I’m sitting in my room right now, perhaps defying the only rule of vacationing, which seems to be: don’t sit in your room.
In my defense, it’s morning and a while ago I ran out of “plans”.
The joy of travelling alone is the independence you find, the discoveries you make.
Last night, walking along Boulevard St. Germain, I tried to find something to do or just to wander, my backpack growing heavy on my neck, my requisite two-Tylenol cocktail for that time of the backpacker’s day, yet to set in.
I had already seen many of the American films there were to see in Paris, as my French was terrible-going-on-passable, good enough to get people less annoyed at me, but not good enough to understand a film like “Le Havre” without subtitles (English or French). The Cinematheque Francaise was playing only weird Clint Eastwood movies, like the one where he has to infiltrate a mountain-climbing trip or the “reverse Harold-and-Maude” movie as Ro-Beardo Malone described it via text from across the sea.
So I wandered, checking my email when I’d find a Starbucks, not using my phone otherwise. I just wanted to find a place to read “From Paris To The Moon”, which I was determined to get through before I left Paris, when I came upon, like a mirage, first an old cinema (Paris is full of them) playing A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and the very Brasserie described in “From Paris” as “the best restaurant in the world”.
Paris has had a way of doing this to me, offering consolation in walking, guiding you at the right moments. When I was depressed after a night of snoring and a fumbled attempt at female interaction, I found a DDR machine inadvertently by the Bastille, ended up being better than I ever was at DDR and a had a crowd of pre-10 year-old Algerian boys clap at my rendition of techno–fied “Cotton-Eyed Joe”, on which I got a double-A and took a bow after. That’ll beat about anything.
When I walked all the way yesterday to one of the last restaurants I had been planning to go to and I couldn’t eat anything, I discovered a neighborhood I had never found before, found a nice cafe and had a very silly picture taken of me that again, invigorated me.
When I went to go home from the movie (funny and appropriate) and the dinner (excellent), I almost took the Metro before a string drew me out.
“Really?” I asked myself. “You’re going to walk home? In the damp Paris evening?”
“You don’t have to walk home.” I told myself. “You get to. Through beautiful Paris.”
As always, walking, you make discoveries. One night, I found a Magic: The Gathering store (L’Esplace Du Dragon). One night, I met a couple Arizonans and we retired to a bar after a film. Last night, I ran into two hipsters out of Virginia with appropriate facial hair and had a conversation about where we were in our lives.
I also ran into two French guys who wanted a light, though I thought they were asking directions. (Sidenote: Though I am not out of the woods yet, so to speak, I’m a New Yorker and have a decent sense for danger.)
“I am sorry, I thought I had a lighter, but I forgot I left it passed airport security.” I told them.
“It’s fine, you are American?” One said,
“New Yorker.” I replied.
“You like Paris? You like the French girls?” He asked.
“Yes, but it is difficult. You are all too good-looking.”
“Oui, c’est vrai.” He replied and they went off into the night.
Such meetings are valuable, magical even, but ephemeral.
When I came back to the hostel, 5 euro 90 bottle of wine in hand, a Beaujolais Nouveaux (which I remembered from my pops was fruity and good for drinking on a lark), I sat in the lobby of the hostel as I often do waiting for someone to drink with, but there was no one. The bottle stayed closed. And eventually, I went to sleep. Even for all the good things, on a sour note, though it could have been just coming down from the coffee and the wine at dinner.
I wondered when I got to Paris whether I was addicted to people, my friends, the people I see. I’ve called myself “an interdependent mess” and Rob told me he liked this phrase to describe me. I’ve been more independent here in Paris, but just as I knew in film school, whatever else I am or become, I’m a storyteller and I’m not happy if I don’t have someone to share stories with.
My raison d’etre.
If you will.
While I’ve been gone, I’ve gotten messages from my friends, people checking in, telling me they miss me, wanting to share stories too. Telling me I was “missed” at the Magnet holiday party, which is an ego-inflation I don’t need, but which reminds me, as lame as it is to say, that the connections I have in my life are important. That I love people and am loved in return.
My father said, upon giving me advice, the day I was having girl problems and roommate issues, that it was better to leave reflection alone. Your subconscious will work on that while you’re there. Just try to have fun. My depressive friend over G-Chat told me “Wallow when you get home.” I found that appropriate.
The only “friend” I’ve made here really (Brad was at a different hostel and had that same mentality of impermanence) is Hossein, the kid who loves Clint Eastwood movies who I saw “The Rookie” and “Heartbreak Ridge” with, a film nerd who is glad to have someone else to talk to, even haltingly, in English.
Before I left for Paris, I was talking with my improv group about “an agreement about how to play”. People were a bit shaken by this, they didn’t know if we should plan to much in advance, this is improv after all. But it’s good to have an agreement on how to play, a frame on the wall, a knowledge of what this is.
That’s what New York is, a way of knowing each other, a culture, a sense of dependent permanence, in the best possible way. As much as Paris tries to allow me in and console me on my silly American follies and as much as I find it extremely beautiful, I miss the people who care to miss me.
It’s a nice frame on the wall of my life.
So what to do? A good question. I still have a cheap eats place to try (which I’ve liked better than the fancy places I’ve been, just who I am). I need to get my sister another gift and I know where. And then who knows?
Honkytonk Man at the Cinematheque? Another walk around Cluny?
I guess I’ll just have to wait and see and see what comes to me, whether Paris consoles me, whether I discover something new, or whether I just get to remember when I get home that at worst, they’ll be someone to share that bottle with.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my comfort-food spot in Paris.
Coming in close second to this is the other place I’ve been twice, L’As Du Fallafel, a very silly place in the Jewish quarter that is plastered with signs all over it saying that it is endorsed by Lenny Kravitz of all people. The food there is insanely large portions and cheap and portable. Near perfect.
Also great were normal Thai and Indian take out places, though the Indian was a bit expensive.
However, the winner was certainly apparent.
Le Relais Gascon, right on La Rue des Abbesses, makes fucking huge salads. It’s what they have.
It’s a south-western French restaurant and this is there fomula for a salad:
A lot of good lettuce, some tomatoes, some meat and protein (egg, pork, chicken, what have you) and a metric-shit-ton of duck-fat fried-potatoes on top.
Oh yeah, some balsamic vinaigrette too.
It’s so delicious I got on the phone, yelled at my dad about how pissed I was about my snoring roommate and wondered if I should just get the incredibly expensive train to Amsterdam just to decompress from Paris, went there and was fine.
I called back my dad and apologized.
The service doesn’t care, the menu looks like a tourist trap and even has some English on it (a faux-pas). But there it is. Delicious. And relatively inexpensive for the size at 12 euros.
I could not finish one.
The old me could not finish one.
Frank or Simon from back home with their epic appetites probably could.
We’ll see if we can get them to come, next time.
LE RELAIS GASCON
Salade Du Chef (sans oeuf)- 12 euro (tar. inclusif)
6, Rue des Abbesses
12 to Abbesses, 4 to Pigalle