For the past couple of months I have been “unable” to write – a luxury that I can only afford because I work full-time. And in fact it has been the combination of doing The Read, working full-time, and averaging one live show every month that has culminated in an easy excuse for not writing anything significant in weeks. Despite having a long list of reading material and so many things I could or should be talking about on this blog, I chose instead to tweet or drink those moments away. I am excited for the new opportunities that are coming in my direction, but I let anxiety shut down my productivity. Often.
All of my acquaintances who write have been telling me to just get it all out anyway. “Who cares if it’s good?”, they ask. We both know that we are the answer, but this is the thing you say. “Once you start, the gates just rush open”, they add, which is true. So regardless of whether I think it’s any good, here is the one thing I can’t let myself get away with not writing about – my vacation in Paris.
I’ve never been a big dreamer, but I’ve always wanted to go to Paris. Since I was a little girl in Louisiana I have been a touch obsessed with French culture and language and always knew I’d run off to Paris one day, Josephine Baker-style. Now that I technically have three jobs (four if you include freelance writing, which you shouldn’t – yet), I could finally afford to spend a few days in the only city I’ve ever coveted.
Two weeks ago I frantically packed my suitcase at the last minute and rushed straight from the studio to the airport on a redeye nonstop flight to Paris. I was armed with a list of international traveling tips and the kind of nervousness one only experiences when a piece of her vision board springs to life. I was excited, and tired, and happy that I could understand most of what the pilots said in French before translating their speech into funny, stilted English.
I have been fighting one stank, aggressive sinus infection since, but otherwise this was totally worth every dime.
1. I am immensely proud of myself for making it from Charles de Gaulle airport to my hotel completely unassisted and using the subway. One of the many great things about Paris is that when pollution is too high in the city, public transportation is free. So of the five days that I was in France, I only had to pay to use the subway twice. Before I left America I downloaded a copy of the Paris metro and step by step train directions from the airport to my hotel. And even though it was still a bit confusing and my French not as great as I’d previously thought, I still made it.
After I checked in, I showered and went out into the city. By this point it was late in the afternoon and my body was still on New York time. I went to a restaurant within walking distance and was immediately found out as a tourist, which was mildly disappointing. I’d hoped that my French was good enough to blend in with the locals, and it definitely was not. I had roasted chicken (I now believe that no one on earth makes a better roasted chicken than the French) with brioche and jam. I couldn’t believe how good it was. In fact, the only food Parisians fuck up is junk food. I tried French McDonald’s – terrible, even worse than in America. I couldn’t get past three bites at their local burger and fry joint around the corner from my hotel. But oh, the real food in Paris? It is relatively expensive, and the meal is small, but it is filling and most importantly delicious. Those people really know how to eat. Bread and wine 24/7? I felt born for Paris.
The waiters at the restaurant chatted me up in French, which was the first occurrence of what would become a common experience. The French people I met enjoy talking to Americans just so long as Americans actually try to speak French in return. I followed their customs, a lot of which reminded me of being back home in the south – saying hello when you enter a room, not walking around with headphones, etc. I think it made a big difference. They congratulated me on my French and I’m sure that when I move there, it’ll only be a few weeks before I fit in with everyone else. Lord knows I easily ignored the Roma kids asking for petition signatures (I was forewarned that this is a common pickpocketing scam) like a professional. Thanks, NYC.
I wrote in my travel diary that first night:
p.s. the cash here is gorgeous.
p.p.s. – i don’t know why i am always so full of self-doubt, but i wish i wasn’t.
2. I woke up around 11a and almost fussed at myself for sleeping so late, but what’s the point in vacation if you’re still chained to an alarm clock? So fuck it. I went to the Eiffel Tower (again, a total pro on the train AND it’s free all weekend!) and literally gasped when I saw it. That was my first OH FUCK moment in Paris. It is just so amazing in person… the armed guards walking around with assault rifles were a bit unnerving, though. I waited in line for about an hour to ride to the top and it was worth every second. This is not a sight I’ll forget soon.
It was just such an utterly beautiful day. After the tower, I had a croque monsieur in the park and took a dark taxi that smelled faintly of Hot Pockets to the Pompidou. Sadly, most art is lost on me but the Frida Kahlo CHILDREN’S exhibit was fantastic, so this was thirteen euros well spent. I chatted in broken French with local merchants selling jewelry right outside the museum and suddenly understood why tourists in NYC shop on the sidewalks while the rest of us breeze right past them. It’s not because they’re getting some amazing deal or a piece that they could never find back home… It’s to be able to say “Oh, this? I got it when I went to New York City. Right in the middle of Times Square, actually.” I get it now.
The elevators here have scales which is a real life LOL. And riders operate the train doors which could never work in NYC. At any rate, I am beginning to enjoy myself very much… so goodnight, until tomorrow…
3. Paris has a flea market called Les Puces and we (a friend joined me for most of the trip) spent all day Saturday visiting the vendors. There was an elderly black man selling paintings while painting, and he could not believe that we weren’t French. This was when I knew it was smart to dress nicer than I do in the states – the Parisians don’t do “casual” the way we do, not even in NYC. These people don’t wear tennis shoes and I rarely saw jeans. Most everyone was dressed neatly but nicely, and all-black was extremely common. By now my French had improved to where I could trick most shopkeepers into thinking I was native unless their questions came too quickly or used words I’d never heard before. We wandered past the women selling homemade jewelry and the men selling fake YMCMB apparel (some things are the same even overseas) and into the antique markets where items older than slavery in America sold for several thousand euros. We eventually journeyed too far and reached an underpass where people jammed together by the hundreds to find deals on socks and used, broken-down appliances. After a mild panic attack (I’m not great with crowds) we made our way back to the train station and the hotel room, already referred to as “home”.
Our hotel was directly above an Irish bar and St. Patrick’s Day just happened to be that weekend, so I got to see drunk and rowdy French white people live and in the flesh. It was like watching American frat boys party in the streets but with the modicum of sense necessary to be back on the sidewalks before the traffic lights turn green again. Because we were in the heart of Paris, just down the way from the Louvre, there were lots of late-night crepe spots open (the French really fucking love their Nutella) and we drank cans of Orangina til the sun came up.
4. I had every intention of getting up early to head to the Sacre-Coeur when it opened at 6a, but I’m glad we “overslept”. We arrived during church service, and because we were dressed nicely we were allowed to quietly tour the building during the sermon. As someone whose church is frequented by packs of tourists every week, I made the deliberate choice to not look raggedy when we visited religious sites. Outside the church, bootleggers sold illegal souvenirs and snatched up their packs to run like hell when police approached. Small groups of young people collected on the grass, smoking the eternally-present French cigarette, drinking from their beloved tiny cups of espresso, and listening to a harpist in the middle of a field. For seven euros we devoured roasted chicken with potatoes and bread and more Orangina, tearing through the bird with our fingers as if starved.
We went to the Louvre and freaked out over the glass pyramid and the fact that there was essentially no line to get in. [If you go to Paris, go before tourist season – trust me. It’s a little colder but it’s worth it.] Twelve euros later, I was a few feet away from the Mona Lisa and having the most out of body experience of the entire trip. Here was a painting I’d seen my entire life, perhaps the most famous painting of all time, and I was not looking at a replica or a reproduction but the actual real live Mona Lisa. Right there… well, right there behind the velvet ropes and glass case.
But again, I’m not one who really appreciates most art, so I was ready to go after that moment.
5. We saluted the tomb of the unknown soldier, climbed the Arc de Triumph, and had a steak dinner with French fries (yes, they really are better in France) and a chocolate cake too rich to finish. Before I knew it there were three empty bottles of red wine with dinner, and we paid too much in celebration. We hailed a cab to the Eiffel Tower and overtipped again, this time because the driver wryly answered our declarations of American citizenship with “well, we all have our faults”. This time the monument was all lit up for night, and the admission line even shorter. We played N*ggas in Paris at the top of the Eiffel Tower and I stripper-kicked to Kanye while my friend moshed with drunk Spaniards, boys who have always been a train ride away from this moment. Living the dream.
I bought souvenirs but haven’t given them out – I don’t know why, but they feel awkward to me now. I don’t even think anyone was really expecting one, but still. We spent vingt-deux euros on groceries and didn’t care that we wouldn’t finish it all before we left.
I know there are things I am forgetting and I’m sorry that I didn’t spend more time writing them down. But I wanted to really “live” in Paris… to really immerse myself in my dream, and I am glad I did. People have asked if I feel any different than before and I do, but in a way that is hard to articulate. I took to Paris immediately, which is not something I can say about NYC, but I returned with a better patience for New York and the renewed ability to call it “home”.