And then there’s Paris – the place where every kind of bad thing that had happened to me thus far on this trip happened again x 10. Bowel trouble, creepy men, terrible hostels – I got the lot! But before I get to those, I said last time that I would explain why I had picked a slightly circuitous route on this trip. Although I was determined to go to Europe that summer regardless, one of the reasons I went precisely when I did was because my favourite band at the time, the World/Inferno Friendship Society, was going on a European tour that summer (they are based in New York, and would only circle through Cleveland every other year or so, so I’d only seen them once or twice at that point), and I thought it would be nice if my travels could coincide with some of their tour dates (I was a punk at the time, but since I like music I can sing along to, most punk music was not really my thing, not that I would have admitted it at the time. So, when I found a band that had a crooner for a singer, played polka/klezmer/swing music, and was still considered punk enough to not interfere with my (limited) street cred, I latched on to them (of course, now I’m an unashamed Fanson, but the whole not giving a shit thing comes with age)). Since I had to be in Italy at a certain time because of my mother and aunt
butting in joining me on my trip, the only way I could catch World/Inferno in Paris was by circling back around, and then going down to Spain, through the south of France, and back through Italy before heading up to Belgium. So that’s what I did.
After getting off the overnight train with very little sleep, I dumped my bags at a hostel, and set out for a more in-depth tour of Paris than I had managed on my afternoon there a fortnight before. My first stop was the catacombs, which I obviously loved (though I didn’t say much about them in my journal) before heading to a bakery to pick up some pastries and a baguette in advance of meeting Pedro from the train at the Louvre (you can spot his head in the corner of my photo below). We felt what spent like hours there, but never even made it out of the Italian Renaissance galleries before I gave up and headed out in search of nourishment from Paris’s most famous falafel spot, L’as du Fallafel (which I deemed good, but not as good as Maha’s, my favourite falafel joint in Cleveland). In what seems like an incredibly busy day (clearly my feet were getting more accustomed to all the walking), I also saw Sacre Couer and Notre Dame, and got ice cream from Berthillon (fab) before catching the Metro back to my hostel.
This hostel was the grimmest one I’d encountered yet by some way – it appeared to be in the crack district of Paris, with loads of shady looking types hanging around outside, including one guy who tried to sell me hash on my way back. Though I don’t think I’d showered since Salzburg at this point, I was not about to attempt bathing here once I got a look at the shower situation (communal unisex shower room – there were curtains between the showers, but it looked like you would catch a disease just from touching the floor), so decided to save it for the next day, when I had booked a (in retrospect) suspiciously cheap hotel room for a treat. I briefly hung out and did a shot of tequila (only one, after my experience in Munich) with my hostelmates (who seemed a fairly unpleasant bunch) before attempting to sleep in what was undoubtedly a dingy and uncomfortable room, since I was seeing World/Inferno the next night, and needed some rest!
For some reason, I apparently had to check out of the hostel by 9am, which seems unusually early, but in keeping with the rest of the experience, and then stopped at a cafe for an unbelievably expensive cafe au lait and reasonably priced giant palmier that made me feel incredibly ill when I ate it on account of all the butter (I haven’t eaten another palmier to this day because of my subsequent experience, though knowing what coffee does to my stomach (which is why I normally don’t drink it) maybe the cafe au lait is what I should be blaming). After going to see the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees, where I just walked around and didn’t actually go up the tower or anything, it was late enough for me to check into my hotel, so, desperate for a shower, I did just that. When I got into my room, I realised it was not en suite, which I had never encountered in a hotel at that point (though obviously I expected it in a hostel by then), so I hadn’t even thought to check when I booked it, though there was a sink in a corner of my otherwise, shall we say, minimalist room (no TV or other amenities of any kind). Undaunted, I headed off in search of the shower room. Well, I found the WC, but there was only a toilet, no shower. Cue a Mr. Bean-esque routine where I wandered from floor to floor following the sound of running water, only to find it coming from behind the door of someone else’s room every time. Did everyone have a shower but me? Was this all a joke on l’Americain? I didn’t want to ask at reception, because I’d had enough of French people laughing in my face when I attempted to speak French (as had happened at the cafe, and when I tried to ask directions in a shop), so I admitted defeat and just gave myself a sponge bath using the sink in my room before finally heading out to see World/Inferno.
The venue was far enough away that I had to take Le Metro to it, so I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t booked a hotel closer (couldn’t have been any worse than the one I was in), but when the show took a while to get going (as punk shows always do), I quickly realised that the Metro would have stopped running by the time the show was over, and World/Inferno were headlining, so I definitely didn’t want to leave early. The venue was incredibly odd, but in a good way. I suspect it was some kind of anarcho collective, and was creepily circus themed, with some carnival style games outside that children were playing, and some circus tents that I’m pretty sure people actually lived in outside. As I was awkwardly standing outside by myself, waiting for the show to start and freaking out about how I was going to get back to my hotel in the middle of the night (seriously Jessica, just take a damn taxi), I heard two Americans talking among themselves, and it soon became apparent they were World/Inferno’s roadies. In an unusually bold move, I butted into a conversation where they were bitching about how no one in Paris spoke English (yes, I know, but I was annoyed with the mean Parisians too, and I was desperate for a friend), and said, “hey, I do! I’m from Cleveland!” Incredibly, this worked, and we became fast friends. I mentioned to them that I was worried about getting back to my hotel after the show, and they said they were staying with a French girl who had offered them a room in her nearby flat, and I could probably stay there too. Thrilled to have both made friends with World/Inferno roadies (who were named Dan and Ed) and solved my problem of finding somewhere to stay that night, I ended up having a great time at the show waltzing with various Frenchmen, one of whom peed on my feet (yes, really), but later offered me hash, which I guess made up for it? I hadn’t actually drank anything at the show, but after I smoked the hash from Monsieur OuiOui I developed terrible dry mouth, so on the way out, I asked for a glass of water from the bar. The barman strongly recommended I buy a bottle of water instead, but I assumed he just didn’t want to give me free water, so I insisted on the tap water and chugged it down.
Dan and Ed were waiting for me outside, along with the French girl they were staying with, who had fierce crust-punk dreadlocks (much better than mine had been), her British boyfriend, and a Danish guy who was also staying with them. Fortunately, the French girl was super nice and told me she had an air mattress I could sleep on if I didn’t mind crashing in her living room. I did not. So I was merrily skipping along with them (probably not literally, though I was fairly high at that point, so who knows), when I felt something drop into my lower intestine, and was suddenly wracked with the most horrific stomach cramps. I still don’t know if it was the water, the palmier, the coffee, the hash, or all four, but I was in desperate need of a toilet, and I couldn’t exactly run off to one along the way without majorly embarrassing myself, as we were only about a ten minute walk from the flat. So I tried to hide the fact that I was in horrible pain, and cautiously attempted to let out a silent fart to relieve some of the pressure. Big mistake. There’s really no other way to put it – it was not a fart, it was a shart, and I had just crapped my pants on the streets of Paris on my way to spend the night with strangers who I desperately wanted to think I was cool, with no change of clothes or underwear. Since I was wearing jeans with a long tunic over the top, I wasn’t too concerned about seepage, but I was very worried about the smell that was sure to be noticeable once we were off the streets and into this girl’s flat.
Even though I obviously wanted to run straight into the toilet as soon as we got up to this flat (which was massive – this girl was clearly loaded. It later emerged that her wealthy father had paid for it, which was pretty typical of crust punks, who were basically all rich kids slumming it at punk shows), I was so worried about embarrassing myself that I thought it would be far better to plunk myself down on this girl’s sofa and wait until they had rolled up a joint of yet more hash (which I was relieved about, since at least it would hide my smell) and started passing it around before asking to use the toilet (honestly, now I would probably announce to the group exactly what had happened and laugh about it. I do not care anymore. I had an incident a few years back after drinking cider and told everyone I knew because I thought it was funny). Once I finally got in there, I did my best to clean myself up in the sink, but my underwear was a complete write-off, so I was forced to remove it, wrap it up in toilet paper, bury the horrible item deep in my purse, because I didn’t want to put it in the bin in the bathroom only to have it be discovered; and then leave my purse as far away from everyone as possible so that no one would notice the smell. The rest of the night passed fairly uneventfully, save for the Danish guy hitting on me a bit (I was laughing to myself, thinking, “if you only knew, buddy”), but he wasn’t pushy, and quickly came to terms with the fact that he would very definitely be sleeping on the sofa rather than sharing my air mattress. I was so exhausted I managed to fall asleep quickly, but we had been up so late that night it didn’t end up being very much sleep even though I overslept and needed to rush back to the hotel I had never even slept in to check out and grab my stuff before the maids got rid of it. Everyone else was still asleep, including the Danish guy who had slept on the sofa nearby, so I scribbled a quick thank you note to the French girl, including my email address (I never heard from her, though I did see Dan and Ed again on this trip), and tried to get out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how the locks worked, so I had to wake up the Danish guy just to help me open the door, and then ran off into the morning, looking (and feeling) like hell, to do what was basically a non-sex-related walk of shame with all the Parisian commuters (at least I was able to get rid of my underwear in a bin outside). I got back to the hotel just in time to give myself another sponge bath in the sink (because no shower, remember, even though I desperately, desperately needed one at this point) and change my clothes before checking out.
I was taking a night train to Barcelona that night, for which there were no couchettes available, so I was preparing myself for an even more terrible night than the one on the train to Paris, given my current state, but still had hours to kill before then, so I dumped my bags at the station and very reluctantly headed out into the city again. I was exhausted and felt quite ill, and the day turned out to be incredibly cold and rainy, and unfortunately, I had left my jacket in my bag in the train station locker, so was forced to soldier on in insufficient clothing (don’t ask me why I didn’t just buy a cheap hoodie from H&M or something – I clearly wasn’t thinking straight). I ended up going back to Sacre Couer just because it was warmish inside and nobody cared if I sat on a pew, so I hung out in there for ages until I started falling asleep, and went outside only to be accosted by really aggressive street sellers who attempted to forcibly slap a bracelet on my arm and make me pay for it. I threw the bracelet back at them and ran away, right into a pizza place that was just opposite Sacre Couer, because it was warm and I could sit there for a while (and I hadn’t eaten properly in ages). I ate my pizza, and then basically just put my head down on the table and attempted to crash out, hoping my overly friendly waiter wouldn’t mind, since I was the only customer in the place. Well, he didn’t mind as such, but he started insisting that I should go back to his place to take a nap instead. I thanked him for the offer, but declined. He then waited for me outside the restaurant, grabbed my arm as I tried to leave, and started dragging me with him to a Metro station, insisting that I go sleep at his place, since he wouldn’t even be there during the day. Now, maybe he was just trying to be nice and wasn’t really up to anything (I mean, I did stay with strangers the night before, but it was a very different situation), but alarm bells were going off in my head at the way he was physically dragging me with him and insisting I go despite my increasingly vocal protests. As soon as he dropped my arm to go down the steps into the station, I took off running and didn’t stop until I made it safely into a souvenir shop, where I hid for over an hour, shaking (he yelled after me when I took off, but didn’t actually pursue me). I was completely done with Paris at this point. When I was positive he was gone, I hightailed it back to the train station where my bag was, and attempted to sleep in the waiting room there for the rest of the afternoon, which was severely curtailed by the annoying noise that precedes all announcements in French train stations – it enrages me every time I hear it to this day.
Well, I made it out alive and basically unharmed, but this, my friends, is why I hate Paris, and have never returned. It’s a shame, because I honestly loved it (aside from the rude Parisians) at first, and maybe I’d have a better time if I went back with Marcus, but I don’t know when that day will come. Next up, Barcelona!