Lots and nothing to do in Paris at Christmas, by yourself for the holidays.
In some ways, the time has brought reflection, like I talked about in my last post.
As I mentioned, I don’t have the internet on my phone (despite continued efforts) and I also don’t listen to music or podcasts walking around. Instead, I tend to observe, letting my mind wander from arrondisement to arrondisement, trying to take the metro as little as possible, despite my “Navigo” pass (a catchier term for “MetroCard”).
I just try to look, try to place and understand what I’m seeing around me, what I am taking in. Paris is a starkly beautiful city, the boulevards large (and sometimes unfortunately commercials) and the streets narrow and good for walking. Everything is wonderfully uneven and cobbled in the best way, like the parts of Greenwich Village I admire back home, the parts where you can tell that little thought was put in on a macro-scale, because people were just trying to find ways to exist in these quarters, built up over and over.
The result is streets with stairs, streets with hills, streets too narrow for three people and great doors leading into wide-open plazas off narrow streets with narrower buildings within.
I lost my copy of “From Paris to the Moon” about two-thirds of the way into it at a Starbucks by Cluny, the neighborhood I most prefer.
It was appropriate, since I had been neglecting the book for a couple of days in favor of my Nintendo 3DS and a free copy of an old Zelda game I had gotten to download.
No need to shame me, blog-readers, I assure you I felt enough shame sitting in a Starbucks, staring at my new-fangled Game Boy in the middle of a city yet to be explored. But I was properly chastised and anyway, losing the book finally made me find the English-language bookstore “Shakespeare and Co.”, where I should have gone anyway.
In Cluny, I discovered tons of comic-book and video game stores, a whole street lined with Manga-shops and even a Forbidden Planet-type store with American superhero serials, up-to-date for the weeklies! I was impressed not so much by the titles (as I had my brief flirtation and separation with comics in mid-college) as I was by the idea that there was a community of people in Paris who would want these comic books as well as the Manga and the little video games shops that I found in proximity.
When I discovered a cinema showing reduced-fare matinees of American films on the same block as a Warhammer store I knew I was in the right place.
But with who?
Being in France by myself makes me appreciate the embarrassment of people I have to hang out with back home. It is so much that I need to see someone I know well every day or I feel cold and alone, unpopular, unloved; it’s an addiction and one that I fuel with community and good friends, so in that way, as addictions go, it’s not bad.
But walking around here by myself has led to discoveries, some freedom to go down strange streets, that lack of self-awareness one has around others, that need to present a persona.
In other words, I’ve been detoxing my outer self while I’m here, the person I am with his hyper-kinetic energy, strange attitude and neck-break strange lifestyle.
And of course, as one reflects on new surroundings, one reflects on themselves. Who am I? What path should my life take? What is my life really like back home? These are all important things to think about and in truth I have no answers, but I know I am enjoying not being in them, not taking calls, not worrying for a moment.
Or, at least, letting the thoughts of back home be in lieu of that music I’m not listening to as I explore Paris.
And I’m not totally alone.
Pictured above is my current roommate, a Brit named Brad, a good-looking fellow, 20 out of acting school, only knowing he doesn’t want to do acting. We’re friendly out of the sort of strange arrangement that we don’t seem to particularly annoy each other and that I am very grateful that he doesn’t mind all the times that my water bottle has fallen from my top bunk on to his bed.
Sometimes, I’ll hang out with him or I won’t but he’s a relatively genial (to say neutral presence) whose mind works in ways that mine doesn’t.
“The problem with hostels,” He told me as we walked down Blvd. St. Germain. “Is that there isn’t enough time to seal the deal, enough time to get to know them.”
“I mean what do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean sex.” He replied. “There was this Malaysian girl at breakfast…”
“You told me about the Malaysian girl.” I replied. He had.
“Well, yes, but there was this Japanese girl.”
“Alright.” I said.
“And she was gorgeous I mean she had like a nice face and a perfect ass (pronounce: ah-ss) and she told me she was leaving the next day.”
“Yeah, well I mean it’ll be alright, I’m sure you’ll find someone here. But my friend Ilya says the girls in a hostel don’t come to a Paris hostel to find hostel guys, they come to find French dudes.”
“Makes sense. In college–”
I’ll cut it off there.
Which is not to say I hadn’t had my share of tries while I was there so I didn’t seem so fixed on it happening as I had on my trip to Israel (Birthright) or in college. I guess I’m just a sucker for a girl wanting to talk to me and reading it the wrong way (which about approximates my normal life) and this led me to a Special Ed. teacher from Los Angeles, trying to “figure out what’s next”, who told me she was gay 3 days and about 3-4 bought drinks into it.
“Yah, I definitely thought she was flirting with you.” Brad told me in the lobby. “But it turned out she was a proper lesbian, in the bar she was talking about all the girls she liked and stuff.”
“Glad we solved that one.” I replied.
Then there was the Chinese-Canadian nerd-girl teaching Psych to “Level A” students in London, carrying a copy of Hemmingway’s “A Moveable Feast” who kept pouring me wine out of her bottle into a hostel mug (“It was only 3 euro!” she kept on exclaiming) who wanted to do lots of things with me but
a. Had a long-distance boyfriend (Upstate New York) who she had met on the online-role-playing game Ragnarok Online.
b. Turned out to be annoying as fuck as the three of us walked together through the city as she kept stopping for pictures and being really excited about stupid things.
All-in-all, a pretty typical failure on my part leading to my going to see the subtitled Tree Of Life alone tonight, back in Cluny.
Living the life of an American hostel-dweller in Paris.
Contemplative, romantic and strangely bro-ish.
It bears to mention here that I did not get passed in my UCB class.
I had come to some peace earlier about it, about my skill and love of improv and comedy, about the community I was in, that I knew it wouldn’t kill me or wound me so terribly if I didn’t pass.
But still “fuck you”.
I got a nice email from my old teacher, a performer I respect in charge of delivering the news and I appreciated that he was sympathetic, that he told me he knew how much it meant to me, that he was willing to talk. He’s a dry guy, not known for his warmth, so I appreciated even that, even if the news was bad.
I, of course, took my old teacher up on his offer and, of course, wrote too much.
I go back to New York on the second and start another class, another attempt at passing on the third, the next day.
The teacher this time is a performer I really admire, Neil Casey, so I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to worry about passing and just learn.
But if I made a big mistake in my last comedy class at UCB, it was not seeing it as a class. I took the class to pass and go to the upper-level courses. Unlike the first-time I took the class, where I felt I was learning a lot, this time I just thought most of the kids were fucking awful, I was better than them and I already knew everything these people could help me with, now bring on the advanced classes.
But of course, they don’t call it a test, they call it a “class”, even if it is a test as well and that’s a difficult thing to remember.
So I just want to take this time to say, to myself and the improv people at large.
On one hand, fuck you, I had people see my shows whose opinions I trust, I know myself, I was if not the best performer in that class with the most experience, than the second and I should have passed that class.
On the other hand, thank you. Because as much as fuck you, as my teacher, the great Armando Diaz, over at my comedy place The Magnet says (as I’m sure many others have as well), there is more to be learned from success than failure. Or as Dave Pasquesi (of TJ+Dave) said in his Q+A at the Magnet, this is not something you’re supposed to be good at.
If I went into any class thinking I was only there to prove myself and pass the teacher’s test and I had nothing to learn, then I would learn nothing and that, more than anything, would be a great shame.
But if I go into that same class and try and do things I am not sure of and fail and make myself vulnerable, if I allow myself to be “not good”, I also allow myself to be open to becoming “better”, just like a muscle has to tear to rebuild and become stronger.
So, as I walk around Paris, thoughts of profundity come to me as do thoughts of shame. I try to remember the profound thoughts, try to unpack some of the shameful ones and others file away for when I return to my therapist.
I guess what I am saying is I just hope all of this helps me to get laid.
As one might expect, when left to structure my days for myself, I often turn to where I want to eat and then leave everything else to chance.
In this way, my friends have not been so helpful (my boss never sent me the email he told me giving me recommendations, though I guess he still has a week), my mother has been, as usual, right about mostly everything and my hostel has proved no use at all just giving me a coupon for some place they’re shilling for.
Instead, I’ve been looking up the France section of the Chowhound message boards and Paris By Mouth, an English-language French-dining blog, both of which have taken me by interesting places.
I am hampered by the fact that when people talk about French dining, they talk about 70 bucks (50 euro or so) an entree. I, on the other hand, was very happy with the Fried Chevre McWrap I got from the Louvre’s McDonald’s outpost.
Also, if I can take a second to mention, McDonald’s in France is fucking awesome. Their McCafe section has glorious cheap cappucinos served in porcelain and GOD DAMN MACARONS. MACARONS! It blew my mind.
But, looking for some place to sit down and eat I heard the words “Very Cheap” associated with a restaurant called Chartier and saw it was on the street that led down from my hostel to the Seine and so there I was, walking back up from Cluny one evening going into one of the many interior courtyards of Paris to a restaurant full-booked at 6:30.
When I raised my finger (“Un seule” I said) I was taken to a table with a French woman probably in her early 60s, a French man in his 70s and later an Australian, of whom there are endless amounts everywhere (including a girl who recognized me from the show. “they watch BEA in aus?” My pops texted me. Reply: “guesso”).
The French woman, Christianne, spoke very little English and I, of course, only speak enough French to make the French feel acknowledged that I tried to speak their language for which they allow themselves to speak English to me. But between us (relying mostly on my French!) we managed to have a nice conversation. One of her snails she got as a pre-theatre treat was alive and when she told the kitchen they brought her another one and decided, seeing my American-ness, to offer it to me.
“Stop.” George said, in French. “The Americans and The French, they do not eat the snails. They will not.”
To be honest I was dubious. I hadn’t tried one in recent memory, only maybe when I was very young. But there she was, instructing me how, fetching the snail for me when I could not get it with the pronged instrument from its shell, showing me how to dip it in the butter and garlic from which it came and how to sop it up with the baguette.
She was very pleased when I managed and I very much enjoyed it, though it was tres riche and not for everyday consumption.
Just the mutual feeling of getting through language and cultural barriers made us feel all happy. She tried to ask me about another food and called up one of her three children (one of whom lives in Toronto as a pilot for Air Canada) to ask the word, which was frog, which I explained to their shock was a “mauvais mot pour les gens francais”. They then went on to have a discussion about the diminishing primacy of French as a language and eventually, my Poulet Roti Frites arrived, over the check which was written directly on my paper tablecloth.
It was cooked in lots of butter and not so great (frozen fries, obviously) but the snail was pretty good and as always, I was amused by how much the waiters seemed to disdain me as much as they seemed to read George’s mind, whose name was probably not George (“L’Americain, il peut m’appeller George.”) and who ended up admitted being a regular there.
I bowed to Christianne and thanked her again so much.
In the unknowing of eating and being alone somewhere, you can find yourself in something of a wonderful time.
Also, I hope I haven’t gained 10 pounds. I was 80 kilos with my clothes on a scale at a department store where I took off my shoes while everyone was shopping the day before christmas.
Poulet Roti Frites (et un escargot)- 8.70 Euros
7 Rue De Faubourg Montmartre
Metro 8 ou 9 a Station Richelieu-Drouot