Chapter 4 Awaking from a wonderful dream….
Rubbing my eye’s and sitting up in bed, my surroundings didn’t seem real for at least two or three hours after I awoke, 24 hours asleep will do that to a person, I felt discombobulated, and just like Arthur Dent from Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide’ books, I felt sure a nice cup of tea was what was needed.
So our journey was done, we had found a home for all our furniture and most of our possessions and we had made the trip over to Paris with the minimum of fuss and head aches (HA) but what was I to do next?
According to a recent article in Le Monde the highly respected French daily newspaper, 96.3% of the residents of Paris are currently in process of writing a book. I thought to myself ‘That’ll be 96.4% at the end of this week then”
sadly for the time being this blog was about all my frazzled mind could handle, and the immediacy of the present time that I found myself in would have to suffice. The new surroundings of France coupled with the sights and smells of one of the greatest cities on earth would be my muse, all this seen through the eyes of a man from Preston, a city whose biggest claim to fame to date is an ugly bus station, and Europe’s biggest civilian cemetary (apparently people have been dying to get in their for decades).
Our residence in the 17th arrondessment of this gargantuan city was a spacious flat in a block, that in France is called social housing, In the U.K I suppose it would be called a council estate, here in France however they are radically different, rather than having gangs of feral children roaming the streets, and abandoned washing machines in their front garden, these habitations where neat, and tidily presented and well cared for by the residents, this was the home of Sarah mum Jocelyn and Sarah’s little sister Camille, as well as the temporary residence of Sarah’s uncle who was sleeping on the sofa until he could find a place of his own.His name to this day eludes me, though we did find out that the same glasses we had been drinking Coca Cola out of, HE had been using to keep his false teeth in.
Although it may appear that the flat maybe over crowded already, we occupy the largest room in the flat which is located at the rear of the property ensuring a modicum of privacy, the room is long and rectangular in shape and has a large window which looks out over the sporting stadium that is located to the rear of the block of flats a double bed and ample desks and storage places mean that it was a comfortable hide out for our French life.
After the obligatory climatisation with my new surroundings, which consisted of unpacking and squaring away our luggage, something which made our room seem almost claustrophobic, and gave the impression that moving the wrong item would bring about a catastrophic collapse burying us both until search teams dug us out, we began to settle into the rhythm of our new life.
The cat had taken to his new beginning like a duck to rocket powered roller skates, and he immediately loved his new surroundings, many was the time he would stow himself somewhere unreachable light up a filter-less cigarette and begin to croon his favorite Jaques Brel songs, well if he was happy in his stripy jumper and beret then who where we to stop him (at least he’d gotten simply red out of his system).
Having been house bound for the first couple of days, we where relieved when Sarah’s older sister rang and invited us to lunch.
Sarah’s older sister is called Awe (pronounced AWA) she works in a dance academy in the center of Paris and she invited us for lunch on the Wednesday morning.
The last time we had met Sarah’s sister earlier in the year she had introduced us to one of her students from the dance school called Justin. Justin was, by a French country mile, the campest individual I had ever clapped eye’s on, he made Alan Carr look like Johnny Rambo, Compared to him, Liberace was a knuckle dragging toothless cider drinking resident of Blackpool, I mean he didn’t just bat for the other team, he also fielded, bowled, kept the wicket, washed the kits, made the sandwiches and parked the cars and drove the coach to away matches. He was the archetypal French duke, I’m not kidding.
On this occasion Sarah’s sister had wanted to buy some hair products to dye her hair. Sarah’s sister has afro hair and as such we had to pay a visit to an area in Paris that I wouldn’t like to go to when its dark, if I’m honest I really didn’t want to be there during the day, this place was SERIOUSLY ropy, I’m talking ‘I’m in my happy place’ kinda ropy, this was a place the Taliban wouldn’t even entertain, this place made the Red Light District of Amsterdam look like Covent Garden, and there I am with Sarah and her sister and graham Norton’s camp stuntman.
It goes down as THE scariest experience of my Parisian life, whilst in the shop, idly bumbling around in a generally uncomfortable ‘I really don’t belong here’ kind of way, Justin asked the group which hair dye he should choose, as the girls where engrossed in talking about hair pins and such, and I just wanted to escape, I absent mindedly pointed out the brightest of bright pink hair dyes as a joke…..Sadly the French don’t really get my brand of sarcasm, so Justin found himself buying the most outrageous vivid hair colour known to man, this colour was so bright it could be seen from the international Space station, and it is the only hair dye positively endorsed by Stevie Wonder, and it was all my fault.
Shortly after the hair dye incident, we entered a number of shops specialising in wigs, well, talk about feeling unwelcome, the only thing missing was the woman shop assistant squatting down and shitting on my shoes, I have never been looked at or treated in that manner, by a sales woman that looked, in my mind anyway, like Obafemi Martin’s sister I felt it best not to mention that. I was under the impression that she thought I was going to steal something, but Sarah later informed me that it was because Black and Afro Caribbean women seriously don’t like any white men knowing their hair secrets, and I had inadvertently stumbled upon the mother load of women’s secrets. (Racist fuckers)
I spent days pointing at women in the street and identifying their method of hair care. I was sure this closely guarded secret and my new power, was going to lead me to being the victim of a hair ‘hit’. Thankfully the poisoned baguette never came and the voodoo doll never worked it’s wicked magic and the memory of that scary day slowly faded from my mind.
So it was that we found ourselves on our way to meet Awe again, taking the bus along the Avenue De Clichy with its multitude of small shops and businesses, into the Rue De Amsterdam on a sunny Wednesday morning, we switched from the number 81 bus at the Place De Clichy, which is an interesting area of the city that marks the meeting points of four arrondessments (the 8th,9th,17th and 18th), the central traffic island has a 14 meter high statue to Marshall Moncey, who successfully defended the city during the war of 1814, the romanticised bronze statue depicts Moncey standing atop the baracades holding his military Sabre aloft in a defiant stance (fnerk fnerk coooooo missus), this statue is a magnificent center piece as well as being the prototype for all other war memorials.
We switched buses with ease without buying the mango’s, mineral water, or umbrella’s being sold by the seriously dodgy street vendors, and took the short journey on the number 54 down towards the Moulin Rouge.
Now I know this is not the first location you would have in mind when thinking of the gastronomic delights of the French capital, but it is the home of a superb little Chinese establishment AND some pretty seedy looking sex clubs and theaters(Quel suprise), including one which made me roar with laughter, with the title ‘Erotic Supermarket’. (“I won’t be buying my carrots from there”! I thought to myself)
After lunch and a spot of shopping we parted company with Sarah’s sister and caught the bus home. It was during this journey I began to come to a realisation about the modern city we had moved to and its people.
As more Parisian’s boarded the bus causing serious congestion and the very real possibility of suffocation, I began to notice that no one made eye contact with anyone else, beyond say, a few accidental glances to prevent walking into doors or tripping over babies.
People glared into the glowing screens of their mobile telephones, like drones they thumbed buttons, sent text messages or selected their favorite music to entertain them in their infinitely shrinking bubbles of personal space, as the beautifully constructed buildings and streets of Paris whizzed by their window.
I felt increasingly sad for these people, before snapping out of my funk, internally calling myself a prick, and following an alternate train of thought.
I myself had left the world of mobile technology back in the U.K and had been re-energised by being freed from its electronic bonds, yet here I was sat surrounded by slaves to this most curious of items. This made me think back to Hemingway’s era, and what he would of made of the traffic jammed Boulevards and tourist laden pavements, how would he of reacted to the modern age, furthermore I thought what would Monet of made of the graffiti artist or the post modernist’s or surrealists, I often find myself thinking in this manner, one of my many character flaws. but like I say, it’s a brief whimsy of mine, which I bury deep down and carry on with my life. In the case of Hemingway I more often than not come to the conclusion ” That’s why he blew his head off”
Later that week we received a phone call from Sarah’s aunt who wanted us to attend her first gig in Paris, Sarah informed me that her aunt wasn’t even a singer and therefore this was an event not to be missed, so our second Parisian adventure was afoot.
That evening we strolled down to our local metro station to catch the train to the gig. Travelling on the Paris underground is a very singular experience, it is both liberating and constricting, most lines are served by aging rolling stock to varying levels, some are merely dangerous, whilst others require you to of filled out your last will and testament before travelling, the noise made by some of the older trains is horrific, when hitting a corner it sounds like you are running your nails down a blackboard whilst listening to your favorite Judas Priest LP in reverse on a record player made of angry midgets, couple this cacophony with the universal law of the underground, which is, ‘if there is any form of gap in a carriage then you can fit at least five more people in it’, and you have the recipe for underground travel, on this evening we arrived in the area known as the Bastille relatively unmolested, and found the small bar and restaurant quite easily.
Upon entering I was pleasantly surprised to find the kind of warm, welcoming establishment you expect to find when thinking of visiting Paris, it had that feeling of being a place with some personality, not the obligatory Starbuck’s or Mcdonald’s that have been projectile vomited all over the city to suck the money clean out of your pockets, no this place had home cooked food, very reasonably priced beer it even had its own shaggy dog (but thats another story).
We ordered drinks and stood at the bar awaiting direction to the gig. After a few moments more of Sarah’s family arrived and we where directed upstairs to what turned out to be the most questionable function room I have ever set foot in, the ceiling was about an inch above the top of my head and the walls where covered in mirrors (kinky i thought) arranged around the room where a dozen or so chairs, and to the front of the room where a couple of microphones and a bongo drum (my heart sank).
We kissed and shook hands with everyone else in that curious way that is so French, and small talk ensued, after some curious conversations with the bongo player, who turned out to be Sarah’s aunt’s husband, mainly regarding him really liking my shoes, as they reminded him of bushmen? we settled in and the gig began…. hmmm How best to describe it, I think Caribbean Jazz maybe or possibly a Calypso Jazz fusion, whichever you choose it was a pleasant enough experience, toe tapping stuff that was at one point described as being a selection of spicy cover versions, these consisted of a few French children’s song’s given a bit of a pep up with some bongo’s, and a couple that I recognised as Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘the 59th street bridge song’ and the Noel Harrison classic ‘the windmills of your mind’ everyone sang along and a jolly good time was had by all, including some random drunkard woman who staggered in half way through and stayed til the end, don’t get me wrong The Who at Knebworth it was not, yet it retained a kind of raw appeal that i just couldn’t shake off, honestly, for French music it was alright.
Once the gig was fin, we once again kissed and shook our way down stairs and out into a wet Parisian night, and off to the metro station for the train home. Saturday night on the Paris metro is a special experience, not only do you have the fear of death to contend with but you also have the party hearty residents, in this case consisting of four or five posh kids that had had a sniff of shandy, obnoxious isn’t the word for these little fuckers, but happily they got off before any blood was spilt and we wended our way home with little incident, apart from a drunk bloke with a beer in his hand getting his arm caught in the door and thus splashing his beer all over himself, something that made us all chortle.
After visiting our favorite Turkish kebab house round the corner from the flat (which sells beer, honestly it’s brilliant) we rolled into our room at about midnight and proceeded to gorge on yummy things and to generally drink and be merry, “I could seriously get used to this sort of life style” i thought to myself……
Next week I fight with my brain to come up with some workable ideas for short stories, sight seeing in the city, Sarah’s uncle leaves for his new home in the south of France, and I angrily call a fat old Spanish woman a “Knob Head!”