Gay Paree

So my Paris trip began in Lille with the alarm going off at 6:30am, after having gotten to sleep at 5:45…ideal. After insulting it a few times, I finally conceded I had to get up. Put on last night’s clothes again and left the house. Clearly looking like a typical walk-of-shame candidate, last-night’s make-up still indignantly clinging to my face (thank you, Max Factor) wearing, an at times see-through, jumpsuit and no underwear (any underwear you wear with it shines through, I did try)… as we have recently summed up our lives – “Makin’ momma proud”. Got to Lille Flandres and bought some croissaints and pain au chocolat to welcome Gayle to France and was mortified when the man in the cart said “pain au chocolat a la noisette, as usual, Scottish girl?”….well, I definitely have a bakery-addiction. Had to change trains a couple of times, so worked out from my tickets the times I’d be arriving at each stop and set alarms on my phones for these, so that I could try and squeeze in nap-time on the train. This didn’t work at all until I got to CDG and found comfy chairs in the arrivals area (it seems to be much more luxurious than the rest of the airport. Read: padded seats) and fashioned a bed/futon type affair out of that and my suitcase. This allowed me a cheeky half hour that meant I was super refreshed when Gayle got there.

Arrived at our hotel after negotiating the metro in billion-degree Parisian heat, with a large and cumbersome suitcase (using the word ‘cumbersome’ – life, made) since I was giving Gayle a holdall of my stuff to take home. Arrived at the desk and cheerfully introduced myself, to have the receptionist tell me in a similarly cheery manner that my reservation had been cancelled, with no real reason. In typical French fashion, not only had it been cancelled, the hotel was now full. I was so glad this had happened this time as opposed to back in November when I first came, as it meant I could at least argue and tell them their service was pish. Would a phonecall have hurt, eh? Anyway, got to an internet cafe across the street where we set up Hotel Finding HQ. It wasn’t that exciting except that when I was on the phone to an agent at a call-centre for a last minute reservations thing, it was quicker to get through to someone if I spoke English (which I do, quite well), so got through to a bilingual French lady who I was speaking away to in English, then while we weren’t talking I was talking to one of the guys that worked there, obviously in French. At this point, the best thing that can happen to a language student happened, the lady on the phone overheard me and went “oh, are you French?”….I don’t care if it was only a sentence she heard me say, she thought I was French. Fucking fantastic. The guys that worked there had obviously overheard our predicament, and informed us that they knew of a hotel that only charged 20euros a night, but that didn’t have a shower – shockingly we didn’t accept this. They also asked where we were from, and actually had to Google where Scotland was, despite me explaining, and them repeatedly thinking it was in Corsica. Brilliant geography right there, lads. Long story short, found a hotel and headed that way.

Got ourselves installed and then headed out for dinner, with the cutie-patootie receptionist giving us the address of a brasserie in the other side of Paris. He was quite right about the yumminess. Sat on the terrace watching the world go by and eating pate and salmon and drinking that traditional French drink – bubblegum cocktails and foam-fruits. I then took Gayle to see one of the most beautiful things in life – The Eiffel tower at night. It’s so beautiful it makes my eyes hurt. There’s grass all in front of it and everyone was sitting having liquid-picnics. The maghreb guys that hustle there were walking about with bottles of wine, champs and beer to sell, they don’t miss a trick. For some reason, of about 100 people there, there were definitely only about 10 non-Americans.

Heading home later, we decided to get a taxi from a metro station slightly further away from ours (but with the advantage of a taxi rank) since we were both shattered and just wanted to get home asap. Gave the taxi driver the address, which I’d written down and off we went. We realised we were going the wrong way, but assumed it was just another route but after 5 minutes, I asked him if he was sure and told him I didn’t think this was the way. He assured me it was and even patronisingly added that we’d go his way and then I could see he was right. Once we drove past the Eiffel tower again, I repeated that we were definitely going the wrong way, pointing out that while I didn’t know Paris, I knew we’d just been on a metro for 20 mins to get back from the tower. He then started the classic taxi-driver thing when his eyes turned to euro signs and he started trying to say I’d given him the wrong address and that it wasn’t his fault (ie: YOU pay). Was once again glad my French had come on far enough that I could comfortably get my point across, that in fact since it was written down it couldn’t have been my fault. We ended up on the motorway and all sorts, with him making snidey comments every so often. My mammy has noticed my ability not to be able to shut up over the years and has branded me everything from “Last Word Teeny” to observing that “you never know when to stop, do you?”. I admit it, I can’t let someone have the last word, such comments as “this TomTom cost me 350 euros, I didn’t buy the cheap one, it can’t be wrong” were met with infuriatingly sympathetic comments from myself – “350 euros and it still doesn’t work? You must be really annoyed to have wasted all that money!”. He also had the cheek to mutter under his breath “I’m wasting time with this”. After me suggesting it for about the 47th time he finally dropped us back off where he picked us up and asked for the minimum payment for getting in a taxi (6euro), I was loathed to give him anything, but fair’s fair and 40minutes of driving about Paris still put him out of pocket, but just to be a petty bastard, and not to break a tenner, we gave him 5 and got told “the minimum expected for a taxi is 6euros!!” and I just went “the minimum expected for a taxi is to get somewhere other than where you started” and got out……if I’d known the French for “oh snaps” I’d have gone there.

Our getting lost continued, we decided just to take the metro nearer to us, but then realised we had no idea where it was, so wandered about (staying still is not an option in France, you are a creepy-men magnet). Unfortunately stopped at a streetmap long enough for a guy that was potentially the same age as one of my students to come and try and help us/try and shag us. Since he didn’t know the street name, he couldn’t be much help, so we decided to extract ourselves from the situation and just walk in one direction to shed him. He did however cycle along with us, while I phoned my dad and Coralie to find the postcode. Eventually got it and managed to get a taxi driver who was, and I kid you not, chatty. In Paris. A taxi driver. Don’t get me wrong, they talk to you, but they don’t chat. They will tell you how much of a connard Sarkozy is or hit on you, but they won’t make genuinely nice small-talk. Turns out he was Algerian and despite being here for 35 years, I still feel this is the reason – he’s not technically Parisian. Got back to our hotel just a short 3 hours after leaving the Eiffel Tower and finally KO-ed.

The next day, made it up in time for breakfast (Gayle was baffled by meat and cheese being on offer) and headed off for a day of tourism and shopping. Headed to the Arc de Triomphe first which handily is next to the Champs Elysees, so went down there for a wander. It’s not the best though, it’s beautiful, but it’s the same shops you have in most of France, chain shops. Did, naturally, have a look in their lovely H&M. Spotted a Haagen Daaz cafe across the street so decided we’d go there for some ice-cream then head to the 4e arrondissement to find the vintage shops I’d found on Google. Got my strawberry cheesecake cone, had a wee chat with the server (most people are delighted to talk to anyone that speaks French and I’m delighted to talk to anyone that’ll listen) and headed outside. Gave it to Gayle to hold while I got something out my bag… .and here’s where it happens. Me, rummaging in my bag. Gayle, innocently holding the 2 ice-creams. A homeless man with squeggy guys walks up to us and puts his finger right into my fucking ice-cream and just stands with us as if we’re BFF. Naturally, I just go “Gayle……did this just happen? Did that guy just touch my ice-cream?” “yeah, babes, we’re getting you a new one”. So walked right back into the shop and binned it. Caught the server we’d been chatting to, looking at me puzzled as to why anyone would ever bin Haagen Daaz. Went and explained to him what had happened, and as I did the guy came in, went to the bin and fished out my ice-cream, as presumably his plan had been all along….boak! The nice servery-man went and got me a new one and we hurried out the shop, past our new homeless friend, who was now walking about the terrace asking for money, strawberry cheesecake ice-cream in hand. Went from one extreme to the other, as our next stop was Louis Vuitton. They had some beauts but I feel like Louis Vuitton just isn’t the same after the whole Murakami market-stall rip-offs, much like Burberry. Headed to the 4e to find the vintage shops. I was actually in heaven. Except if heaven was a cramped, billion-degree-non-air-conditioned version of itself. The first one I literally had sweat running down me, like a cartoon. Such is my dedication to ugly clothes that I remained. They had a mezzanine that everything on it was 1euro, it was all shit, but 1euro nonetheless. Gayle had to leave the shop (I think she’s a closet ginger, she copes as well in the sun as the male members of my family) so we headed for lunch of croque monsieur and ricard…..I kid you not. Took a second stab at it and found a few others, including one filled with vintage Dior, Chanel, YSL… was beautiful. The woman was shocked when we left without buying anything, and I had to explain to her that we were pauvres but still wanted to look as the clothes were so beautiful. The next shop we were in we even found a ‘vintage’ George dress…..clearly, I cannot escape Asda.

After a hard day’s shopping we headed back to the hotel, for a shower and disco nap, since naturally the sweating-all-day look is not a good one. At this point our room phone started ringing and me and Gayle just looked at each other like “who the fuck is calling us? No one even knows we switched hotels”. It turns out it was afore-mentioned cutie patootie receptionist asking if I wanted to go for coffee. Looked down at my current outfit of no-makeup, boxers and a mens large tshirt for a building company and politely made my excuses. Shame! Post-nap, post-shower we headed to the Louvre, reasoning that there must be pretty restaurants nearby. It was good logic, managed to find a restaurant that served us one of the best meals I’ve had since getting here. Saying it’s one of the best meals you’ve had in a country with food like France, is a pretty high compliment. Afterwards, we wandered to find the louvre. Since we obviously knew about the glass pyramids we were looking for those and were baffled as we wandered about seeing signs for it and streets named after it. Our wandering took us to the seine, where everyone was lining the banks and the bridges crossing from it, hanging out and having a drink, people playing guitar and bongoes and suchlike. I feel like back home, 14 year olds drink in the glen tunnels, and here, 20-somethings are lucky enough to be lining the banks of the seine, like a May 68 (thank you French Studies III) sit in. Eventually found a couple to ask where the louvre was, and they looked confused and asked what we were looking for. Feeling embarassed that I may be pronouncing the word incorrectly, I repeated and they looked even more confused and went “ehhh….it’s there”, and pointed to the huge building we were all standing right outside and which we’d passed about 7 times. Turns out the glass pyramids are in a quad inside. Took a stroll through the arches and courtyards (being night, it was shut). More people were sitting inside the big arches, having a sing song and a drink, once again I feel like it’s so different to back home. Back home, it’d be jakies you’d avoid making eye-contact with, and here it’s hipsters sitting with glasses of wine and an accoustic guitar. We saw a Japanese couple, all evening dress and tux, having a photo shoot with the pyramids in the background, in the rain. It was pretty, romantic and beautiful and summed up Paris. I took Gayle to the sex-district at this point, to see the Moulin Rouge. I can only describe her as ‘horrified’, I can’t remember what exactly she said but she reverted to autistism and said something about it being “loud and scary” haha. We headed back to near our hood for some cocktails then retired to bed.

The next day we got our Catholic on. First stop was Notre Dame where we lit candles and admired the architecture, it really is pretty stunning. I can’t even fathom how you would ever build something so huge and so intricate, where do you ever begin with all the details? Naturally, my Catholicism didn’t last long (what happened to wine and crackers??) and soon I was taking pictures of a sign that asked for money for the “Upkeep of the great organ” (my being an adult of 22 didn’t last long either) and borrowing Gayle’s cargidan to wrap around my head and pose outside, demure and praying, as la vierge Marie. Next up we went on a jaunt to Montmartre and got some lunch before heading up to the Sacre Coeur. Hilariously, Gayle, who is one of the most innocent people I know, was told upon entry that she was not decently dressed (a strapless top, the sale pute) and had to put on a cardigan before she could enter. Again, it’s absolutely stunning. Far more bling than the Notre Dame, all gold tiling and intricate, coloured ceiling. I was also told to be quiet, for chatting. They’re not very welcoming for the house of god. Had a look in another couple of vintage shops, far too high-end for us, but beautiful nonetheless.

We then did one of the boat tours of the seine, taking in the sights. My personal highlight was an announcement being made in 5 languages that we’d be stopping to pick up passengers from another boat, and seeing the other boat, empty, with police divers jumping off. We did however see the really cute sight of, people on the banks tango dancing, a sight that made my heart just about melt. I want to be Paris.

Headed out for dinner, still pretty clueless where to go, so I decided we’d just get off at Opera since it had a nice name. Thankfully, this led us to a huge street entirely comprised of restaurants. Eventually found a chain restaurant that was apparently “American” food, even though the reason we chose there is because Mexican food is my current obsession. Sat out on the terrace, watching the world go by. I love sitting out here, if there’s 2 of you, and you’re sat on the terrace, you’ll sit next to each other and not across from each other and watch the world go by. Had an absolutely outstanding, huge meal of nachos, burritos and cocktails. Within 5 minutes it went from average sunshine to biblical cloudburst, we hastily retreated back a few tables into the terrace, before having to go inside-inside and wait it out. This led to us going from I-am-so-stuffed,-I-couldn’t-eat-one-more-thing to well-we-could-be-here-a-while….pudding?.

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