I’m writing this to you from Paris, like a sort of electronic postcard that is being sent to a mass amount of people and is no way personal. Welcome to the 21st century, my friends.
Paris is a strange city because as the world’s most clichéd and romanticized city, it’s difficult to imagine lives being lived here.
Sitting on the metro on my ride into the city, we passed the Eiffel Tower. It isn’t that we just passed the Eiffel Tower, we had a two-minute view of the French icon backlit by the setting sun. And the dozens of Parisians surrounding me just went on staring angrily at the floor. At moments like that, I am very much aware of my Midwest roots.
Let me qualify the angst that is about to explode in the following paragraphs with the statement that my time in Paris has been parfait. When not touring the city’s obligatory and overwhelmingly impressive landmarks, I’ve wandered aimlessly around various neighborhoods.
I’m very much a planner, so the aimlessness of my wandering is not exactly comfortable yet, but I’m getting there.
Being American in France
Coming to France, I had to adjust a bit to France’s repositioned angle of hatred towards Americans. In the U.K., our country may be mocked, our government a punch line, and our diet inaccurately and incessantly judged, but the Brits have a warm spot in their hearts for Americans. It’s a feeling on par with the statement: hate the game, not the player.
That’s wrong. I don’t care enough to change it.
In Paris, I’ve been hiding my American-ness by never speaking and instead pointing like a mute. I try to remain impassive as we pass the Eiffel Tower on the metro, but I still grin. It’s a subtle grin, but nonetheless. I try to counteract my happiness with an even deeper scowl. I think it’s working.
The struggle began when I arrived in Dover on Friday evening. I booked an overnight bus to Paris, so I would have a full five days in the city.
But, in a censored statement of what I would like to say, life happened.
And here the angst begins.
England is currently experiencing some intense weather. A fact I was very much aware of thanks to my walks onto campus, ability to sense water and cold, and general knack for surviving. Nevertheless, I believed in my ability to walk across Dover to the ferry port in the dark during one such storm. Mind you, the walk to the ferry port is along the pier.
It seemed as if Ursula was escaping from her murky underwater tomb. The waves crashed into the pier, and like the evil tentacles of a terrifying she-octopus, reached nearly thirty-feet into the sky.
I would cackle every time I escaped the unwanted shower, and then inevitably be whipped into form by the wind or a wave out of nowhere. Life really wanted to establish a chain of command.
My very wet and very windblown self followed the signs to the Dover ferry port blindly, and suddenly I found myself at the end of the footpath. I braved the wind for a second to look up, and found myself in the middle of what can best be described at the interstate. I saw the entrance to the ferry port, but it was across five lanes of traffic. So whoever says that the Dover ferry port is accessible by foot is lying to you and most likely harboring a secret desire to see you killed.
When the semi-truck traffic died down, I skipped across the roundabout. I think I now have a sense of what bikers feel as they cycle along the highway.
An hour later, my bus still had not arrived. Apparently, there was an extraordinary amount of gridlock on the interstate I had just skipped across. Eventually, the bus arrives one hour late. I quickly boarded and nagged a seat near the back.
We moved slowly for twenty minutes, and then went through passport control, meaning that we were now stuck on our bus. At 12:45 AM (One hour and 45 minutes past our scheduled departure), our bus driver made an announcement, but his absurdly thick accent meant that we only understood three words, which he said much too casually: “too late…way too late.”
Okay, so we’re sitting in this dark bus in a suspended state of confusion.
He gets back on the intercom, and this time we discern a few very important words: “We missed ferry…next one comes one to two hours, I don’t know.”
Like an unhinged person, I begin to uncontrollably laugh. Because what else can you do in that situation when life is flipping you the bird. It was not the most sensitive thing I could have done seeing as I was surrounded by non-English speakers who took my laughter as a sign that the bus driver was a funny man playing a joke on us. They began to laugh as well. A woman had to explain to them that we were, in fact, imprisoned on this bus for the foreseeable future. I had given them hope when there was none, and for that I was not easily forgiven.
The lights went out, and so did my faith in humanity, transportation, and myself.
Eight hours later, the sun rose on the cliffs of Dover. I know because I was there, in England. As in we had not left the ferry port. As in I was still imprisoned on a bus.
At 9:45, we boarded the ferry, and desperately crawled off that hellhole called a bus. As a peace offering, the on-board cafeteria offered us a complimentary full-English breakfast. Two large sausages, two pieces of ham, baked beans, chips, and eggs over easy are not restitution enough for our pain, ferry people.
My stifling angst coupled with my hunger coupled with the fact that I was on a boat made me queasy. And English breakfast makes my stomach turn because I find it repulsive. So, I’m sitting there, with my hand over my mouth on the off-chance that I actually do vomit watching these people eat English cuisine.
I began chronicling my experience thus far, and started thinking about my bad luck. I can be overly dramatic, so I assumed that my claim to bad luck was just another dramatization, but sitting on that ferry I was not so easily convinced. I began listing the accidents, troubling situations, and unfiltered bad luck I’ve experienced in my life. In fifteen minutes, I had a list fifty items long.
So, I officially have bad luck.
At 11:30, I reluctantly boarded the bus again. We had a five-hour drive ahead of us. A fact one man took into account when he bought a bottle of Smirnoff vodka for the ride. Within the first two hours, he and a friend finished the bottle and began their drunken escapades.
He had a guitar, and would routinely pull it out and play one of his original songs. This is a great representation of the descent into belligerence. One of his songs went unfinished, “Every moment I see you feels like…”
He fell asleep at that point. I will spend the rest of my life wondering about the end to that metaphor.
We arrived in Paris at 6:00 PM, nearly twenty hours past our departure time. I managed to find my hostel, and took a few hours to pull it together before meeting my friend, Anu.
Anu is spending the semester in Paris; you can read about her adventures here.
The day’s horrible beginning was quickly turned around as we wandered through the Indian quarter, met up with Anu’s friends at a local bar, and capped the evening with a midnight crepe.
All’s well that ends well.
The Sights and the Gypsies
Although I lost a day in Paris, I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. We’ve eaten fabulous falafels in the Jewish quarter. We’ve visited the Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company, the Sacre Coeur, and the Eiffel Tower.
Because Anu has class, I have the majority of the day to explore the different Parisian neighborhoods. An itinerary I found daunting at first, especially given the fact that I speak no French whatsoever. But my tactic of pointing and whispering “Merci” as I run out of the establishment seems to be working.
Yesterday, I visited the Louvre. When I arrived, I was overcome by the beauty of the place, and decided to sit on a bench and write about the experience. At this point, I was swindled by gypsy kids.
As I finished my self-important scribbling, a girl approached me asking for my signature. In her broken English, I understood the word “orphan,” so I agreed thinking that I was signing a petition to improve the state of French orphan care.
This sheet asked for your name, country of residence, and donation. I ended up giving her ten Euro. The second I handed her the bill, ten of her gypsy friends swarm me telling me that it is a “20 Euro minimum.” There is no minimum to charity, you dimwit. After a few stern words, they retreated; and I was out ten Euro and my dignity.
That was the money I allotted for the Louvre, so instead I bought a pain au chocolate and sat in the Parc de Tulieres, reading The Little Prince for an hour or so. Maybe my ten Euro went to good use, like to buy drugs or end world hunger or something. A girl can dream.
… … … … … … … …
It may not seem like it, but this trip has been one of my best. I’ll never cease to be amazed at the turn around on a shitty experience. The best experience is one that you never thought could be made positive in any sense of the word. What I’m trying to say is that bad luck heals quickly. Life gets better faster than you expect.
The next time you find yourself trapped on a bus for 21 hours, remember that you’re on your way to Paris. Metaphorically. Or literally.