Getting Lost in Paris
It's my third day in Paris and the first one I've had alone. After spending two days with a lovely, French college friend as my guide, I was finally on my own. It was terrifying and wonderous all at once. It took me a bit to work up the courage to leave his apartment this morning. I kept making up reasons not to, which I found odd. This is, in fact, exactly what I had wanted and why I had come. But the reality of being in a foreign city alone with no knowledge of the language rang alarmingly daunting. Eventually, I pushed myself out the door.
The French have a genius system here for transportation. Eight euros gets you an unlimited week access to bike rentals (which are on every street corner) and does just about the same for a car rental. You have a half an hour with each before you must return it, but can just take out another one 5 minutes later. Why didn't we think of this? I had used the bikes for the past two days, following my friend around the city. Today, after renting a bike, getting entirely lost, and pissing off too many Parisians along the way, I decided to walk. With the Eiffel Tower as my goal and no idea how to get there, I followed the river.
There was something magical about Paris. I know we have all heard that before, but there really was. Something in the air. Turning down random street corners for no reason at all other than the look and feel of that street. Stopping under a remote bridge just because that particular spotcalled your name. With no wifi, no contacts, and no one to answer to. It was breath-taking.
Give me a Summer in Paris and I'd need a thousand more. Give me a year, and I'd give you the best Romance novel you'd ever read. Romance sang through the streets and beckoned around every corner, each remote cafe terrace, and underpass. Echoes of countless past lovers hid under every bridge and thousands of lives and stories untold whispered by the riverside. I was lovestruck. Overwhelmed and in awe.
The excitement of the busy Paris street was electrifying as you ventured through them alone, like going in blind without any idea of what was being said around you. Music filled the air on every bridge and the rumble of cars and horns felt strangely comforting. But a small turn down by the water, just below the chaos, was as silent and still as an old abandoned city. Just bird songs and the river lapping against the stone wall where I hid, were the only accompaniment I had. I could stay here for hours.
The occasional tour boat came under the bridge by me. Hundreds of tourists waved as they passed me and took pictures as I sat in the remote cove under the bridge. Water crept up the sides of the stone, splashing my feet as they passed. And I wondered what they would talk about years from now, reminiscing over photo albums and their trip to Paris; about the mysterious Parisan girl with the long black dress and colorful scarf secluded below the sights and street chaos, writing by the water. Would they make up stories about who I was and why I was there? Would time fabricate me into a fanciful, romantic, Parisian character in their memories? And would I somehow live on in this moment, in this place, because of it? This exact version of me. A snapshot forever standing still, caught in time.
I followed the narrow Parisian streets, keeping the tip of the Eiffel Tower as my point of reference whenever it came into view. No map. Just the Tower as my guide. Determined to get there before sunset and see it light up the night sky. I was never one to be hugely into tourist attractions, but this was something I had always dreamed of experiencing. I felt giddy as I neared it, almost gasping internally, as it would appear even closer and bigger around every bend.
I didn't know what I had expected but it wasn't this. Grandiose and majestic, it stood beautifully above me. But directly below it was almost amuseument park like. So I sat on the grass a bit away from the crowds next to a rose bush. Affectionate Parisian couples were splashed in color along the grass like a painting. Laying in each other's laps and stroking one another's hair; reading or laughing, picknicking and sipping wine. I couldn't understand anyone and I didn't need to.
Dusk began to settle gently and it occurred to me that walking home after dark may not be as easy or magical as the day had been. But I had been assurred that it was safe, so I pushed that from my mind for later.
The lush green lawn was speckled with flowers of all vibrant colors. Yellow and white, purple blossoms, orange and red dotted all over the grass. I could almost picture the artist who would have painted this canvas, dipping his brushes into the radiant hues on his palate and dotting them wherever he felt necessary. The trees were trimmed in funny-looking shapes as if they were puzzle piece states to a U.S. map. Sharp edges and absurdly straight edged tops, as if once they grew to a certain height, they hit a glass wall that stunted their tops at an even playing field so not to distract from the view of the Tower.
You could tell the tourists from the locals. While the Parisians lounged on one another soaking up the last light of the day, the tourists took pictures everywhere, posing ridiculously against rose bushes or taking selfies in front of the Tower. It occurred to me that I probably didn't stand out as a tourist at all. Just a girl writing by herself under a tree. I liked that evassiveness. It was an unfamiliar and welcome feeling.
Across the street, I attempted to sit at an outside cafe with a glass of wine to wait for the tower to light up, hoping that it would. I had heard that the French were considering greener energy saving alternatives, so they did not light it up all the time. It was a bit anxiety provoking each time I approached someone to ask them if they spoke english, "Tu Pal Engle?" To which, more than a normal share, responded "maybe." Well, that didn't really help me at all now, did it? You either spoke English or you didn't. So, I would stutter uncomfortably, shifting feet trying to maneuver some form of conversation from there. Responding to all French inquiries with the only other two words I knew, "Merci" (thank you), and "wi" (yes), was bound to have negative reprocussions eventually. But as of today, it was all I had to work with.
I had not a clue where I would go from here after, when and if, the tower did light up; or any idea how I would get back. But right now it didn't matter. Right now, all that existed was this street corner, the Tower rising above the buildings in front of me, this glass of red wine, the clanging of dishes inside, and the background French chatter, the cars and busses rumbling across the street, and this pen and paper against a white and red checkered table cloth.
After fumbling around languages with the waiter like a teenage boy at a middle school dance, I finally got the Cafe Le Dome password. And just as I began to update this blog, the Tower lit. Beautiful, glowing against the darkening sky. I was in love.
Hesitantly, I ventured back over to the Eiffel Tower in the dark. Laying there on the lawn below, no amount of time could be enough to take in all of this beauty. Of all the monuments in all the world this one could never be surpassed. No picture I took could do it justice, so I stopped taking them. I lay alone under a tree on my back looking up at the romance that lit the sky before me. Paris may be the city of love, but I'm not sure there is anything like being here alone. I couldn't help but wonder about the people that saw this every night. Did it lose something? Did they pass by it without having to stop and catch their breath? It's majesty knocked you still and held you captivated. You literally had to pull yourself free of it's spell to leave.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any more bueatiful, the whole thing began to sparkle. Flickering pixie dust against the magical Parisian night sky. No wonder this city was for lovers. Never have I come across a more romantic setting in all my life.
Riding a bike back alone in the dark proved to be much less scary than I had imagined. In fact, it was liberating riding by the river's edge, the breeze blowing through my hair. The air smelt of passion and fresh bread, and sounded like a quiet French pur. Once past the bridge, I left my bike and walked through a surprisingly alive city street. Night life in Paris didn't stop for a Monday. I sat again out on a small terrace and watched the city dance around me. I ordered a glass of wine and something from the menu where the only words I understood were "chicken wings." What came out was not chicken wings in the least. More of a toast tapenade with some sort of spread. Ah well, that is the beauty of ordering food in a country you cannot understand. I was loving this. No one knew me and no one cared. The world was my play ground.
Getting lost in Paris at night was an entirely different thing and in no way magical. I found myself lost in a much darker part of town trying to make my way back. Here, away from the music and lights, it felt as everyone were asleep and I should be too. I didn't want to ride a bike at night in this part of town but my phone battery was now on 11%. I turned on my data roaming and my GPS said that I was a 40 minute walk from my friend's place.
Trying not to panic, I found the nearest metro station. It felt abandonned and the promise of the air above was lost down here, leaving a dank smell of piss and trash. I stared at the pink metro line map trying to remember my friend's stop. I couldn't. All I could remember was that his line, number 9, was green and this was not it. I bought a pass anyway, walked down to the metro and then right back up. No sign of a person or sound of a train on it's way, I wondered if the metro closed at this time. There were two metro women inside the information booth when I came back up. They spoke very little english and all that they could tell me was that this was the right line. However, after two stops on the metro, I began to panic that it was taking me even further than I had been before, so I jumped off.
With my phone battery now at 9%, bikes were my only option. When I found a bike station, a harmless-looking, young man began to speak to me in French. I apologized, telling him that I did not speak French. "Oh, thank God," he said, "neither do I and I am so lost." The perfect English comforted me and I apologized that I could not help him for I. too, was lost and heading in the opposite direction. We parted ways as the phone battery decreased. A few wrong turns corrected and I finally thought I might recognize my surroundings. My phone dropped to 2% and then it went black. Heart thumping and praying that I was on the right track, I peddled on through the dark streets. Amazingly enough, I was able to make it back to the square to find Bastille Street and now I knew how to get home.
My friend's street was much darker now and almost abandonned. I dropped my bike at the closest station and made my way to his building's door. Panic flooded through me as I realized I did not remember his building's entrance code. I had saved it in my phone for just this reason and now my phone was dead. I attempted an array of combinations with the numbers I remembered. All failed.
Frantically, I searched left and right on the dark street for any sort of wifi refuge. And then I saw them ... the golden arches. The American safe haven of McDonalds at the streets end. I made my way towards the only glistening light left on the street. Once inside, I attempted to bargain with the casheir for the wifi password. Maybe I could contact my friend through my lap top. In broken English and French (mostly French), it appeared that he was telling me I must buy food to use the wifi. So, I bought a Cajun Chicken Sandwhich (which was no good at all, I must add) and then asked him if I could have the wifi now. "No wifi after midnight," he waved his hand and dismissed me, looking towards the next customer. My mouth fell open. Shit. I brought my tray of food to a corner table and sat there picking at it, fighting back tears and weighing all of my options.
Exhausted by the idea of asking one more person "Tu pal engle?", I worked up the courage, as a last ditch attempt, to ask the man who had just sat down at a table by me. "I do," he said and relief rushed through me. He had an iPhone 5 charger and handed it to me. I quickly charged my phone with my lap top and retrieved the apartment code. Writing it down on my hand, I thanked him and made my way home. Feet black and aching, I resolved that lesson number 1 would be: Never leave the chargers at home!