paris. oui oui.
The British Boy and I have this thing. We always start a list of things we want to do when we’re together, months before actually seeing each other. He’ll say something like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to…?” And I’ll reply “Add that shit to the list, yo!” It’s what keeps us going during those long months apart. That, and whiskey.
So there we were, sitting at a restaurant in East London, looking at the infamous list on his phone when I spotted Night in Paris. And I was all, “Night in Paris? Did we plan that? Like, literally? Are we going to Paris?” “Ur. You weren’t meant to see that“, he answered. Oh! But I did see it and it was very much in the plans. The hotel was reserved, the train booked. To PARIS. For THE NIGHT. Never in a million years did I ever envision uttering such a sentence. Just going to pop over to see the Eiffel Tower lit up by night and eat cheese and drink wine. The notion alone was ridiculously romantic. The actual event, even better.
The last time I was in Paris in 2005 was the first time I ever went to Europe. It was with my ex boyfriend. Back when I couldn’t possibly imagine myself with anyone else. He was a chocolatier at the time and we were there to sample chocolate and buy equipment. It was a rough job but someone had to do it and I felt like he might need support for this very arduous task so I accompanied him. It was one of the best weeks of my life and I was excited to see Paris again, under a new season, with my new love.
We arrived at
St-Pancreas (um. that is St-Pancras) station all giddy and were soon met with a line up of travelers a mile long as trains were delayed due to adverse weather conditions (known as a light dusting back home). Our train departed an hour or so past its scheduled time but we eventually sat back and let Eurostar take us where we’d both been before, just never together. On the train, submerged in tunnel darkness one moment then into blinding snow-filled light the next, everyone was veewy veewy quiet. And I was the chatty cat that wouldn’t shut up. I wanted to stand up and tell everyone “People, vous rendez-vous compte? We’re going to Paris. Hollah!” Of course, I couldn’t expect everyone to share my excitement. For some, this was like a Montreal-Toronto jaunt (hardly worth writing home about). But does Paris ever get old, really?
Les points culminants de Paris sont…
- Sitting on the train, drinking small bottles of Beaujolais purchased en vitesse prior to boarding. Me writing in my journal. Him reading Time Out Paris. I know moments like this appear insignificant to most but when you’re used to seeing your love from the other side of a computer screen for months on end, simply sitting on a train doing the normal things that every couple does takes a whole new meaning.
- Mama Shelter on rue de Bagnolet is probably the funkiest (bordering on eccentric) hotel I’ve ever set foot in and is a stone’s throw from Père Lachaise cemetery. Once a multi-storey car park, it was re-designed by Phillippe Starck. The entire place is ultra urban, dark and cool, a bit like a bat cave / love lair. There is graffiti everywhere to mirror the graffiti-rich off-piste 20th arrondissement in which the hotel is located. The red light in the elevator invites you to make out until you reach your floor. The room’s walls are exposed concrete with Batman and Superman masks, which double as light fittings. Visitors are encouraged to don the masks and snap photos of themselves with the iMac on the desk; photos which are subsequently shared with all the hotel guests in a rotating slide show. Quirky, no doubt, and probably wouldn’t appeal to everyone but I love it.
- Getting dressed up for a night on the town. Man in gray shirt and black tie? Ooh la la.
- Having a drink at the hotel’s chichi bar (perfect for lovers of deep conversations). Very cosmopolitan, hip crowd, bordering on kitschy. The arrogant French bar tender completes the picture ever so perfectly.
- Standing beneath the Eiffel tower for 25 minutes in sub-zero weather waiting for it to light up (on the hour). I suddenly regret my choice of fish net stockings. We have an overly sweet, over-priced hot chocolate and hop around to keep warm. You’d think I’d be cursing the cold but I’m loving the experience, just the way it is. At 10pm, the blue flashing lights twinkle over Paris. I tell Joe that I’ve heard Parisians refer to this ostentatious display as the scar on the face of Paris. Only the French would say such a thing. But I find it rather lovely and jolly and cause for excitement. We walk backwards to see it from afar.
- Walking to the 4th arrondissement, past Cathédrale Notre Dame, across Pont Louis Philippe and over the Seine. The water by night looks like a Monet painting.
- By the time we sit at one of the little tables in the back room of Le Petit Fer à Cheval, it is 11pm and we expect the place to be empty on a Tuesday night. Naturally, it is not. This is a far departure from the last call at 11pm on a Saturday in a London pub. The restaurant is quite unassuming. Quaint, charming, keen on keeping food local. The open concept toilets alone are a topic of conversation. We share a bottle of wine, order fish for the lady, steak for the gentleman and end the meal with a cheese platter. We leave around 1:30am, after hours of eating and conversation. Outside, a couple is making out on the corner, another is kissing by the horseshoe-shaped bar. Far from our respective worlds, 1:30am on a Tuesday in Paris, we make out too.
- Our taxi driver tapping on the steering wheel to the beat of some afro-cuban music while we snog in the back seat. We arrive at the hotel at 2am… and the stockings come off.
- Grabbing un double espresso at a very Améliesque café across the street from the hotel (where there truly is a tobacco shop attached to the espresso bar, with a cigarette selling lady behind the counter looking very morose this Wednesday morning). This is what I remember from my last trip to Paris. Drinking inordinate amounts of wine and eating more than my weight in food and rarely ever being hungover. What is it about the French lifestyle? Granted, the previous night’s lack of sleep requires the double espresso but we’re still feeling in rather good form considering said debauchery and we know how to make the most of a situation. The situation being that we only have a few hours to enjoy Paris before hopping on a train back to England.
- A morning walk in Père Lachaise cemetery. At Jim Morrison’s grave, there is a small group of middle-aged Swedish (?) tourists playing Light My Fire on an iPhone and rolling joints at 9am.
- Pain au chocolat for breakfast. ‘Nuff said.
- I lost the rewind knob on my Pentax somewhere in the cemetery, which means that I wasn’t able to replace my roll of film once it reached its very sad end. I was slightly disconcerted but strangely accepting as it allowed me to just be in the moment. Me, my foggy head, a gray day, a quiet cemetery, a british boy holding my hand. Still, I was thrilled to find a little camera shop on the way to the metro station where a man with the bluest eyes unwound my film in his little black bag, thus allowing me to snap a few shots on our stroll through Montmartre. Sadly, our time was short and hectic so few photos were taken but a few are better than none.
- Surviving one of those tense, tired & hungry moments (in search of a Croque Monsieur for Monsieur). One of those moments that had potential for argument written all over it. But we overcame it with flying colors (humor is always good in these situations).
- Having a glass of wine at a little brasserie across the street from Gare du Nord while waiting for our (delayed) train. All that rushing to stand still… IN PARIS (sorry, I kept having to remind myself that I was there). A soft snow was falling.
- The way we travel together and figure shit out. We are city folk, you can tell. Well traveled in the sense that we appear to know where we are going and what we are doing at all (most) times. We enjoy problem solving together.
- Finding our giggly selves again on the train. Joe pushed the cork into a bottle of wine with his mighty thumb-war winning thumbs (yes. we played thumb war on the train) and poured the wine in plastic cups. We ate an olive fougasse and baguette sandwiches from a boulangerie in Montmartre then fell into a carb coma for the rest of the trip home.
- Staying near Angel station upon returning. Rather than rushing through traffic, we had dinner at Wagamama then went to the cinema to see Due Date. So nice to sit back and eat popcorn and laugh at a movie and lie my head on his shoulder. The simple things we take for granted after years of being together.
I don’t generally process my film photos as I’m quite pleased with them strait out of the camera. But Paris in winter simply begs for black and white photos. Because Paris feels like another time. Like a Audrey Hepburn movie. Like a Brassens song. Paris was simply made for black & white photography, non?
Next (and last) post… where we wake up at the crack of dawn to spend a day by the sea in Brighton.