Tilene, the cat, wears a sooty coat and perches daintily on the chair pushed under the table. She occupies two square feet of this apartment, if you include her litter box, and shares it with one other non-human – a dismembered mannequin – and three humans. Six if you count the Chinese family living in the other half of the apartment. We never see them but smell the unmistakable odor of dirty dogs (live, not cooked) and of cigarette smoke that’s already stale by the time it reaches us.
I finally arrived at Arnaud’s after a long and brutal (though cheap) journey from London – a cab ride to the station, a fast train to Victoria, a walk to the bus station, an eight hour Megabus ride during which I was positively gassed by the stench of a hippie with infuriatingly kind eyes, and a sweltering Metro ride across Paris during rush hour.
Once I got settled at Arnaud’s, I joined the roommates for dinner at a little place near Montmartre. After a steady march of subpar sandwiches, I absolutely swooned over my meal. I’ve never been one to describe food because those people are generally insufferable, but those succulent morsels of duck served upon a bed of roquette tossed in a spicy peanut vinaigrette! That red vegetable curry and wild rice! And the wine! I was seeing God.
And then I was seeing a young, able-bodied Middle-Eastern man who was perfectly capable of working an honest job slip through the open doorway and snatch a man’s briefcase from right behind him. A move so brazen as to be reckless – three different people, myself included, yelled some form of “catch that thief” and he was swiftly apprehended by a gang that included representatives of each table. Fraternité! When the man was chased down, he threw down the briefcase and said “oh look I don’t have it anymore, it wasn’t me,” an excuse that was just so pathetically childlike as to eek out a tiny sliver of pity for the degenerate scum, even though he makes a job of ruining entire weeks of other peoples’ lives with desperate acts of selfishness.
After recovering from a very mild hangover the next day, I went to a museum of medical oddities that Arnaud had told me about that was located on the campus of a medical school. The museum housed two dozen glass cases brimming with pickled people parts from the 18th and 19th century. It was completely grotesque; not exactly informative and thus pornographic in that it elicited a purely visceral response and not much else.
Like any good American, I found a Starbucks and took advantage of the free WiFi. I listened to a couple of completely obnoxious South Africans bark their order in English at the barista before critiquing the Pumpkin Spice Latté rather unpoetically, and remembering loudly their exploits in Mykonos, and finally wondering how on earth the girl would spend the remaining 800 euros that her mummy had given her. I felt the kind of vicarious shame that you feel for people who steamroll their way through life without a single fleeting moment of self-awareness.
I’d heard enough, so I walked around the Jardin du Luxembourg, then walked 3 miles back to Arnaud’s apartment. I didn’t really want to contend with the Métro at 5:30 and I was in no rush at all, so I walked and walked that day. As Arnaud had to begin a 24 hour shift at the hospital the next day, his roommate Matteo showed me some nice bars in Belleville when I got back.
Fortunately it’s too expensive to spend a lot of time at Paris bars so I didn’t suffer too terribly, financially or otherwise. I’ve been nickel-and-diming since I’ve gotten here – with the exception of the first meal (which was worth spending an entire shift’s tips on), I’ve been living scrupulously. London has been bleeding me every step of the way though.
I spent the next afternoon at a gorgeous park on the edge of Paris, Bois de Vincennes. It was perfectly idyllic – wooden rowboats gliding on a placid lake, peacocks sashaying through fallen leaves, and the frustrated bellsongs of cyclists trying to part the seas of joggers and strollers. I felt like I was in that painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It was just like that, minus the hoop skirts.
That night I went to a party hosted by one of Matteo’s friends from architecture school. The place was in Chateau Rouge, a neighborhood inhabited mainly by African immigrants and prostitutes. The party was decidedly more diverse and I felt the full crisis of my linguistic shortcomings – conversation was conducted in French, Italian, Spanish, and English, and it wasn’t until the alcohol began flowing that English was settled upon as the language in which we would conduct all official business. This was after a hilarious Polish guy showed up with a bottle of vodka. We sang Happy Birthday and played Circle of Death, during which I contributed significantly to the general intoxication level by making it a drinkable offense to speak Italian.
Yesterday was painful, but I managed to scrape together enough brain cells to put together a trip to Barcelona. I’m flying out of Beauvais-Tillé tomorrow morning at 8:55, which presents a logistical nightmare as it’s an hour north of Paris and the bus leaves from the other side of the city and the Métro doesn’t open until 6am. Cécile, Arnaud’s other roommate, put me in touch with her friend who lives near the bus station in Porte Maillot, so I will stay there tonight and leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow. This is a completely brutal itinerary, but I’ll be in Barcelona by noon tomorrow.