I’ve been holed up in Chloe’s Montmartre flat for most of the day after seeing Nina off this morning.
As I write, she’s on the final leg of her journey and tonight she will be asleep in her own bed, with her husband and asshole cats.
I’m so jealous.
I spent today keeping busy with books, checking airport status, trips around the neighborhood, and giant meals.
Yes, everyone is encouraged to stay inside as Paris is in a state of lockdown following the horrific attacks last night. But look outside and you will see that life goes on.
Parisians have adopted #notafraid as their defiant stance in the face of the recent terrible events, so I too am not afraid to go outside and see what is going on.
Given that in 2013 on average thirty Americans died from gun violence a day, it would be disingenuous of me to claim that somehow France is more dangerous than the USA.
This is not to downplay the horrors of last night’s violence in Paris (and Beirut and Kenya and Syria and Iraq, and, and) and I’m not going to pretend that losing a day of convention/sightseeing is in any way a personal tragedy.
If anything, I was moved by the tremendous generosity of the French.
I know they have a reputation for being rude, but that hasn’t been my experience.
If anything, they seem “over” all the tourists with our food demands, unwillingness to learn a few words of French, and coarse ways. They are charming, apt to warm up if they see your face in their shop a few days in a row, and really quite fun if you happen to be tipsy and your waiter happens to be handsome.
Today I went into a store in Rue Des Abbesses and expressed my condolences to the clerk. He looked so sad. He in turn said that he was sorry for me, having to be in Paris when it is like this.
“Now you are a Parisian, too.”
He felt sorry for me. Wow.
So yes, my birthday was yesterday, Nov 13, a day that will be tantamount to 9/11 in France’s history, but I don’t care about me. My birthday is just another day and all I ever want is to go on a nice walk so I’m not feeling sorry for myself.
I’m feeling grateful that I got to enjoy this beautiful city with a friend, after seeing the English countryside with another friend.
The weather has been wonderful for November, there were no crowds, we got to do and see a lot, we ate marvelous meals, we stayed in a wonderful flat on a quiet street that had neighborhood cats, we drank wine every night and ate croissants and quiche and madeleines every morning, we saw Crazy Horse (the best show ever) and then sat outside a café eating creme brulée and drinking aperitifs while breathlessly talking about everything we loved about the day because there was no way we were able to immediately go to sleep.
I have no complaints. Not one.
I’m just going to put my pictures here if you want to look at them. Then I’m going to bed. Tomorrow I will see how many slices of quiche and pain au chocolats I can fit in an Agent Provocateur box (NOT GUILTY!) to take home to Loony because damn it, I miss him and my kids and my fucking cats and my stupid dogs.
I’ll start with England because that was my first stop.
I realize that Tabby is a 15 minute walk from my house in Boulder but she’s been so busy lately that I have genuinely missed her.
And with her being in England for a christening (oh the irony) I got to spend time with her where she grew up.
My first day was wonderful. I managed to sleep on the plane and the car ride to Tabby’s home near Andover but it was still 4am Boulder time in my body.
I was greeted by Tabby’s father, Mike, and when he saw me yawn he said, “There will be none of that! You must go to sleep no earlier than 9:30 or you will be fucked.”
Tabby said what she misses about England is that in the US, no one “takes the piss out of you” which I discovered means merciless criticism. Given that derision is my language of love, I got along just fine.
After a few days with Mike I tried taking the piss out of Beth and saw why my kids think its so fun. She bore my abuse magnificently.
I can’t say what I was needling her about but it rhymes with AIDS Baby.
Tabby and I immediately did some sightseeing.
She never told me that Stonehenge is JUST DOWN THE STREET. Tabby’s mother, Vikki, gave us the pro-tip to avoid long lines by lending us her and Mike’s Heritage Trust membership cards. Nevermind that theirs said “Senior” and Mike’s said, well, Mike.
The plan was to pretend that we were a heterosexual elderly couple. Tabby was the guy because she’s taller and Vikki lent me her reading glasses to pull my disguise together. And if it didn’t work, we’d just give up and pay.
We got stuck in bad traffic on the way there and I was horrified to realize that after all that driving, I forgot my wallet. It was the senior citizen cards or bust.
We had to really sell the lie or else we’d have to brave the traffic empty handed.
Did you know that Tabby loves Boulder because she doesn’t have to drive? Did you know that in the three years she and I have been friends and driven together a lot (to get the dogs to trails) she has never driven me anywhere?
Did you know that it is really irritating when your American friend keeps telling you that you are driving on the wrong side of the road even though you are in England and are from England and learned how to drive in England?
So yeah, she really didn’t want to do the drive again. Especially not with me grabbing her leg but in my defense, it is really unnerving to be driving super fast down what any reasonable person would call a one lane-road when there are cars coming really fast the other way around corners and even though I was wrong about the side of the road thing, I was still freaked out.
Those roads are so fucking narrow! What are you supposed to do when a car comes from the other direction? Pull over into the dirt, I guess.
It being off-season, there were no lines whatsoever and when we silently presented our cards to the cashier so as to not sound young and female, she took a good look at them, handed them back and said, “Great!”
We breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then she said, “Wait!” and our hearts stopped, “Don’t forget your tickets.” We grabbed them and ran.
In the end we got in without incident and felt quite criminal.
We walked everywhere, slogging through the fields and up the burial mounds. After a day of inactivity, nothing felt better than to be outside. There were no crowds and I felt like we had the place practically to ourselves.
The next day she took me to Lacock Abbey (that’s LAY-cock) an historic site and where part of Harry Potter was filmed. The neighboring village is preserved to look as it did “back in the day” but people still live and work there. Downton Abbey village scenes were shot there.
Tabby’s family is wonderful. Her parents are polar opposites. Mike is dry as unbuttered burnt toast while Vikki is the picture of ernest concern. The push and pull between Tabby’s parents is hilarious.
On the one hand I have Vikki saying, “Oh you poor dear. You must be simply exhausted,” and I’m like, “Well yes, I am pretty tired.”
And then Mike chimes in, “No you’re not! You aren’t tired at all! You will stay up until at least 9:30!” and I’m like, “That’s right! I’ve never felt so alert in my life. I couldn’t sleep if I tried.”
Tabby’s advice was that if he seemed put out, he was actually just fucking with me. The first thing he did when he met me was to immediately accuse me of stealing Tabby’s dog (“You’re the one who nicked Tabby’s dog, aren’t you?”) and I responded by stealing his dog. Back atcha old man.
I love it here. I love the soft boiled eggs and toast in the morning, baked potatoes and tuna at lunch, tea with scones at four (they actually do that, although they may have been fucking with me) and then dinner at home or in the local pub, The Hatchet, with dogs running around at my feet, and my new dog sleeping next to me while the rain falls on the window. I feel perfectly at home.
I felt like family and am already planning to bring mine over to meet them.
I wanted to arrive in Paris by noon on Monday which meant I had to leave Chute on Sunday afternoon so I could catch the Eurostar from London early the next morning.
I spent the night in a crazy dormitory I found on Airbnb.
It was hot and I could hear every word my very quiet neighbors were uttering up until midnight, which kind of sucked, but it was a fun and strange experience, too.
If I hadn’t been so paranoid about being able to hear my alarm but not wanting to turn it up too loud as to bother others at 6am, I would have worn earplugs and the talking would not have been an issue. As it was, I tossed and turned.
I didn’t like be in London by myself. It’s an overwhelming city and I would have loved a guide.
I walked around, however, and took in the enormous buildings and monuments. I am ultimately a country mouse that enjoys a little more space to breath.
I got to the station the next morning, even though I did the bus thing wrong and didn’t buy a ticket in advance. The driver roller her eyes at me when I tried to hand her the money.
“No. You have to buy your ticket before you get on the bus.” She saw how crestfallen I was and said, “Is this your first day?”
“It’s my only day,” I replied and she waved me in.
I took a huge breath when I got the St. Pancras station. I felt like I was breathing for the first time in a year. I felt alive again.
I caught my train and mercifully slept most of the way. Nina texted me that she was on her way to the Gare du Nord station as well. She flew in from Copenhagen where she had been judging a Pole Theater show.
We lost our wi-fi yet somehow we managed to find each other in one of the busiest train stations in the world.
When planning this trip, we spent a good deal of time on Airbnb looking at places. The place we settled on was actually the first one we saw but we felt strange about booking it without convincing ourselves that it was an informed choice. We totally picked the best one.
The flat is a dream, just as advertised and there are the two cutest tabbies that live in the courtyard. They look like identical twins. Would it be wrong to accidentally leave the window open so one of them might happen in and sleep on my face
that I smeared with tuna?
We took advantage of our early arrival to immediately start exploring. Nina went crazy with researching this trip and each meal was at a place that she selected after plowing her favorite travel blogs.
Our first meal at Le Coq Rico (pasta and chicken en gratin with a petite salad) was unbelievable and the chefs were fun to ogle. Everything was perfect and we hear they will be opening a restaurant in New York soon.
We went shopping (if shopping means wanting everything but buying nothing) at Galleria Lafayette and had a major emotional breakdown at Agent Provacateur. Twice.
I kid you not, I seriously considered shelling out 660 Euros for a corset. Perhaps the only thing that stopped me was my boots were filthy from running around the muddy forest after Tabby and I was wearing ugly underwear and I didn’t want to humiliate myself in front of the perfect French shop girls. I could tell they were already judging me.
Every time we wanted to rest we popped into a bistro for a glass of wine or a mojito because they were more hydrating.
We looked at the lights from Sacre Coeur and had the cathedral practically to ourselves. We tried on a lot of shoes but, quelle bonne surprise, the French don’t really specialize in flats with orthopedic support.
That’s one thing Boulder has the Paris doesn’t.
Nina and I are well suited for travel together. She tells me where we are going (and sometimes she doesn’t) and I follow her around without question.
And I do hip, age defying things like communicate with her via FB from across the room.
I never annoy her with questions like, “Are you sure we are going the right way?” or “Do you think they have cheddar?” or “Have this flip flops been disinfected?” and as a result she didn’t try to kill me in my sleep which would have been easy for her to do seeing as how we were sharing a bed.
After an afternoon trying to find my way around London by myself, I am thrilled to let her lead me around by the elbow like her elderly aunt. That is if her elderly aunt can walk 10 miles per hour because I’m pretty sure that’s how fast we walked.
Nina has researched everything on the internet and read endless travel blogs to find the best things for us to do. It’s like having a personal tour guide, I couldn’t do better if I tried. And I wouldn’t because while I am a control freak about most things in my life, I don’t like planning vacations.
The next day we went to a hammam to experience a bath house. We were completely out of our element with little to no explanation about how it worked AND having the handicap of not speaking nearly enough French.
Nina was pretty pissed that out of all the blogs she read about going to this particular hammam (and by that I mean all the blogs ever written about this particular hammam) not one of them listed some important details such as:
You have to bring your own towel … and soap … and washcloth …
No biggie, I’ll just air dry on the vinyl cushion and the scrub lady can use the community washcloth on me. And Nina. And everyone. There is definitely a reason Nina opted to go first.
Me? I don’t really care. I have kids so communal bath house germs ain’t got nothing on motherhood.
Insert Nina saying And that’s why I don’t want kids.
But it was such a cultural experience and after the gommage (brusque rub down with salt) and then a very oily oil “massage” (because it didn’t resemble the pummeling that we are used to in Boulder) we felt pink and soft.
It’s going to be a stretch to pretend that my gym’s locker room is anything like lounging under ancient and magnificently faded plaster dome, surrounded by tile and stained glass, but I’ll try.
I got a good cackle out of watching an overweight woman in wet see-through pants and a bra hose Nina down with cold water and proceed to get ALL UP IN HER BUSINESS as she exfoliated her breasts. And butt crack. And vagina. With the communal washcloth.
Seriously, her knuckles were turning white as she held on for dear life. Like I said, I have kids so I am used to an extreme lack of personal space.
We got off our throbbing feet in the evenings and saw the Moulin Rouge one night (meh) and Crazy Horse (HOLY FUCKING WOW!)
We ate duck, pigeon, lamb, and paté. I enjoyed wonderful pastas and desserts. I drank gallons of wine.
I’m not going to show you the pictures of the food I ate but believe me when I say that it was all wonderful.
Then it was time for the Airbnb convention. Nina did her own thing while I attended the conference and then we met for dinner.
It was my first convention (except for Pole Expo) and probably my last. Let’s just say I’m not a team player and I have a hard time not being cynical about rah-rah events.
AND I was more than a little put out by the fact that I was in Paris, BIRTHPLACE OF BREAD (I’m not 100% sure of that but you get my gist) and they insisted on having all the lunches be gluten free.
OK, so here’s something else that Boulder does better: gluten free bread, which I couldn’t give a shit about.
I, for one, would never touch the stuff of my own free will but given that I was forced to eat it because we must always cater to the minority when it comes to gluten for some dumbass reason, I was ticked. And I’m pretty sure the French don’t really try to make good GF bread because why? This shit tasted like wax.
I know, I know. Either they have to listen to me whine or listen to the gluten intolerant. I save my whining for passive aggressive forums such as obscure blogs no one reads whereas glutards aren’t quite so apt to roll over so I guess they chose the lesser of two evils.
AS IF THERE WAS ANYTHING LESS EVIL THAN GLUTEN FREE BREAD IN PARIS!
Ok. I’m done.
Then it was my birthday and you know what happened. And even though that happened and everyone has been so nice to send condolences to me being over here during this time, I had a wonderful time. I love Paris. I love Chute. My heart breaks for Parisians and the rest of the world that is suffering violence. I want to come back as soon as I can.
Now I have to pack up my computer without editing this post, stuff my bag full of pastries and get off to the airport. Wish me luck with my voyage home. I can’t wait to see my family.Thank you Tabby, Vikki and Mike for your hospitality.
Thank you Nina for being my guide and my friend. Paris would not have been the same without you.
Thank you dad and MaryAnn for helping make this trip happen.