This far into the trip, my sleep schedule has gone completely off the rails. With the time shift, the light blocking curtains and downtime from illness have rendered my body completely incapable of telling whether it’s day or night. I’ve entered a not-unfamiliar dreamlike state of semi consciousness. At times, I’ve wondered if I’ve gone completely insane, I can barely navigate this city of foreign language, smells and tastes. Its impossibly beautiful people seem to navigate with smug ease that triggers off every inferior nerve in my body. Parisians are not to be fucked with, and I’m just a kid in knockoff clothes trying to blend, poorly. The disparity is real.
My body senses this in a very real way and has psychosomatically freaked the fuck out. I’m still sick, still in and out of the bathroom every 20 minutes, not able to really eat or function, or do anything other than dick around on tumblr endlessly using the slowest internet on planet Earth. But, with our last day less than 48 hours away, I feel compelled to give the city one last shake before heading home. I choke down the last of the medicine we brought with us, and hope for the best.
Note to self for any future trip: Either pack two pairs of jeans or none (and that means no wearing them on the plane). Denim, in my opinion is pound for pound one of the worst fabrics for travel. For me, my jeans always pick up the most funk just by virtue of all the surfaces you encounter while travelling. They just soak everything up, and either need to be laundered or not worn again. So, if I want to wear them home and not smell like a hobo, I bring these travel Tide packets to do small loads of laundry while you’re on the road. They work great for delicates and what not, but I get the crazy idea to wash both of our pairs of jeans during my zero day. (Because what else is there to do, really?)
Well, the other lovely thing about denim, is that it takes for fucking ever to dry when hung up. At that point, you begin to enter into the realm of diminishing returns for your efforts. I’d rather smell like a stinky airplane than the musty second-day laundry stank. So, to mitigate this new development, I decide to hit must with heat and iron the rest of the moisture out. And, while this technically worked, may I just say it took forever and was a huge pain in the ass. I also had trouble “drying” any surface of the jeans that had doubled over fabric, like along every pocket and down the seams.
So, in the future, I’ll just bring multiple pairs of jeans or none, because the temptation to wash the single pair I have to wear a more comfortable staple in my wardrobe is not cost effective when you consider the limited amount of time for the trip. I think a huge part of my issue with travelling is feeling comfortable in the outfits I pack, which is sort of my anxiety shield when I’m in a new environment. Clothing has a huge impact on the way I feel about myself. As part of my social anxiety, the more “put together” I feel on the outside, the calmer I can be on the inside. In the day to day, this is part of my approach to most days, but when travelling it’s so much more important. Venturing out into the unknown has certain triggers, and the more confident I feel, the better our chances at success.
Eventually, we got the jeans to a workable compromise, and I was able to walk around without doubling over with pain in my guts, so we decided to hit the town. The sky was dark and overcast, the threat of impending rain nagging after us all the way to the metro station. By now, we were pros at the station, we moved wordlessly like navy seals through the throngs of people, having already discussed our plans before arrival. The train was less busy at that hour as we took standing positions near the door, heading for Monmartre.
The sky opened up ahead of us, greeting us at the station with groups of people huddling under the awning just below the stairs. Enterprising folks sold ponchos, bottles of water and umbrellas for a huge markup just outside the opening. More people crowded together under the converted garbage bags they’d just shelled out $15 for.
Rain doesn’t really bother me. It’s a part of life, and I’d rather just walk through it without hunching or cowering under an umbrella if I can get away with it. Typically, unless it’s a huge downpour, I don’t even bother. I think that carries over from my days at the brewery, where you learn to desensitize yourself against it because it was so integral to the job. I learned to steel myself in the face of a lot of flinch-worth encounters in that job, but that’s a story for another day.
But because it looks bad for a man to be walking under an umbrella while his lady friend walks without one, for the sake of appeasing social convention, we huddled together nonetheless. This just meant that his shirt would become completely soaked since there wasn’t really room for two. We carefully traversed the slick uphill cobblestone streets, taking our time to take in the buildings as we passed. I wandered away to snap photos and soon the rain began to lighten up.
At the top of the hill, there was a huge cathedral and throngs of shops and restaurants, an absolute swarm of people milling around while the occasional car tried desperately to navigate through. A small train carrying tourists made loop through the area, dinging its bell to announce their passing. We followed the crowd to the giant cathedral, hoping to get some pictures, but as we entered we were inundated by signs forbidding any photography. There was a security guard to inform us of the same, so we stowed our cameras and entered the church.
It was lovely, extremely quiet in respect to the many signs asking for it. People did pretty much that. Anything spoken was done in hushed murmurs. We made it about halfway through before finding a few chairs open to sit and check the map for our next destination. Ahead of us, a man lifted his camera and snapped a photo, the unmistakable sound of the shutter closing set off an immediate reaction by a man in the church.
He came rushing over, addressing the man in English, because of course it would be an asshole American who would be do disrespectful.
“Sir, Why? Why would you take a picture? Did you not see any of the signage? We ask you not to take a picture! Why?”
He spoke in the only terse words through a thick French accent, as it was all he could think of without outright calling the man a fucking idiot. But, with the phrasing, he gave the man the opportunity to explain himself, for being a fucking idiot, and to apologize. He didn’t. Instead, another man from the American group had the fucking balls to turn to this guy from the row ahead and shush him, smirking arrogantly at his friend who was being chastised. He fucking shushed the church guy!
In one moment, I saw why we’re perceived so poorly in the rest of the world. If this is how we behave, even if it’s not all of us, even it’s just some of us, people remember. We have a bad reputation, and now I see why. If people came here and acted like that in our backyard, we’d hate the fuck out of them too.
The church guy switched to tell off both of them in turn. But by then, I wanted nothing to do with them, so we left. The stern lecture still going on behind us. I felt so embarrassed on behalf of my countrymen, and promised to do better as my contribution to damage control for our bad reputation.
Outside the church, the weather finally broke and the sun was shining brightly. The vista from the top of the church steps was clear skies and you could see for miles, a perfect perspective of the giant city below. We wanted to see the Salvador Dali museum, so we wandered around to find the street. The line wasn’t very long, and we got in quickly.
Inside were sculptures, prints and mixed media pieces. It was a neat experience, but I think without a guide (there was an audio one I probably could have downloaded prior to going, but didn’t). I took a lot of pictures before we decided to grab something to eat. As we rounded a corner to enter the artists quarter, a group of young people stood with clipboards looking for signatures. It was the first time we’d seen this in action, but not long after did two police officers roll up on bicycles and chase them away. Apparently this was one of the pickpocketing scams that you see. They distract you while you’re signing their “petition” and then their confederate steals your shit.
If I had more time and patience I would definitely have stayed in the artists area and had my portrait drawn. The booths were all stacked against each other, each one with a client sitting on a stool as still as they can, while the artist furiously sketches them out. The work was beautiful, and if I ever found myself in such a position again, something that looks like it would be worth doing.
We found a pizza place and grabbed a quick lunch. It was by far the most crowded restaurant we’d been in yet. Real estate in this area was tight. We had barely enough room to move, the tables were like children’s furniture and all on top of one another. My stomach still unnerved, I order a green salad and lasagna, figuring that might be substantial enough to hold me over. At another table nearby, two of the four chairs were occupied with a mother and daughter, before the second half of the table was given to a single japanese tourist. I’d heard of this being done in restaurants in Europe, but never actually saw it in practice, outside of a very crowded Korean restaurant I used to love going to.
The japanese tourist ordered escargot, and for the first time I got to see what it looks like in real life. Still not tempting enough to eat, but I was curious to see someone more adventurous than me do it. It came with it’s own set of tools, specially designed to hold the shell still, I guess, and another to root out the little bugger. They were bigger than I imagined they would be for snails. But decidedly, not something I’d want to eat.
A piano was crammed in the already impossibly small bar area, pounding out ragtime interpretations of familiar music. We finished our lunch and tipped the player a few euro on our way out. We found our way back down the hill to the nearest metro station and headed back to the hotel.
We began our preliminary packing and trying to inventory all the stuff we brought with us. I always end up lamenting how much I bring that I don’t wear and how I never bring the stuff I end up needing. This is what we call the “Hindsight Haze” which involves long sighs, and waxing poetic about “the next time we go away” plan to finally pare down my luggage and thereby, my soul.
For dinner, we decided to find the nearest Indiana Grill. We wandered back down the same street to trace our steps to the way we’d found it. The sun was beginning to lower in the sky, and long shadows cast down the treelined, nearly vacant street. This was the Paris I didn’t mind so much. It would be incredibly peaceful and quiet, far away from the restaurants and tourist areas where people just simply lived. That moment where the highest and simplest form of your humanity honors theirs, and the namaste moment is yours.