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.

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