Eighteen Hours in Paris

The sharp sound of the alarm on her phone startled her awake. She immediately sat up in bed and hit her head on the wooden bunk above her, producing a dull thump noise and a small egg shaped lump near her left temple. She silently mouthed every expletive she could think of. There wasn’t any need to splash cold water on her face after that; she was wide awake.

Grimacing, she swiftly turned the alarm off so not to disturb the others around her. She silently stood up, grabbed the clothes she had folded at the end of her bed the night before and tip toed past the snoring bodies of strangers to make her way out of the room and to the communal bathroom where she got dressed.

She’d been given a hot tip and was up early to investigate.

It was just past 8am when she exited the Hostel on Rue de Dunkerque, which was situated in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris and was a stone’s throw away from Gare du Nord, the city’s main train station.

She made her way over to Rue de Rochechouart and followed it south until she hit Rue la Fayette where she took a right. For the next ten minutes she enjoyed absorbing the sight of the Parisian apartment buildings that lined either side of her as she leisurely walked. They were almost identical to each other; six stories tall, cream or beige in colour, had dark tiled roofs and matching black iron wrought balconies. The only things that distinguished them from one another were the different shop fronts on the ground floors and the occasional scatter of greenery on the balconies above.

For a Friday, the streets were peculiarly quiet. However, when she finally arrived at the front of the clothing store she discovered eighty people already camped out, eagerly awaiting the chance to see just a glimpse of one of the world’s most famous people.

She wasn’t really into the whole celebrity spotting thing, but a friend from back home who knew where she was had alerted her about the potential sighting. It was something different, she was a bit of a sports nut and he was a big name, so she decided to scope it out.

As she waited, the skies grew ominous, the wind picked up and she became impatient. He was running late and the heavens were going to open up at any moment. She was just about to leave when a black SUV pulled up and everyone started losing their minds.

The car door opened.

Not a strand of his perfectly coiffed hair was moved by the wind. His red cashmere sweater clung tightly to his lean, but muscular physique, with the sleeves rolled up exposing his body art. He was smaller in real life than she had imagined, but he was also much more attractive than on TV.

When the crowd began shouting his name in high pitched unison he flashed them his million dollar pearly whites and started greeting everyone individually, stopping every once in a while to take photos, all the while six burly, intimidating men, dressed in black suits lurked in the background.

Amidst the screaming she became increasingly uncomfortable with the situation she had placed herself in. By the second she felt like she was contributing to the idolisation of celebrities. She couldn’t stand it any longer, so she turned and left, just as quickly as he arrived and just as the sky started spitting down on her.

Caffeine and shelter became her next priority.

On her brisk walk back towards the direction of the Hostel she stopped at an empty café where she was received by a beautiful French man. He looked around her age, had short curly light brown hair and sported thick, black, round rimmed glasses. He was wearing black pants, a plain white t- shirt and a denim apron over it. He was very hospitable towards her and had the rare ability to smile with his eyes.

She had studied French in primary school for a few years and she had actually been really good at it for a time, but unfortunately growing up in Australia there was no one to practice it with and most of her knowledge of the beautiful language had faded away.

“Bonjour! Un s’il vous plait!” she said with zero confidence and holding up a single finger.

“American?” he asked in perfect English, but still tinted in a mild sexy French accent.

“No, Australian. Sorry, my French is terrible” she scrunched up her face in embarrassment as her cheeks flushed pink.

“That’s ok” he smiled cordially and sat her at the corner table next to the window.

She ordered a cappuccino and an omelette and pulled out a copy of The Silmarillion from her handbag.

By then the rain had started coming down hard, so she made herself cosy in the corner of the quaint cafe. She was too engrossed in the history of Tolkien’s Elves and the best omelette of her life to notice the elderly couple being seated two tables down from her. That was, until she heard them speak. Her head in one swift movement turned like a laughing clown’s head at a carnival, mouth gaping open and all. Not only were they Australian, but she could hear they were Perthians just like herself.

She politely interrupted them when there was a break in their playful bickering over whose turn it was to smuggle the flask out of their bag and pour the whiskey into their pending coffee. They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary by endeavoring on a Contiki tour of Europe for seniors. She didn’t even know that was such a thing. She couldn’t begin to imagine what kinds of debauchery elderly people got up to on a tour like that.

Lots of lube she thought to herself with a sly.

They were officially her idols. She slid over to the table between her and them and they chatted for almost two hours about home, how great French food was, their travels across the continent and the football team they all supported back home, which of course took up most of the conversation. The couple even shouted her a nip of their whiskey in her second cappuccino, all the while the cute waiter with glasses looked on amused and polishing cutlery.

She said goodbye to her newly adopted grandparents and the waiter and headed towards the metro where she thought she had stumbled into a 1980’s film noir set and was in the very least going to be stabbed. How could something so beautiful like the city of Paris, harbour something so dark and sinister beneath it. After riding the train for thirty minutes, constantly looking over her shoulder it suddenly emerged from underground and she was momentarily blinded by the daylight. It had briefly stopped raining and she nudged closer to a happier place.

On one hand, it was a good thing Disney Land had been rained out because it made the queues for attractions significantly shorter, however, on the other, it had also quite literally dampened the vibe of the theme park.

She lined up with a school group to ride Crush’s Coaster, braved Phantom Manor alone, took a SFX train tour and cried during a screening on the creation of Disney animation when it showed famous dying scenes. Nearly twenty years had passed, but she was still unable to get over the death of Mufasa.

Unfortunately, due to the earlier rain, most rides were shut, so her visit was shorter than she had liked and she traveled back to the hostel.

She changed her attire, freshened up, switched from flats to heels and went back to a small hidden bar she had stumbled across and had lunch at in Montmartre the day before. She had met the owner; a young hip Parisian who spruiked the fact it was a busy watering hole for locals on Friday nights and she should come back to experience it.

The diminutive bar, with a legal capacity for probably only thirty people was absolutely heaving. She had to physically squeeze inside and rub shoulders with eight different people just to get to the bar counter. There she saw the owner working again and he beamed at the sight of her return. He shouted her a Picon Bière; a super alcoholic pint of beer with a shot of orange bitters in it to get her started.

By her second pint a stool magically became free at the end of the bar, so in a flash she perched herself on it and from there, people watched. She noticed there was nothing particularly unique about the interior or drink specials or music, but she could see people flocked to the hole in the wall for the service. Everyone including the staff seemed to know everyone else and before long she had made friends with half the room as well. It felt more like a house party than a bar.

As the evening went on the owner discovered she was also a bartender, so dragged her around the counter and made her pour vodka shots for every single person. The music was shut off for a moment and the entire bar was ordered to raise their glass to the tourist getting them drunk. By then, she too was wasted, and thought it would be entertaining if she also performed some flaring for her new friends with a bottle of Grey Goose. The problem was she didn’t actually know how to. Luckily, before the bottle hit the floor, shattering into a million pieces, one of the staff was sober, nearby and had the reflexes of former Australian cricket wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist.

She had unknowingly made an impression on a French Fabio clearly going through a mid-life crisis. He invited her to replace the sulky young woman standing next to him and accompany him to the Moulin Rouge the following night. She politely declined his offer before ducking into the crowd to escape him.

All of a sudden a French song everybody seemed to know began to play, prompting the room to sing in tenacious unison. A brunette woman with a pixie haircut led the singing after climbing on top of a table with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, a wine bottle in one hand and an actual baguette in the other. Where the fuck she got it from she had no idea. When the song was over the same woman began chanting “Viva La France” and fist pumping the baguette in the air.

She didn’t know the words or meaning of the song, or the chant for that matter, but she got the distinct feeling it was the French version of Khe Sahn and the woman she watched was very excited about it.

It was around 2am when she trekked back to the hostel bare foot. By that stage she was so drunk she felt like she was walking on a slant most of the way.  The same unfamiliar bodies were once again asleep, as if they never woke or left the room for the entire day. It was pitch dark so she felt her way to her bed by running her hands along the furniture. She stubbed her toe on a bed post in the process and once again had to suppress her pain and verbal response. She threw herself into bed and was out cold in an instant.

Paris was equally beautiful and exhausting, but one thing was undeniable; she had fallen a little bit in love with the city of love.