“Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”
While I was eating a flower-shaped ice cream in the Saint Paul Quarter, my mom watched Paris burning in flames on Fox News. I could see the first signs of spring, but no signs of civil unrest. In reality, 14 year olds were getting tear-gassed only a few neighborhoods away in the Republique, but for me Paris felt very peaceful.
Parisians say putain merde (which roughly translates as dirty whore) about everything: the traffic in roundabouts, the weather, metro delays, etc. An art history class at the University of France Paris Research Center brought me to the city during spring break and, in this instance, the season’s weather was proving to be putain merde. I was forced into cafes about every 10 minutes and my money slowly disappeared. Still, you can be poor and travel to Paris. While it would be nice to be independently wealthy or have a trust fund, would it really be satisfying to buy a $300 Louis Vuitton belt and a €4 café crème on Champs-Elysees?
Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell were dirt poor and living in Paris in the 1920s and ‘30s—their experiences inspiring great works such as a “Moveable Feast” and “Down and Out in Paris and London.” Hemingway lived in a shoddy apartment with no running water, and when Orwell was not running from landlords, he slept along the Seine or in homeless shelters.
I optioned to stay at Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore across from Notre Dame where Hemingway borrowed books when he was a struggling writer and also where the owner, Sylvia Beach, discovered James Joyce. If you are poor and a writer you can stay upstairs for free, provided that you help open and close the store and shelve books for two hours a day.
And while it is free, you pay a price. I slept on a foam mattress in the children’s section with sheets that probably had not been changed since before the war. There are also no shower facilities, but there is a sink and a tea-maker. There is also a smoke alarm that constantly beeps just to let you know it is on, (thank you so much, you putain merde smoke alarm), and a temperamental black cat that seeks to cuddle and bite you at the same time at the unfortunate hours of four or five in the morning.