Previously: Drink, Play, Loathe: Day 1, Paris
Well, I woke up this morning ugly and dishevelled and so hot I actually panicked and thought something had gone gravely wrong internally. Ran into the bathroom for an emergency guzzle of tap water and dry heaved at the sight of my wild haired, eye bagged, bloodshot reflection. I’ve got to learn to take better care of my body. Christ.
I forgot to bring either shower gel or toothpaste, and so I had to wash my hair with hand soap from the toilets, quickly filling my cupped hands with it and sprinting naked into the shower, then stole someone else’s mini toothpaste that’d been left out. Once I’d nurtured myself back to a vaguely human form, I dressed in the dorm, where I met a trio of smiley Canadian girls, Sarah, Aish and Rosa. We only spoke briefly, but it lifted my mood enormously – one thing about being lonely is that it teaches you to savour every morsel of delicious human contact.
Walking to some graveyard now. Took a huge detour on the recommendation of the hostel receptionist to a park – apparently her ‘favourite park in the city!!!’.
Devil woman. Park is wank. Dead trees, empty ponds, dry fountains, and unmanned construction machinery. I did find interest, however, in an old Asian man practising Tai Chi very slowly by himself. He is oblivious to the world, angular limbs slowly sweeping around him, like an underwater traffic cop. A young black kid passed with his girlfriend and stopped to mimic him for a while, standing next to the old man and slowly mirroring him, to his girlfriend’s amusement. The old man offered no reaction, his eyes unfocused, gently continuing with the slow, graceful unfurling of his limbs, opening like new butterfly wings. The kids soon tired of being ignored, and left the old man to his business.
I trekked on to Père Lachaise Cemetery, stopping first in a supermarket for another damp sandwich. The cashier said ‘bonsoir’ instead of ‘bonjour’ by accident, despite it being 11am, and we both laughed, which made me happy – human interaction is now crack to me.
The cemetery is beautiful, and enormous. Some of the world’s most famous dead are buried here. I navigated the avenues of crooked tombstones, getting lost several times down sun dappled, cobbled paths, where moss came seeping from every crack in the towering mausoleums, and small birds hopped across ancient epitaphs. I wound my way to the grave of Jim Morrison. It was shrouded by a fog of aging rockers and school trippers. I didn’t hang around long – I’m not a huge Doors fan, I’ve never done acid; I paid my respects and beat on.
My next destination was to be the grave of Oscar Wilde, however I took a lazy route through the tombstones, taking my time to read the faded names. I found one that was curiously moss covered for its age, and had a small amount of plastic debris blown on top of it. The stones flanking it were well attended, adorned with fresh flowers, scrubbed gleaming. The grimy stone in the centre simply read:
And that was it. Almost a century of life on this earth, and all that remains is name and a pair of dates on a gravestone slowly retreating into the grass, with nobody bothering to tend to it. Well, fuck everyone; I like you, Erasmia Antikidis. I cleared the rubbish off the grave, found a pink flower that had blown away from another bouquet, and rested it on her name. Yo, Erasmia, I’ve got your back.
I also saw the grave of a Bataclan victim. That really kicked me in the stomach. You see it all on the news but then, to stand before the physical grave of a happy young girl, surrounded with beautiful yellow flowers and images of her smiling face, and knowing how her life ended? It was too much to bear. I stood there for a long time. I’m so sorry.
Oscar Wilde’s tomb is a strange affair, gigantic and angular, tiered to look like the pages of a book, guarded by a hieroglyphic angel, trapped in amber mid-flight. People had left letters and thank yous to the playwright, fresh bouquets even after a hundred and seventeen years, and the protective glass surrounding the tomb was peppered with lipstick kisses. Around the back of the monolith, an inscription read:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long broken urn
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn
I’ve not had a conversation lasting more than a few sentences for two days now, and it has sent me a bit loopy. I’ve been talking to myself a lot. I’m sitting in a park now, Place des Vosges. It’s very pretty. Wish I could see it in the summer.
I hope I’ll get to hang out with the Canadians this evening – I’d rather have more than a bottle of wine for company tonight. I’ve been thinking a lot about the writers that once lived here. It must have been so wonderful. I wonder whether Berlin is now as Paris was then. Perhaps in energy, at least, though probably not in character. I’m going to visit a bookshop now, south of the river.
Jesus. As I write this I’m sitting in a cafe, Shakespeare and Company, sandwiched between the wonderful bookshop of the same name and a park with pink and yellow flowers. My coffee is finished yet I’m lingering as I have fallen in love. Out of the window ahead is Notre Dame, just across the river. Immediately before me on the other side of the glass, a young girl in a black hat is reading poetry.
The book shop is achingly wonderful; I sighed out loud when I entered, out of sheer wonder. It’s everything you wish a book shop would be, crooked shelves groaning with old tomes, cosy holes in which to curl up and read, a typewriter left out with fresh ink, daubed in profound statements from passing visitors, and beds for penniless aspiring writers to spend the night in. There is an old jazz piano that anyone can play, hemmed in by stacks of old books. One whole wall is taken up with pinned love letters to missed connections in Paris, scribbled doodles and spontaneous poetry. I feel completely at home here. I never want to leave. I could not have expressed it before arriving here, but this, this, is exactly what I wanted find in Paris. I feel so happy.
Just an hour ago I was lost, clutching my scrawled-on, dog-eared map on a street corner, when a girl asked if I needed help. I mentioned the book shop and she told me she goes there all the time, and offered to accompany me. She was called JJ, the first J of which stood for Judith, which she hates being called, the second J I forgot. She was Californian, and has been here two years, and told me she always enjoyed helping lost tourists because she remembers the struggle when she first arrived.
We stood in the street outside the bookshop for a while as she marked several locations on my tattered map – a Hemingway bar called Les Deux Magots, a famous chapel, and a bar mentioned in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I was going to go to the Catacombs today, but I think I will follow this new itinerary instead. I am very happy. I shook her hand, and she was on her way.
En Route to Les Deux Magots: General Observations
No translation on signs, despite Paris being a world hub for tourism – I like the arrogance. Everybody is riding standard motorcycles, coolest ones. Berlin is full of naff scooters and cruisers. Suzuki Van Vans galore, still my favourite bike. Magazine stands boast middle shelf pornography flanked by front covers of Robert Capa and Arthur Rimbaud. Sexual and intellectual. I dig it.
I had three scoops of ice cream in Les Deux Magots, the old Hemingway haunt turned tourist trap. Set me back 12 euros, because people are stupid and greedy and everything that was once genuinely cool and interesting eventually becomes a new scheme for moneymaking. The bar was similar to La Floritas in Havana – Hemingway obviously had a taste for high ceilings, gold and oak. Service was crap, food expensive. I imagine it was better 100 years ago.
I’m in the Musee d’Orsay now. I like it infinitely more than the Louvre. I’ve just spent 15 minutes staring at Van Gogh’s self portrait. It’s the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen, I’m in love. I want to take it with me. Considering slipping it into my backpack. You can actually see his brush strokes – his movements, that tender yet explosive kinetic energy, that agony and passion, frozen in time for 160 years – and forever after.
I spent a couple of hours drifting through the museum, taking in Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Manet, and cavernous hall after hall of masterpieces – not the gloomy, religious and apocalyptic works of the Louvre, but fabulous, whimsical impressionism. Monet didn’t paint the world ending, no God smiting the unworthy; he painted lilies, picnics and summer ponds!
Photographs don’t do Van Gogh’s work justice. The colours always appear muted. I took the below photo myself, and even adjusted the colours in an attempt to more accurately represent the reality, but it still comes nowhere near the vibrancy of his painting. Incidentally, the below photograph is also a very accurate depiction of what the world looks like while high on 2CB, which is why I like it so much.
I’m in a bar now that my five minute friend JJ recommended; Dernier Bar Avant la Fin du Monde. It’s nerdy, maybe too nerdy, there are many bespectacled men and framed photos of dragons. I’m drinking absinth because it’s cheaper than beer. It’s made my head heavy, like it’s made of lead and my neck is rubber. I’ve had one glass and feel drunk.
I have finished my absinthe and finished my book’s chapter, and I am overwhelmed with a sudden desire to be elsewhere. Goodbye, apocalypse bar. I’m going to walk back to the hostel now to get ready for whatever tonight is going to be.
Edit from Present Dan:
Notes end here. Back at the hostel, I met the Canadian girls, we made friends and chilled for a few hours, drank some wine, they went out to party, I attempted to have a 30 minute nap, woke up the next day fully dressed in bed. Hooray!
Tomorrow: Day 3, Paris
“Woke up at 3am because one of the Canadian girls was talking in her sleep. Her mumbles continued for some time, until at 4am she swung her legs over the bunk, dropped onto the floor, and sleep-sprinted out of the room in her knickers.”