouldn’t usually. Tonight I will be going to Nacim’s house, a couchsurfer that has decided I don’t look that sketchy and so is willing to host me.
After a long luxurious sleep (10am or so) I decide to start the day with a cold shower. No, I really didn’t intend for it to be cold, but apparently the hotel had run out of hot water around the 10am point. I had to make the decision between no shower or cold shower and when it came down to it I thought that Paris would appreciate my attempt. It really was like jumping into ice water. When I first stepped in, it took my breath away. I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it, but I kept thinking about Heidi Klum saying she always takes cold showers (though I really think luke warm) because they are better for your skin. “Heidi Klum give me strength!” I said. I just barely made it through the shwoer and was excited for it to be over, but got back under my blankets for a few minutes just to warm up again.
Around noon to head over to the Bastille and on my way find myself in the middle of a large flea market with old wares and fresh fruits. The combination doesn’t really seem to make sense, but the shouting, which I take for bargaining reminds me a lot of the Fish Market in Seattle and momentarily I feel homesick.
The Opera house is right across from the market and I walk around it, but avoid the inside because for one of the first times it is Sunny in Paris. Sunny in Paris is different than sunny in Seattle because the sky is hazy even when there are no clouds. It is smog, which I’m sure looks beautiful during sunsets, but the constant haze over the city gives it kind of a dull look all of the time. All of the buildings look a little worn and tattered, which I’m sure they kind of are anyway just because they are old, but the haze isn’t helping out the situation.
Today everyone is out rollerblading. I get a little jealous and wonder where I can go get some blades, but then realize that I would most likely fall on my ass because I don’t really remember how to rollerblade, for some reason I’m kind of sure that it’s not exactly like riding a bike and is not suddenly going to come back to me.
I walk around searching for food and wondering how easy it will be to communicate with people now that I am alone. I am pretty sure I am going to make a fool of myself speaking French, but I am okay with that. “Je prends un jambon et fromage baguette.” “Anything else?” they say and I am relieved when they know English. Sigh of relief, sigh, sigh, sigh. So far, things have been okay and my little knowledge of French has gotten me many baguettes and fromages, though I’m a little tired of both. I keep thinking about beef, which I’ve yet to see on a menu and am looking for it heartily.
Today is another laundry day and instead of heading to the Bastille like I initially intended, I decide to head back to my hotel and grab my luggage. I would avoid laundry if I could but I realize that I have absolutely no more underwear left. When this realization hits, I panic a little. Underwear being the only piece of clothing that I can’t recycle at least five times. I think about going to a store and buying some, but remember that I have made a promise to myself to not buy things in France because it is so expensive.
When I get to the laundromat, I am of course a little confused again. My second time using a laundromat ever and it is in French. Right now I am grateful I at least used the one in London. It’s not really that hard and this time I made sure to get laundry soap before going in so as to avoid any other angry managers telling me to “go over there, go go.”
It is only 3.5euros for a load, much less than in London. I stick all of my laundry in and put it on a heat I am unsure of and wait. It’s hard not to stare at the clothes as they’re spinning around and around in the washer. They are kind of mesmerizing and soothing. I want to fall asleep to the sound of the swish, swish of the water and then I notice something funny. Is that my shirt turning blue? Omg… I try to remain calm and hope that perhaps it’s just the washing machine playing a trick on me. I am hopeful.
I continue to stare and wonder on whether or not I’m really seeing blue, waiting for the washer to stop spinning. When I pull out my clothes I see that the washer was not tricking me, that not only one shirt has turned blue, but three have. I am wondering what has bled all over my clothes when I have washed all of these clothes multiple times. I am convinced that it’s because I perhaps put the water on too hot, not knowing exactly how hot it was in the first place. Oh well I decide, I have more important things to worry about, like how I’m going to get to my new couchsurfing hosts place.
I look up the route and hope for the best. However, looking up a route doesn’t necessarily mean that you will find something easily in Paris. Roads turn into other roads where you least expect and there are tiny Rue’s and Impasse’s jutting off major streets that are easy to miss. I have enjoyed being lost, but don’t want to be lost lugging my stuff around in a part of town that may be dicey.
The metro is full like usual as I start my journey and I look for a place on the train where I won’t be terribly in the way, which is honestly nowhere. Most metro cars have about sixteen permanent seats and twelve or so seats that can be pushed down while the car is not full. Each metro train has about six of these cars. Unless it is the middle of the day or late at night it can be hard to find seats especially in the busiest parts of Paris. Most of Paris is bustling, so I would say to any traveler be aware that you’ll likely be standing a lot.
I am fairly sure when I get off the train that I hit at least three people with my bags’ heft and say, “pardon, pardon, pardon.” I get off and don’t look back. This particular day I will have to switch trains twice, which of course means more people I will likely hit with my bag. I do. I am pretty sure I hit at least five more people with my bag before the end of the trip, but it is okay because I will never see them again.
When I get off the train I try to read my Paris map that says what direction I should walk. I have chosen to not make a fourth transfer on the train that I could have made and would have made my walk a little shorter because I did not want to have to deal with even more people on the train. The problem is that I walk the wrong direction and the problem with walking the wrong direction is that I am in a slightly seedier area of Paris than is proper to be in looking very American. I have arrived in what I can only figure is the immigrant section of Paris, the one that Parisian’s hate. It is filled with Africans, Asians, and Arabs.
I actually really like this section of Paris, it has a lot of character and I enjoy seeing the men on the street laughing over cigars and inner city basketball games. This is one of the first times I see Parisians having fun on the street. However much I am enjoying the view of the city, I need to find my way to host Nacim’s house. I correct my direction and begin walking. The walk is actually much longer than it looked on my little Paris map, but perhaps because it’s a little map. I soon realize that I should have just taken the extra train and saved myself the walking. The walk itself is a little over a mile and with my backpack straps pressing into my shoulders I begin to develop a headache. I also have my little carrier backpack that I try to maneuver from right arm to left depending on which one is more or less tired. I am doing a terrible job of it today as things get heavier and heavier and it’s not long till I make one of the worst mistakes I make on this trip. I drop my beautiful and expensive Nikon D5000 on the ground outside of a Kebab shop. Someone picks it up for me and nods, looking very sad at my accident. At first I look at the camera and think everything is okay, but it’s not till later that I find out something has indeed gone wrong.
With camera shoved back in my bag I think happy thoughts and the thoughts I think a runner thinks when they are attempting to complete a marathon and they think their legs are going to give out. “You can do it Nicole, it’s just a little farther!” Yes, I really pep talked myself for this walk and what I think was a mile or mile and a half later I make it to Nacim’s. He is on the fourth floor and I am happy to lug my stuff up there as long as there is something for me to sleep on.
When Nacim opens the door he looks different than I expect. I saw his profile pic on couchsurfer.org, but in real life he seems less dramatic and he is very petite. He is about 5’8 and has olive skin, I find out that he is from Algeria and he says, “Ha, I am more African than you,” and laughs. Great, yet another place for me to be accused of not being black enough. He is very petite and has big dark brown soft eyes that constantly look a little sad and he has a nose ring. When I first see him I am convinced he is gay.
He tells me he has lived here most of his life except for when he was born in Algeria and then that he doesn’t speak English very well and he is so sorry. Of course, I don’t care if he can’t speak English very well. I feel bad for not speaking French.
He lives in a studio and has a bed and a small mattress on the side that I assume he uses as a couch. It is very tidy and sparsely decorated besides a few plants that he seems to be doing well keeping alive. He offers me a “strong coffee” and I of course say yes because after that walk I am nodding off a bit. He also says, “do you like dance?”
“Oui, oui! J’adore danse!”
“Good, my friends have invited me dancing tonight. We should go soon to join them.” He smiles.
I quickly change so that I can look more presentable and we make our way via more metro trains to a boat on the Seine called Nik Nok. We meet up with two of Nacim’s friends, I’ll call them Sarah and Emily because I honestly don’t remember their names. They smile and ask if I can speak English.
“Non.”
“Non!” They nod their heads in disappointment and I apologize for not knowing French and head into the boat.
I find out that this is a party boat. For 13 euro you get on the boat, learn some meringue, and then dance with partners. After about an hour and a half of this people the boat turns into a club and there is an all you can eat buffet. I am excited, I have been wanting to dance! We line up in three lines and a guy at the front begins calling out movements. Gauche a doite, doite a gauche. At least I can see him and I understand the directions left and right. It is not complicated at the beginning, but there is a lot of hip movement. I see Nacim on the dance floor but his other two friends who I find out were the ones that planned this trip to the boat are sitting down because they are afraid of making mistakes. I am clearly okay with making mistakes and even though I step on a guys foot, or perhaps a few guys feet, I continue on.
After I have learned all the steps it is time to partner up. It is surprising to me that there are equal numbers of men and women here. The instructor sees us all paired and laughs. I am pretty sure he then says something about how this is a dance of love and pulls his dance partner closer to him to show us that we should all be very close and holding each other more tightly. Damn, I think. Get closer to all of these sweaty guys, I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I decide that I really want to keep dancing and I pretend the sweat is really just the rain falling outside and into the boat.
After the first dance, about an hour and a half in I need a break to cool off and go up to the deck. I find Nacim’s friends smoking and chatting and one of the girls tries her hardest to speak French.
“From where?”
“Seattle, WA.” Her eyes light up.
“Love!” She seems really happy about it and so I think perhaps she’s visited Seattle at some point, but I find out from Nacim later that there are lots of places she loves and wants to go to but she is too afraid to visit because of the language difference. I tell him I will learn French so she can visit, but he just nods and says, “No, she never will do.”
Around midnight we leave the boat because it is Sunday and the girls have to get up early for work in the morning. I am glad to leave because I am exhausted though I’m not sure why since I didn’t exactly do anything that day. Then I remember the trek with my bag and think, how can I get a lackey for my trip so that I don’t have to keep lugging this bag around?
I am happy to get back to the tiny mattress on the ground even if it is uncomfortable, just for a few hours of sleep. I will soon find that a few hours may be the best I get for the next few nights, but I don’t realize that yet so all is well.

Day #19: The Tower of Love

Saturday May 8
(A note: not that it matters, but some details from Fri. May 7th and Sat. May 8th have been confused a little. I remember doing these things, but the order in which they happened befuddles me)
After a long night out, which actually wasn’t that long seeing as we made it back a little after two, we decide to make it a late morning. A late morning can kind of limit Paris plans because you make it long after the lines begin to form at museums and monuments, while everyone else was prepared with their maps and cameras long before you.
Today we will visit St. Chapelle and Gardens and to end Larsen’s trip and obligatory visit to the Eiffel tower. On our way into St. Chapelle there is line that has people that look like they’ve been standing for hours. Well…. if not hours at least many long minutes. Luckily Larsen and I have a museum pass and can bypass this line, the only thing is that we get a long line of angry onlookers wondering why the hell we think we’re so special. This is the privilege of being famous I think. I remember the time Lady Di was at Disneyland and decided she wanted to get Splash Mountain, while my family and I were already in the line. The power of being famous is that you get to shut down the line while you leisurely stroll to the ride and everyone wonders why the line hasn’t moved in a while. On this day in Disneyland, it was hot, because it always seems to be hot in lines at Disneyland even when the sun isn’t shining. We were hoping to cool off in the water of and get the wind swept look of being on a ride.
“Mom, why haven’t we moved in a long time?”
“Oh… hmm, I don’t know. Maybe there having some problems with it.”
Twenty minutes go by and we still haven’t moved and people are beginning to get very restless. The problem with stationary Disneyland lines is that the sweet magical quality of the crowd that comes along with the magic of Disney fades quickly as a mob mentality forms.
“What’s going on?” says one guy.
“Yeah, why aren’t we moving?” People look around, but can only see the endless curving of the line ahead.
A small girl in uniform, who looks a little frightened, but has been instructed to come out and calm the crowd says to us, “we have shut down the line for about an hour because Princess Diana will be riding. Sorry for any inconvenience.”
“Are you joking?” Yells a guy behind us.
The girl nods and walks on to tell more of the crowd. There are groans all around and hisses of irritation. Some people leave the line and head for other ones, but we stay in this one. We figure it couldn’t be that much longer because we’ve been standing here forever already.
“Mom, Princess Di is in there!” I am so excited because this is the closest I’ve ever been to a real celebrity. “Princess Di! Do you think we’ll see her?”
“Oh, I don’t know maybe.” She looks at her watch and I can tell she’s wondering if maybe it would be better to leave the line too, but I am too excited about maybe seeing Lady Di.
Our feet are hot in our flip flops and they are beginning to burn. We apply sunblock, drink water, and stare again at our watches. I look up and down the ride for Lady Di. I can see from where I am standing that all the little boats are clear of visitors now and so I am waiting to see the one that it is filled with Princess Di and her children. At one point I think I see them, but then realize they have these weird mannequin things in some of the boats and I’m disappointed and a little frightened because this one looks like someone from revenge of the clowns with his big wide toothed grin.
Then the line starts moving. Darn, that means they’re gone. How did I miss them going down the ride? How could I miss Princess Di? This, I thought, was my only chance to see someone famous.
Luckily at St. Chapelle, it’s like we’re the famous ones. We dodge the line and get our bags checked in mere minutes. Then we head in ready to walk another round of windy stairs. Chapelle is yet another gorgeous Cathedral, as all the Cathedral’s seem to be in France. The difference is that this is one of the few you can take pictures is, so of course I decide to add to my more than 500 pics I’ve already taken in France.
When we come down we find the nicest bathroom in all of France. The entirety of it is graffitied inside and from the outside the stench of piss is stagnant and holds onto your nose like someone trying to steal it. Oh well, we decide that we must use the toilet now and so we venture inside. The bathroom is soiled as of course was to be expected and there is no soap, but there’s pretty much no soap in any Paris bathroom so that isn’t a surprise either.
We decide to make it to the Luxembourg Gardens that I was too whiny the day before to make it to. I was getting cold and tired on our search for them before and decided all I could do was go back to the hotel.
The Luxembourg Gardens like all the Gardens here are beautiful. They are not the traditional American garden in any sense. Most of them are separated into quarters with perfectly lined rows of trees and paths made of sand and rubble. There is almost always a fountain the center of the Garden with chairs provided by Paris to sit in. People here are sprawled out laughing, sleeping, smoking cigars. It is not warm outside, but there is some sun and like Seattleites, Parisians are taking their opportunity to enjoy it.
We head back to the room to get ready for the Eiffel Tower, which I am both totally excited for and completely disinterested in. I realize these emotions don’t go together, but at this point I am a little tired of sight seeing, but I know how beautiful the Eiffel Tower will be at night. We are doing the 20:30 tour, which can be translated into 8:30pm. We do this one so that we can see the light show. I am happy that we come at night because once we make it there while it’s light I can see the rusted brown that is the usual color of the Eiffel Tower and I’m kind of in awe of its unattractiveness. Truly, the Eiffel Tower is not a pleasing sight in the daylight, but at night there is nothing more beautiful.
We head to the second floor of the tower and it is raining again. It seems to have been raining in Paris for us almost the entirety of our time here besides in the mid afternoon. The rain is light and makes the tower seem a little more romantic as people unfold their umbrellas and parasols. People are kissing on the Eiffel Tower and I am pleased because I’ve been waiting to take pictures of people kissing in Paris and so far have been on the former half of some good ones and missed them all! I at this point am on the verge of having some people stage a kiss, but I think that won’t be as good as the real thing. We walk around and take pictures of the city, the clouds are turning red as it gets later and the suns sets. It is almost 22:00 when by the time it’s completely dark.
Larsen doesn’t like heights so she heads down a little before me for the much more grounded first floor and a little later I head for the ground. When I get to the bottom I hear a roar and screaming then a stampede. I am not sure what is happening, but momentarily my heart seizes as I await perhaps the plume of ash as the Tower topples over. Instead I see about forty African immigrants seizing their Eiffel tower replica’s storming out from the square below the tower followed by police on bicycles. They run out of the square and some onto the grass right outside and some across the street. The police stop and do nothing, just circle around on their cycles a bit. Three African men go to the wet grass and laugh as a lady cop stares them down. They are amused by the Police efforts and that nothing ever happens to them. They are swinging their illegal wares around, mocking her and then one of the thrusts sends an African flying into the air and onto his ass after slipping on the wet grass. The bike cops laughs and then rides away.
At this point I almost wonder what the point of the entire play was for. It seems there is no penalty for selling illegally in the square besides a quick breakup of it, the police ride away and then the Africans are at it again. Oh well, I think. Larsen makes it down to the ground floor and now it’s time to go to the Trocadero, one of the other most romantic spots in Paris because of it’s amazing view of the Eiffel Tower (this is the point where most famous shots of the Eiffel are taken). We walk there in the rain and look behind us. It is gorgeous. In the light sprinkle I think that it is even more beautiful than it would be without it. Larsen and I are probably thinking the same thing, “too bad we aren’t here with our boyfriends or husbands, the ones we don’t have because it would likely be one of the most romantic things we’d ever done.”
The light show begins at exactly 22:00 and after five minutes of pictures we decide that it’s time to dry off. It’s time for Larsen to rest so that she can be up early for her flight out tomorrow. We head back to the metro and buy ourselves some banana nutella crepes for her send off on the way. They are just what we need to warm us up as we head down into the metro tunnel and back to our hotel.

Day #18: Let’s Dance

Friday May 7
We wake up later than expected. Well, perhaps it is just later than expected for me because Larsen says she’s had another hard night sleeping. She says she is not good at sleeping while away from her bed at home. I on the other hand am a champ at sleeping in other beds and I am grateful for that. This day, because those curtains are so damn good I once again have no clue what time it is just that I was having dreams that I had to finish. The problem with finishing dreams is that they never truly end and you just keep sleeping in hopes that they will.
Today I actually get up before Larsen and am ready to go before her so I decide that for breakfast I will run down to the little crepe shop we found the night before and get a crepe avec fromage et jambon. This is a good decision except for the fact that there is just so much cheese on it. I love some cheese but I think there’s a good cup on just mine. I think “ahh, I’m such a picky American, next time I will ask for half the cheese and half the salt.” That’s just how it’s going to be. On my way back I almost get hit by a taxi, which is my fault because I momentarily forget that cars in Paris don’t actually stop for pedestrians. It for a moment looked like he was stopping for me, but I think he was actually just checking to see if other cars were coming from the opposite direction. I was summarily honked at and almost dropped my crepe, which probably would have been the healthier thing for me.
Today we have to pack up our clothes to drag them to another location. We will be leaving our headquarters on Magenta and heading to Rue de Amelot. Larsen decides we should taxi over and I say it’s fine, but of course I make the wrong decision and think we should just go to the taxi corner by Gare du Nord, where I was almost hit by a taxi and hail one, while she thinks we should just have the clerk at the hotel call one for us. We head out to hail a cab and find that we can’t. The taxi’s either won’t stop or look disinterested. When we get to a standing driver he tells us that there is actually a line to the north of Gare du Nord in which would have to wait to get a taxi, we decide instead to go back to the hotel and have them call us one.
Larsen is obviously unhappy about the decision I had us make, but I had no clue that hailing cabs in France is so different than in America. I have learned my lesson and may just stay away from taxi’s altogether because of this experience. I am lucky that I love the metro and will deal with the hassle of bags just to save money. Once our taxi arrives we head to our new hotel. The driver is chatty and wants to know where we’re from and how long we’re going to be here. He is very nice and tells us that learning French is easy, why don’t we know it? Of course I use the excuse that it has just all been forgotten because indeed it has. I took two years of French back in college, but I can barely remember much of it and for some reason forgot it in a country where there aren’t many people to speak French to.
Our driver keeps turning around to look at us while he’s driving, which is actually making me nervous. Actually, everything about French driving makes me nervous. The lack of noticeable lanes, the lack of stopping, the constant honking. I think perhaps if I lived here I would never drive. The metro is good and it seems an overwhelmingly bad idea to drive here because I’m not actually sure if there are specific driving rules, or at least at this point I cannot tell if there are. I am beginning to think our driver has eyes in the back of his head because he seems to just know when it’s okay to drive and not drive. At one point he turns around and says, “Nicole, you are magnificent.” Of course I blush and say thank you, but have no where to run away.
After what seems like a long period of time due to Paris traffic being what it is, we arrive to our hotel. We get all of our stuff out and I’m feeling very awkward about the driver and his comments and then he decides to ask me for my phone number. I very blatantly lie and say that I don’t have a phone while I’m in this country because I don’t want to really be rude and tell him that I’m not interested. Mostly, I just want to get our stuff put away and go back out to see the city.
Today is a much nicer day that yesterday. It is cloudy but warmer and the wind has died down. We decide that today we should visit Notre Dame and the Louvre. When we get to Notre Dame we stand in a line longer than some Disney rides so that we can climb the tower and watch more scammers run the line into the cathedral.
“Do you speak English?” They say to people and like I did the first time one of them asked me, they hesitate in surprise that they are being asked. They are everywhere, either asking for money or selling 1 euro bottles of water. At least someone is getting something for their money if they buy the water but there’s not much of a return on speaking English. This line seems endless and takes us between thirty and forty minutes to get to the front. Once we get in we take a long spiral of stairs up to a lookout. Larsen does not like heights and so is a little worried about taking these stairs so far up. I on the other hand can handle stairs up, but not down. I have a terrible propensity for spraining the same ankle over and over again walking down flights of stairs. I ask her if she’s seen High Anxiety, the hilarious Alfred Hitchcock film that addresses a fear of heights. “Rmmm,” is her response and I have a feeling that she never will see it.
The view from the top of Notre Dame is spectacular. You can see the Sacre-Couer and all of Paris, though it is a bit hazy. Actually, it seems like it’s been hazy the entire time I’ve been in Paris, but I can’t tell if it’s the mist from the overcast skies or if it is the smog haze I remember from childhood in San Jose. I will pay more attention at this point. The church bell is ringing in the tower while we are up there. It is beautiful and loud as church bells always seem to be. It makes the tower climb well worth it and romanticizes Notre Dame for both of us.
Once the ringing has stopped we go into the tower. The bell is at least 6 feet in height and hanging above us. I got to take a picture just as another tourist walks in front of the bell and my flash catches him off guard. “Oh my eyes! Oh my eyes!” I’m not sure if he is actually angry, though I didn’t intend to blind him, but I realize that he is when he snaps a shot of me to get me back for it. If that’s the worst he’s got, then I’m okay with it.
Larsen and I decide it’s time to leave after taking numerous pictures of Gargoyles and cityscapes. Carefully we walk down the spiral case and make it to the Cathedral. In here, there is a Catholic Service going on. Bishops are standing and listening and then a woman’s voice, soft and echoing off of the stained glass windows fills the room. I wish the crowd, which has packed the Cathedral would sthu. okay, yes, I do mean to say shut the hell up. I am angry because tourists can’t respect other peoples spaces, while of course I realize that I am a tourist too. At this point I just feel bad because people are chatting and taking forbidden flash pics and blinding the bishops as they are anointing people. No really, “Shut up people!” I think. I feel bad because though this is a tourist attraction, it’s also a place of worship and there is never peace for the worshippers.
In fact, it seems there’s not much peace around most of Paris. It seems that everything is quite filled with tourists, even the buildings and Cathedrals that aren’t listed on city maps and guides. People just walk on in and take a look at the buildings. I find out there are 9 million people living here and I shudder. 9 million bodies to deal with is a lot when I can barely deal with my own.
It is time for us to move on and we decide to head to the Louvre. We walk through the gates and there are African people asking petitions to be signed, yet another scam we have been warned about. This scam goes, you sign a petition to help relieve some kind of crisis in Africa, while at the bottom of the paper it says if you sign you owe 20 euros. Unsuspecting people sign because unsuspecting people are used to signing petitions. There’s always a petition to sign, especially in America. People sign and think, oh… well I did my good deed for the day. Pat themselves on the back and go about their day.
Then there is the Pavilion leading into the Louvre with the famous triangles of glass that aren’t terribly pleasing to the eye, but they aren’t terrible either. We go in without our Musee passe and plan to meet in a few hours. I am not sure where to go, but I definitely head the opposite direction of the Mona Lisa where I’m sure all of the tourists will be. I decide to start in the Richelieu section of the Louvre, which houses French sculpture dating back to the twelfth century, along with French paintings. I start with 15th century sculpture and work my way back and once again find myself in love with it. The realism in the sculpture is breathtaking and there is a profound precision in the way bodies and movements are chiseled into the marble. The faces are so detailed that if I didn’t know better I would say these are humans turned to stone by Medusa, but I do know better and think how lovely it would be to have one of these sculptures as my own.
I walk through this area slowly, not necessarily because I’m absorbing the artistic output that went into these works, though I am, but I have decided to improve my French reading skills by attempting to read the art placards for many of these. For most I can read a good half of the placard and words that I don’t know I look up in my handy french-english dictionary. The more I read, the more repetitive things get so it’s much easier to make it through a placard though it is still a struggle. I do wonder if that whole year of French did me any good and I think so. I seem to be getting along as well as some people that took numerous years of French and my accent is good enough that people will continue to speak to me in French until I give them a rather confused look and they change to English.
I just barely get through French sculpture when I realize that my two hours is up and have to text Larsen for more time. I know that she doesn’t enjoy art museums as much as I do, but I hope she will not be angry at my want for more time. I ask for just one more hour and begin walking through the replicated halls of Napoleon III’s old palais.
Of course the hour goes by much quicker than expected too and I realize I will have to come back to the Louvre. Larsen and I reunite and I find she went to see the Mona Lisa and I think, “hrmm… I guess I will go see it next time I come in because it’s an obligatory thing to see” and we head back to our hotel to get ready for the night.
Tonight we are Pub Crawling in Montmarte. We are tired and cold before we get there and are hoping for a second and/or third wind at some point along with a warm bar. I fear I won’t be able to stand any longer because my back is hurting from all of the standing, but luckily we find some seats at the first pub with three young American girls and begin the night with a Tequila Sunrise.
The girls we meet are on a stayover for K’s birthday (okay, I don’t remember her name, but I think it started with a K). They are all from American and studying abroad in another part of France. We find out that the girl is only turning twenty and suddenly I feel ancient. “Twenty!” I think. “I could almost be her mother!” Haha, okay, maybe not, but I know I suddenly put a boundary up when I find out their ages. Kat, the most talkative of the group is a 5’3, boisterous blond. She is obviously intelligent and has a lot to say and when I say a lot, I mean nonstop bantering between her and K. If K says something, Kat will one up it with something else and if she fears something was not heard she will repeat it the number of times she feels it needs repeating until it is heard. The way she carries herself, talks, and her smile all remind me very much of Julia Stiles. In fact, I’m willing to bet she’s at least Stiles’ second cousin.
At the next bar I feel the need to get away from the young girls. I really do feel too old near them and decide that Larsen and I should just stick together as a team. At the second bar all of the guys eyes are glued to the Rugby game that is on as are mine because until this point I have never in my life seen a game of rubgy. I’ve heard it described and this is way better than any description I’ve ever gotten and are those really their asses? Oh wait… they all have ass pads on.
Here, we are getting a little more liquored up so we begin to talk to more people, meaning more guys. No, that’s not the point of a pub crawl, but it’s always a challenge to see how many you can talk to. I end up talking to a New Yorker named RJ and ask him all about NY because I keep thinking about maybe moving. “You should move to the Lower Eastside,” he says, it’s totally affordable.
“When you say affordable, what does that mean?”
“Well… I’d say a studio is 15.”
“15!!!! You’ve gotta be kidding? That’s affordable?”
“Well, I was paying 2k a month for a closet in Manhattan, so yeah, you get way more space there.”
“Okay, well… maybe I’ll move to a box on the Lower Eastside.” He thinks I’m talking about a space the size of a box when I’m literally talking about just moving into maybe a UPS moving box, those things are pretty sturdy.
Time for the next bar and talking to the next person. Larsen spots a hott Aussie named Paul and we decide to talk to him. He is 5’10 with blond spiky hair and bright blue Australian eyes. I’ve only met Australians with bright blue’s on this trip, so I’m going to call those Australian from here on out. We find out he’s been traveling about Europe for a few months and he’s off to Amsterdam soon. He quickly becomes our friend and there is much talking and laughing, Larsen is a happy giggly girl.
Next bar and yes, if you’re counting this is bar #4. Bar #4 is also a club. It is large and dark and empty at the time we arrive at around 11:30. Now that we have “friends” we are relieved that we aren’t standing in the corner like unused brooms. Paul’s friend Marcus from Toronto comes up to join us, he is tall, with dark brown hair, and a clever smile. Yes, he is a player. I heard he can sing, so I ask him to sing a song. I think he is going to sing us all a song, but instead he begins by whispering in my ear, “close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, you know that I’ll miss you” and gradually gets louder. I am supposed to sing with him, but though I know this classic Beatles tune I’m not that familiar with the words. He grabs me and I am a little startled because I thought we were just going to sing. I try to sing with him, but I don’t know the lyrics so he says we should make up our own song and we do. He tells me I am beautiful and I can tell he wants to make out, but I don’t want to. He is very good looking, but there is something that keeps me from doing anything but smiling. He can quickly tell I’m not interested and moves onto a drunker, easier girl. I am grateful I am free to roam and now free to dance.
Larsen is still hanging out with Paul and they are having a great time and now it’s time to head to the dance floor. Around midnight people begin to show up at the club. I decide to grab a shot of vodka to see if perhaps I’ll ease up on my boundaries and dance with someone. This is helpful because now I can dance with lack of fear. There is a nice looking French guy with glasses that looks like a total nerd that I of course move towards because nerds are my thing. He cannot speak a word of English. “Good,” I think, “then we can just dance.”
The rest of the night was a blur. More dancing and more vodka for me and Larsen? Where is that girl? I find her eventually and we head back to our hotel around 1:40 because the metro stop running by 2. We successfully make two of our trains, but the third has stopped running and so we cab it back from that station. We somehow acquired a taxi and with my pocket French phrasebook asked to be dropped off at our hotel.
All I can think about is a crepe, I want a crepe! There are no crepe stands outside of our hotel and so I eat Larsen’s snacks. I eat and eat and eat raisins, peanuts, and yogurt covered peanuts and drink water until I can feel the buzz begin to wear off. Then… I eat some more. It is time for bed and it is 3am. I go to bed and dream about banana nutella crepes.

Day #17: Continental Breakfast

Thursday May 6
We wake to darkness. Damn these curtains really keep the light out. It’s already nine and it still feels like 6am, but we decide to get up and get ready so that we can meet up with our free tour at 11 down at St. Michele.
I go to the common area to see what is for breakfast and it is the same continental breakfast as everywhere else, croissants, cereal, milk, yogurt, and orange juice. I get some orange juice and a chocolate croissant. I would rather avoid the croissants but I am really hungry and don’t have much of a choice before the tour. Larsen and I never eat together. She is already up and takes a shower to get ready before me. I am a slowpoke and always decide to remain in bed longer. I love sleeping and would rather take this trip slow and easy.
We are excited about our first day and leave for the metro early so that we make sure to get there on time. Though the metro here is easy enough, it isn’t difficult to get confused when everything is in another language. The tour takes us from St. Michel over to Notre Dame and across the Seine to the Lourve, then over to les jardins des tuileries. We end walk down the Champs-Elysees and make our way over to le Grand Palias and le Petit Palais to end our tour. The tour is historically informative and I am glad we are taking it because I learn more about Paris’s history in the 1st and 2nd world wars. Learning the history of city makes me much more excited about a city than just coming to visit it. Yes, I am one of those tourists that doesn’t know much about Paris. I’m not even sure if I ever really wanted to see Paris before I made it over.
Somehow our tour guide has convinced me that I must see le Musee de l’Armee before I go. She has convinced to see quite a few things before I go and now my ideal vacation of time spent over lettres et cafe’s has been all but taken from me.
Larsen and I decide to visit le Musee Rodin after our tour and it is a beautiful mansion with wooden floors filled with his sculptures. Yes, this is where you will come across Le Homme Pensive, otherwise known as the thinking man. I did take the obligatory picture of this because I’ve taken a lot of obligatory pictures of sculptures or monuments that I otherwise wouldn’t except for people back home asking if I’ve seen them. Though I did enjoy the thinking man, Rodin’s museum is filled with so many wonderful sculptures that in ways eclipse this one. I will put some of these on facebook for enjoyment.
Afterwards we head to Musee D’orsay. It is one of the smaller museums but it houses many fine paintings by artists such as Van Gogh, Manet, Degas, Monet, Gaugin, you get my drift. I get the audio tour because I fallen in love with audio tours and walking on tired feet I make my way towards Van Gogh. This is essentially where I fall in love with Van Gogh or the idea of him. He was born in 1853 and became an artist that cared more about documenting real life than idealizing it. He enjoyed emphasizing the unusual characteristics of people rather than hiding them. He ended up in a mental health warn in June 1890 and completed 75 works before the time of his suicide in July 1890. He was merely 37 when he died. I never realized he was so young until I did this tour. The tortured artist, what cliche, but often so true.
Though my back is aching after seeing Van Gogh, I soldier on. This is when I see a self portrait of Degas. I realize here that it is something about self portraits that make me gravitate towards an artist. When you can see or think that you can somehow see into his or her soul by looking into these portraits it draws you into their art even more, or at least it does for me.
I had to leave the museum to early, partially because it was getting late and both of us were starving and partially because I could not spend another minute standing. No seriously, not another minute. We decide after such a long day to find some food and head back to our little hotel. in the morning we will be changing to another hotel more centered in the heart of Paris. This will have a set of difficulties to be discovered by us later.
I know that I will have to go back to Musee D’orsay at some point, but I’m not sure when or how I will find time to make it back there because I see on my little map that there are dozens of museums to visit and the catacombs too. Ahh… I will find a way. If not, there will always be more art tomorrow.

Day #16: Le Sucre Vie

Wednesday May 5
Another day where I wake before the alarm and with good reason, we are going to Pear E! How could I not be excited about this? I will be sad to leave London, but after 15 days I am ready to move onto my next adventure. I am excited and nervous because of the language difference but I check and double check just to make sure I haven’t lost my French phrasebook. Luckily this book is hard to lose with its huge white block capital letters on it announcing to everyone everyone that I am a tourist, no I am not FRENCH. Please see ways to make yourself look like a tourist 101 and you will see this listed as one of the top five only preceded by opening up a map to figure out where you are in a very crowded area and taking a snapshot of yourself in front of a monument.
Packing up my bag is like packing up a tent after taking it out, things just don’t seem to fit in the same way. I contemplate getting rid of some stuff but decide to put it off until we reach the next destination.
We depart for our last tube ride and I am again a little sad. I am going to miss the smell of stale air and charged metal along with the rush of wind that comes every time right before the train arrives. Bye tube.
We arrive at Kings Cross St. Pancras to board our train into France. We go through some security checks, but it is fast and easy and we make our way to a coach two out of sixteen I think. This is a long long train. When we get in it is almost completely packed and we are surrounded by French people that seem to be on their way home. I see the pressing need for me to review my phrasebook even more and so I get it out and try to look over and say words and phrases without seeming laughable to all of the French about the cabin. Hmm… this won’t work, so I decide to just type something up.
Things go dark pretty fast, meaning we aren’t above ground for long before the train goes into blackness. The train goes under and over ground many times and for a good length of time I am confused whether or not we have actually gone through the Channel, but then I feel a deep fullness in my ears and realize we are finally just now going through the Channel. As a child, after the ‘89 earthquake in the Bay Area I avoided all transportation under water or on bridges at all costs. Who wants to be stuck in a tunnel when there is the potential threat of drowning to death?
Of course we make it to France alright. I only realize we are in France once we have made it above ground and I see a freeway sign that I can’t understand and I am excited! At least I am excited for the moment.
When we get off the train, the real test begins. Shall we find our hostel? Larsen has mapped out the directions to the hostel, but it becomes a matter of whether we can tell North from South or read any of the street signs correctly. We are at Gare du Nord, one of the major train stops and right next to the Montemartre District. Montemartre is both the red light and arts district so we have been warned to watch out for bad behavior and to not walk the streets at night alone. When we leave the station the street is bright and bustling. Horns are honking and we are honestly not exactly sure what way to go.
“Should we get a taxi?” Larsen asks.
I am so anti-taxi or any form of transportation that will cost me a lot of euros that of course I say no. I say no because according to Larsen’s planned route it should only be an eight minute walk to our hostel. We look at a map and walk in the direction that we think we should be walking. Unfortunately, a few blocks down we realize that this is not the direction and have to turn around.
“Should we get a taxi?” She asks again. Once again I am still resistant. We’ve only been walking a few minutes, let’s just turn around and go the correct direction. It is easier for me to walk around because I have a backpack while she has a bag with wheels. This is one of those times I am grateful of the ease and maneuverability this bag affords me while roaming streets and taking metros.
The streets here are filled with trash and women that want to know if “we speak English.” Apparently this is a scam to get tourists to give them money. I am not exactly sure how speaking English will scam me, I have certainly seen better scams, but Nicole warns me anyhow and we walk away. Eventually, after what is definitely more than an eight minute walk from the station down the well worn streets of Paris, we make it to our hostel. We make it there and then are told that they overbooked and have now booked us in their sister hotel that is another five minute walk away or so. They say we can either walk or they will book a cab and pay. Of course we say yes to this cab offer, without realizing what we’re getting into.
What we didn’t do right as we made it into Paris was get any cash. We had assumed the hostel would come out and pay the cab or the hotel would, but instead as we were getting in he said, “oh, just pay the taxi and we will reimburse you.” Great, we both think. Neither of us as any euros nor any idea how to speak French. We are basically f’d here. Approximately a five minute drive later, the driver points to a door and I’m sure is saying something like this is your stop, but we are a little confused about whether or not we should get out because he doesn’t and our stuff is in the back of the car. He begins to get angry because of our confusion. Finally I just get out and then so does he and grabs our stuff. He tells us how much and of course neither of us have the cash, but Larsen has a wad of American money and tries to ask him if he’ll take it. Meanwhile, I run into the hotel to see if perhaps they can just give us some money to pay the taxi driver with, but the clerk is with two confused tourists that are trying to get who the hell knows where. He is going rather slowly and I want to interrupt, but I’m not sure how, but Larsen walks in and the taxi is gone.
“How did you pay?”
“Oh, I just gave him a $20.” Mind you this is way more than the actual cost of the ride, which I believe was around 8 euros, so I think well… he should be happy with that tip even though he was annoyed with the Americans. We are just happy to be at our hotel and after a long wait get checked in and go up to see our small mustard colored room with twin beds ready for us to sleep in.
We settle in and figure out a plan. Well, I think Larsen actually figures out a plan because I am doing no real planning on this trip besides making sure I have a bed to stay in for the entirety of it. She decides on going to see the Sacre-Couer, a big beautiful Catholic Church at the top of Montemartre. We walk what I now know as North and get lost in the tiny streets strewn with garbage, fast cars, and scooters. We pass many tourist stands and finally we see the Sacre-Couer standing high above us. We will have to make it up many steps to the top, but I am happy for the walk since we have been sitting a lot that day.
There are too many people. I mean, literally too many people. From street vendors, to tourists, to scam artists, and buskers there is just no end to people in sight. I check my pockets. My money is still there. I decided to switch from my money belt to my jacket pockets about a week before because it just gets really hard to access a money belt under the dresses that I wear. Luckily, these pockets zip up so it would take extra effort for a pick pocket to pick one of these, but I am still ultra paranoid and even though I just checked will likely check again a few minutes later.
The Sacre-Couer is at the highest point in the city and overlooks much of the enormous city of Paris. Everything seems covered with a fine mist. Today is cold and windy which makes the rest of Paris seem very cold. I am delighted to go into the Church just to get a little warmer. Inside there are even more people and it is loud though a Church should be quieter. There are kids screaming and the sound of shuffling feet.
I try to ignore that and look at the beauty of the stained glass that surrounds us from at least eight sides, though it is hard to truly enjoy this place among so many people. It seems like we do just a quick walk through and then we walk right out. We are now left on the streets of Montmarte. What to do next?
There is a walking tour of the area and after getting a little lost on streets where artists were painting and singing we find a couple of places like Van Gogh’s house, where technically he only lived for two years, but the blue door is lovely.
After a short walking tour it seems time to try Parisian food now, the problem is that we don’t know where to go and of course we don’t speak any French. We make it to a cafe on some corner and sit down for a meal. I attempt to say something like “Je voudrais un cafe” but it doesn’t go over well and we are grateful that the woman speaks English. The food here is not very good and I am almost completely sure it’s because it caters to tourists. I order grilled chicken and it comes with fries. I am for some reason very happy about the fries, but the chicken is undercooked and lacks flavor. Oh well… next time we will find better at least we are no longer hungry.
We decide that on our first we should find Crepes. We find a place close to our hotel and split a Banana Nutella crepe and I fall in love. This is likely one of the best things I have eaten in my life and I could eat it everyday I think if not for so much chocolate. Any day that ends with a crepe is a day ended well. We are satisfied and happy to be out of the cold. We are tired of the chill after days of being immersed in the wet and wind. We head back to our little hotel room and make plans for the next.