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.
“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.
Monday May 10