Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Travelling used to be so easy. I remember when all you needed was a passport and an optional familiarity with your destination. I’ve spent the last week preparing for a 2-hour trip on a train because now I need at least 4 separate documents from 4 separate governing bodies and corporations. I need to be vaccinated; prove I’ve been vaccinated; take a covid test to make doubly sure I haven’t got it; sign written confirmation that I haven’t been licking door handles and drinking other peoples’ spit, all so I can get on a train. It used to be so easy. I was so stressed out this morning because I thought my NHS test wouldn’t be valid (it was, thankfully), and now I just have to wait in the departure lounge for an hour. I wish I hadn’t eaten all those sausage rolls dad made. Now I have nothing left for lunch.
But it feels good to be finally doing this again, you know? To be travelling, to be on the move again. It’ also good practice before I head back to Hong Kong in August, though I don’t yet know how much I’ll be able to write in this whilst I’m there. I’d like to keep it up, of course, but if I’m working the hours, I assume I will be, then that won’t leave me much time before or after my day. But that’s still uncertain. For right now, focus on Pairs.
This is kind of crazy in itself because I’ve only known Alice for around 3 months, and only seen her in person for around 1 week at the start of that. If I hadn’t randomly decided to contact Poppy after a few years, I wouldn’t have been invited to stay at hers for a month, I wouldn’t have met Alice, and I wouldn’t be going on this little trip to Paris for a couple of weeks. Funny how it works out. I have no idea what I’m going to do while I’m there. In classic Alex style I haven’t given it any more thought than the bare minimum. I’m not even sure how I should get to their flat yet. Taxi or Tube? Tube takes only 10 minutes but will be all en francais. I should’ve had lunch. I feel light-headed. Only one apple left.
Maybe I was told before and I didn’t remember, but Alice’s family owns a castle. Wait. Back up. Let’s do this in order. I arrived at Gare du Nord station at about 3:50, and after spending a frankly embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out which metro was the right one (I didn’t see ‘Sud’ until I was about to ask for help), I finally made it to Alice’s flat. It was so nice to see her again. She really is so lovely to talk to and be around, and I’m glad I was able to see her again before I fly away forever. Even with the glasses on I’m still blind though. I missed the lift that was right in front of me and went up the stairs like some crazy. When there’s only 2 flats on each floor, getting to #18 damn near killed me. Alice just laughed when she saw me coming. When she was in London, she showed me a picture of her living room.
It looked like a miniature ballroom. In reality, its more of a smoking room: shelves lined with browned book covers; classic wooden furniture with curved limbs; a small tapestry on the back wall, facing out over the ample floorspace and out to the balcony. If you stretch your head out and look to the left, you can see the Eiffel Tower. The railing is a monotonous sequence of clouded glass. The balcony itself is bereft of anything save an old plant-less garden pot. The tiling on the floor reminded me of a seaside promenade, and of skating across decorative tiles to get to the road again. Apparently, Alice’s grandmother is afraid of heights, and so she never used it. When I step back in, I see an old sword on the wall with a matching knife next to it. Nicholas, Alice’s boyfriend, casually picks up a duelling pistol. I suppose I should tone down the flirting this week then.
We’re just popping out to the shops and then I’ll be back!
I am, as they say in France, “a fucking idiot.” Forgot to bring plug adaptors. I have more to write but I need to find a shop that sells one ASAP. The one Alice has doesn’t work.
OK I’m going to have to find one when I’m out. For now, there’s enough for the rest of the evening, at least. Also, it turns out the knife was a very small gun. Where was I?
Never mind Alex, you went out to watch the footie and its now 1am. Time for bed, I think. This can wait until tomorrow. As far as first days go, this was pretty fun.
My back hurts a little today. I want to say it’s the bed. So, I will. It’s the bed’s fault. I blame the bed.
Now, to finally pick up where I stopped yesterday. There is no TV in the lounge, which completed the ‘old world’ aesthetic. If it were possible to have a fireplace here, I’m sure they would have had one too. On one of the shelves is a fossil pressed into one of those blocks of something I never cared enough about to clarify for myself. It’s probably glass. Alice’s grandfather found it whilst he was helping construct the metro here. It makes me wonder what else was found when digging under Paris. The rest of the flat was less remarkable. The doors to the bathroom, toilet, and bedroom had been wallpapered over to blend in with the rest of the corridor, for better or worse. My room (Alice’s father’s old room) perhaps felt the oldest of anyone’s. I’m writing this right now on what could very well be an old gambling table, judging by the scuffed fabric on top that sports that iconic gambler’s green. The electricity sockets were a new addition back in 1963. Everything is beige. There are 3 lamps because the overhead one doesn’t work. The best part is absolutely the balcony, which this bedroom shares with the bedroom next door. It looks out over a quiet private patch of green, owned by the monastery that’s slightly off to the left ahead of me. I was surprised there existed such a small space of serenity so close to home. To complete the picture, a cockerel managed to project is cry over the background city din. It feels like this part of the city is suspended in time. But don’t stay out there for too long; the balcony is ever so slightly angled down, so you always feel like you’re falling forward.
After the little tour we went back to the kitchen. Alice asked if I was hungry, and she brought out a packet of English muffins, thus negating my journey to France. Whilst eating, she talked more about her family, and revealed that her great-grandfather bought and single-handedly renovated a medieval castle. It is now owned by her uncle, which I’m sure has caused no resentment from her side of the family. I laughed at the level of stereotypical happenstances I’d bore witness to; of course you can see the Eiffel Tower from the balcony, of course your family owns a medieval castle. This would not be the last instance I would run into that day. Stereotypes, I mean. Nicholas is from a town in the French Alps. Apparently, it’s quite famous, but I’d never heard of it. Then again, I am an ignorant foreigner. I might ask again later. In any case, he’s a big fan of cheese, so we might buy some fancy French cheese at some point.
I was invited out to watch the France/ Switzerland game with them and “14” friends later in the evening, so before then Alice and I nipped out to the shops for supplies. I had a great time trying to remember the name for all the fruits and vegetables, as if I’d just stepped out of secondary school. But I feel like I’m getting bogged down with unnecessary detail so let’s just move on. Our destination was a sports bar on Boulevard de Clichy, almost next-door to Moulin Rouge. The Red-Light District here puts the one in London to shame. I’ve never seen a more shameless series of sex shops stretching all the way down the road. There were even DVD and videos for sale! In 2021! I suppose it could be treated the same vinyl are now. I wonder if they have ‘used’ sections. The bar itself was full, so we wandered up the hill towards Sacre Coeur and found a suspiciously empty restaurant with other seating on what I presumed to be more of a side street to the main road. The buildings were full of classic Parisian style: Juliet balconies, stylised facades, the window baskets of deep red flowers, all of it bathing in the warm evening sun.
The location, despite our early scepticism, turned out to be better than our first choice. Almost every bar and restaurant on the side street had their screens out for the football. It felt very similar to the match against Croatia in the World Cup, except I could only bask in the atmosphere of the occasion instead of actively participate. Nevertheless, it proved to be pretty enjoyable. The food and drinks were overpriced as hell, which doesn’t mean they were bad either. I ordered my food in French, but then the waitress asked a follow-up question. I told Alice beforehand how I’d be stumped if id have to do anything other than say what I needed to say, and clearly the waitress knew too because she immediately switched to English to ask how I’d like the meat cooked. Apparently, she could tell by my accent. Everyone was still very encouraging thought, which dampened my dissatisfaction with my own ability somewhat. Even luckier for me, the French school system fully supports learning English, so there were a healthy amount of people by the end of the night who were nice enough to speak with me. One of them, a diver named Julien, actively helped me with my French and translation.
And I guess there was also a football match happening or something, I don’t know I couldn’t really see. Most of the time I just went along with the crowd, except I (as the only “Swiss supporter”) would only go crazy if the Swiss did well. Julien advised me to tone it down a little because he couldn’t guarantee my safety if Switzerland won. And then Switzerland won. The singing and dancing and laughing of the night was immediately replaced by an icy silence as every Frenchman’s smile dropped. People began to leave the bars almost immediately. I saw a man walking up the street dangling an open bottle of wine by the neck and wearing a beret. The woman in front of me at the restaurant had eaten snails. My “Welcome to Paris” starter pack was completed. I can’t wait to be caught in the middle of a workers strike next week.
I'm sure there were a lot more specifics I could go into, but it’s now 5:30pm the day after and I haven’t even begun on today yet, so I’ll end the account by saying how people who like to play bad music loudly on public transport are dicks, and that having a monastery outside your window with loud bells does not encourage a lay-in in the mornings.