I’ve never wanted to leave anyplace less than I did Paris. It felt so natural and real from the moment I hit the ground – not that the whole trip didn’t have a fantasy feel to it, since I was at least partly on holiday, but from the time I arrived, I felt like this was a city where I could be at home. I did some work while I was there, which helped to normalize things and keep it from seeming entirely like a vacation, but I think it was just that I took to the place right away, to its rhythms and pace. It seemed comfortable to me. manningkrull noticed it too; he mentioned how natural it seemed for me to be there, not weird or jarring at all. There was the language barrier, naturally (though see below), and of course there’s no way you can experience in a week what it’s like to really live in a place, but overall, I was really struck by how relaxed and easy I felt the whole time. When I left, I didn’t feel like I was leaving home – I won’t oversell how much I took to the joint – but I definitely didn’t feel that near-relief and road-weariness I usually do when coming back from a trip. Leaving Paris was less like waking up from a dream than it was being roused prematurely from a prolonged and cozy sleep.
The language barrier was occasionally problematic, and I always felt guilty that I couldn’t speak French better around Manning’s friends; I had to rely on English far too much in order to take part in conversations, and when they talked the native tongue, I understood less than half of what was being said. But it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be, because I can actually read French fairly well. Speaking, I did okay – my vocabulary is limited, but not entirely nonexistent. However, I have no grasp of sentence structure, so I’m sure I sounded like a mildly clever gorilla every time I opened my mouth. I was lousy, but I wasn’t totally fucking lost, and that counts as a victory from my idiot perspective.
I have so many stories to tell that I don’t even know where to begin. The whole time I was there was non-stop fantastic, even when I wasn’t doing anything but wandering the streets. And since this entry is already going to be stupid long, I’ll probably only post a few stories and save the rest for future posts (I mean, shit, this is stuff I’m gonna be talking about when I’m 80 years old as it is). Also, my sense of time is totally fucked – not only the time zone shift, but also the fact that I was there on a goofy schedule (Wednesday through Tuesday) and on a holiday weekend contrived to totally blow my sense of days and dates. So instead of telling this shit in any kind of chronologically order, I’ll probably just hit you with it as I remember it. That’s assuming you bother to actually read this, which there’s no reason you should.
- Both the plane ride there and the one back were perfectly uneventful – long, but because of canny booking (I had myself shoved into the last row of the plane, which turned out to be empty both coming and going), I was able to get plenty of sleep, and never really got too jet-lagged. Of course, I don’t really sleep much anymore anyway, so maybe I just didn’t miss it.
- Manning lives on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator. I didn’t feel too horribly embarrassed by the gasping, panting blob of fat I became every time we walked up that spiral staircase – it seemed to happen to everyone to a lesser degree – but I’m pretty sure I had at least three hundred heart attacks during the whole trip.
- Pigalle, where Manning lives, is Paris’ red light district, and while it’s a great location with tons to do, cool people, great little bars and a terrific location, it’s also crammed with crappy souvenir shops and sex shops. (The touts at the strip clubs and porno theatres were the only ones who consistently were able to peg me as American; I was sometimes taken for French, Italian or Spanish by cab drivers, shopkeepers and waiters, but the pimps and hustlers grokked right away that I was a Yank.) Apparently, back in WWII, American soldiers used to call it “Pig Alley”, which is easy enough to understand as a punning mispronunciation, but it leaves open the question of why they thought a pig and an alley would be an ideal combination of sexual partner and romantic location. I mentioned to Manning that it’s lucky for Pigalle’s tourist trade that there is no neighborhood in Paris called Goatdumpster.
- The Metro is actually very easy to navigate, given its complexity. I even figured out quick enough how to operate the ticket machines and read the interior maps. (Most stations also feature a close-up street map of the neighborhood around the stop, which is a nifty feature I wish more American cities would adopt.) The trains themselves are quite a bit like the el in Chicago in terms of design, and the stops have cool art and layout and are fairly clean. The only odd thing is that the doors don’t open automatically – someone has to open them from the outside. Also, it often seemed like we were the only ones talking on the trains. Viva le Ugly American!
- I didn’t really miss much about America at all – I’m sure if I stayed longer, I would have, but in the week I was there, the only thing I really found lacking was ice. You almost never get ice in a drink, whether it’s water or soda or a cocktail, unless you ask for it, and even then, they might not have it. Bottled soda – which, by the way, is the only way to get it (no one really has fountain drinks) and is absurdly overpriced, often as much as four Euros a bottle – is sometimes served cold, sometimes not so much, but never with ice. What the fuck, Paris, it’s only frozen water, get your shit together.
- Speaking of shit, there really is dogshit everywhere, but other than that, the reputation of Paris as Stankytown is generally unjustified. It may be different in the heart of the summer, but generally, it didn’t smell any worse or better than most big cities I’ve visited. Still: fucking dogshit. Parisians have more tiny dogs per capita than even Hollywood, and whatever they’re feeding them takes precious little time to work its way through their miniscule canine digestive systems. This is problematic if, like me, you wear expensive sneakers.
- More of than I expected: black people. Less of than I expected: Arabs. So many of that it made me want to jump off of a bridge: incredibly beautiful women.
- I was drunk out of my skull most nights I was there, but strangely enough, I almost never sampled anything local. I don’t drink wine, and I tend to go for hard liquor over beer, so most of the time that’s what I’d order – and the French like the same stuff as we do. Jack Daniels, Scotch, English gin, Russian or Polish vodka – that’s about all I found, and all I was served, the whole trip. (There is a very popular local rum, but for some reason, I didn’t feel compelled to order a zombie or a hurricane while I was there.) Still, it got the job done. I also got super-pilled up one day, and subsequently became lost in Montmartre, but I was so blessed on Vicodin that I didn’t give a fuck if I ever found my way back. I didn’t take any more hydro after that because if I had I probably would have ended up chipping barnacles off of a Moroccan slave ship or something.
- At one point, Lada and I went to the Arc d’Triomphe, and we did not realize that there was a pedestrian tunnel going around the six-lane, no-lights traffic circle that surrounds it. So we just decided to run across the street together. Apparently, this is so suicidally insane that no one ever actually does it; Manning didn’t even believe me when I first told him. But not only did we do it, we did it again when we left, pulling it off nicely despite almost being blindsided by a huge bus. People were actually taking pictures of us, no doubt to be labeled “LES IDIOTES”, because this is such a recklessly deranged act. I never felt more hardcore than when we did this. What’s tourism without a little risk, motherfuckers?
- Speaking of the Arc d’Triomphe, let’s talk a little bit about history. Something that Manning and I share, and one of the reasons it was so awesome to hang out with him in Paris, is this real awe of human history, this almost visceral reaction to being confronted with the tangible evidence of living presence from the long past. There were a lot of moments when I was in Paris that I had to check myself (before I wrecked myself, which I always did at the end of the night) and think, whoah, is this really happening? Are we really walking around near the Innocents eating panini and goofing on the Parisian rocker kids? Am I actually strolling along the Seine with a gorgeous Bosnian girl? But at no time was this more overpowering than at some of the historical sites. At the Arc d’Triomphe, it’s easy to feel that huge historical weight, because you’ve seen it in so many photographs; you can easily figure out where you are, and then just get blown away by the sheer historical reality of it all. We all know history, and in a sort of abstract way, we think it really happened, but until you’re in the places it happened it’s all to easy to imagine it’s just sort of a creation myth. But I walked over from the Arch to the square, and I stood in the exact same place where Hitler stood when he celebrated his conquest of the whole goddamn country. I stood in the same fucking spot once occupied by the boots of the most evil motherfucker whoever lived. I got the same crazily heavy sensation when I was in Les Halles: the events of May ’68 have always cast a huge influence on me and my beliefs, even though they happened a year before I was even born. But they never seemed as absolute and real to me as they did when I was walking through Les Halles, walking over the very paving-stones the kids pried up 40 years ago and hurled at the cops, driving them back over the bridge and seizing the city for their own. I was in the place where an anarchist miracle really happened. Fucking amazing. Amazing.
That’s it for now – much more later, including less rambling and more actual accounts of places I went and things I did. Also: photos.