26-29th of August
3 strange days in Paris
I’m in Paris with my two (girl)friends, Mu and Chrysa. The three of us, for a few days are favouring baguettes to boyfriends and having some funfunfun. Chrysa picked me up at Gare du Nord, I’m very happy, rather relieved when I see she’s there since we have missed more appointments than we met. The two of them have been in Paris for a few days already. She gives me a present they bought me, I look for a corner to unpack where I don’t crash-bump into people every second. It’s a pen masquerading as a lipstick, by the (new) Marc by Marc Jacobs sort of affordable line, Haute Couture meets the masses, with little trinkets for sale for the truly broke. With this James Bond- Mr.Q lipstick I can be in the bathroom of a club pretending I’m putting on lipstick but really, I’m reporting as a spy to headquarters about lousy bathroom conditions. Chrysa soon declares that ‘come on, we didn’t come to Paris to see Museums’, Mu the next day wanting to go to Centre Pompidou. This modern-art escalator tubey-glass palace designed by the architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, houses three massive floors of modern and contemporary art. It’s a pity me and Mu were only there for around 50 minutes, because it closed 9pm and not at 10pm, like we thought. When we realized this we started running around the exhibition, about female artists and feministas. Chrysa stayed home with the boys that day in Porte de Saint Denis. We were staying with Chrysa’s friends’ boyfriend Alexandre and his guy roommates. They are university graduates and something with film/tv, as far as I understand. Chrysa had never met Alexandre. But when she says ‘it’s okay’ you take it as fact. From their house in Porte de Saint Denis we would go with the metro to central Paris.
One of the boys, Alexandre, tells me he only goes to Paris with a specific mission, when asked what places he likes to frequent in Paris. He tells me he watches his small collection of movies that include a lot of Asian movies, over and over again, because he doesn’t have a lot of money. He has a swimming turtle, and a stick insect. He gave us each a (vanilla yoghurt) jar with eggs to have our own at home. We got an extensive e-mail from on how to keep the eggs.
On our way back, hysterically running for the train to Amsterdam, Mu’s jar somehow opened, and all the eggs got squashed in her handbag (except one). Still sweating from running, she got her 150 things out of her purse onto the train table, there were yellow/brown smudges at the bottom of her bag. ‘I killed them all’. ‘Alexandre must not know about this’, she said, with ladylike tact.
I just had to laugh.
At times I was with Mu in the city, others with Chrysa, and one time with the three of us. We spent a lot of time in the Metro lines, the underground ones mostly; they were hot and heavy with humid air, and a lot of depressed-looking poor people. I had to get used to this a bit. When you’re on the subway getting closer to the Chanel epicenter of Paris, the people in it become whiter and whiter. Some stations are simply huge, like the one me and Chrysa were supposed to meet Mu at, and got 1/2 an hour late to. We were just walking in circles, from Metro exit to Metro exit, until we even came to another metro station! Somewhere in the middle Chrysa decided to go barefoot.
Mu was waiting at the steps of Gare du Saint Lazare, amidst a bunch of homeless people. The bums were pointing at Chrysa’s feet with a visible question mark as we sat down, and Chrysa pointed out to them that she had indeed, shoes. We were pretty desperate about sitting down. The lady-gipsy-bum next to us was uttering the word ‘cigarette??’ ,‘cigarette??’, because they heard us mention it. We had none, but she didn’t believe us. Mu started taking pictures of her. Things were getting uncomfortably akward, the woman started packing up her skateboard, and we went to sit down somewhere and have a drink. It doesn’t matter what you do, sitting down to have a drink is expensive anywhere in the vast centre of Paris. We walked and sat down randomly in one of those Bistro-bars from a century ago. Pretty. Pretty costly, too. Better come to Paris with a fat wallet, and enjoy the excellent cuisine everywhere available.
When I was with Chrysa at Garde du Nord that first evening, we were looking for an open Metro ticket booth, to get the 10 tickets for 11.60 deal. We went up to a closed one, and I had a feeling they’d all be. We were walking around and around the huge station passing loads of ticket machines. After saying 5 times ‘I’ll just buy a ticket here’, without Chrysa responding, I finally did. It took my debit card that time, and later it didn’t. The next day at the Saint-Denis station I bought the 10 tickets, the last 5 or 6 weren’t working. Which is fun when your friends are past the gates and you’re inserting 5 different tickets that don’t work and carrying a load of groceries in many thin pink plastic bags. Mu would give me a ticket or I’d sneak behind someone, feeling like I just committed a serious crime. I have a guilty conscience like no one.
Once in the subway a skinny shapeless, perhaps not adult Indian-looking girl launched into the subway with a sound system on wheels, and a music player with the instrumental of a famous hip-hop song I’m failing to remember. She started rapping to it rather convincingly, likely about growing up hard knock life–ish in the Paris banlieus. This was followed by a Reggaeton dance routine to which she was shaking the ass she didn’t have, using the metal poles at hand. The mood was an admiring, akward one. I thought, I’ll give her a coin, she tried to entertain. When I reach out with a coin she rushed to me, but before I can even give it to her a hand grabs my arm, three official-looking men jump into the train and start yelling at her and throwing her out of the metro.
Out of the metro and finding our house, the first night, getting out at Porte de Saint Denis, Chrysa sort of/ kinda doesn’t know the way. We walk 4 circles around the neighbourhood, located next to the highway, only men are out on the streets.
Once home, our boy hosts ask us if we’ve eaten already, we say yes, they ask if we want to eat, so we eat again. It was nice, and sweet. Julian shares a liter of beer with us. Alex says ‘don’t worry about the dishes’ when I ask. We watch silly video’s in French and Greek on the beamer, some of the humor might’ve been questionable. Earlier that night, next to Gare du Nord we went to Quick Something burger, where I had a Something triple bacon. I told Chrysa ‘as long as there’s a toilet’ about where we should eat. In said toilet was a used pregnancy test. When I told this to Chrysa she said, so was there a cross on the test? I told her I didn’t dare to come close to it. Today I still wonder if someone discovered she was becoming a mom (again?) inside a French franchise equivalent of the greasy Golden Arches. And what scale of trashy she’d be on. It could’ve also been an oil heiress desperate for answers after that Spring Break mistake.
On a better food note, we took a marvelous perfect sweet fruity pastry and ate it under a tree next to a train station one sunny afternoon.
Though a lot of people really seem beyond the point of not giving a fuck about anything, and there are (more than) a few rude people, you can’t deny there’s so much charm to people in Paris. Something I miss in Amsterdam.
On one sweaty metro ride, a lady of African descent in a sort of traditional fabric with those patterns dropped something on the floor. I was looking down to see if I saw it, then she said in a theatrical way, ‘oh.. I dropped this ‘button from my bag…’, ‘What a shame..’ or something of the like. Then she dropped a map, I picked it up and gave it to her and she said ‘merci,ma cherie’.
Another charmeur, the man who I bought the 15 euro disposable camera from, a delight to meet. So much so I took a photo of him, not before he cut the whole package open for me, showed me how the flash worked, cleaned it all up, checked his face and struck a pose on his mahogany desk. I guess in Paris, it’s included in the price.