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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A Vagabond's Guide to the City of Lights - Page 2

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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.

The other people staying there were young, eccentric vagabonds who were also dirt poor, but were drawn to expensive Paris for the same reasons I was: the history, the beauty and the culture. Such as Hannah, a lesbian pulp fiction writer from Sweden who was working on her first novel. She and I enjoyed the simple pleasures of Paris. We would wander around smoking rolled cigarettes and find the cheapest sandwiches and falafel. (€3 for a refillable falafel at Maoz Falafel in the Latin Quarter, and a sandwich and a drink for € 2.50.) Occasionally we would splurge and go to Les Artistas, a hip bar close by that played reggae and lounge music. We would order fresh mango juice (which equaled two falafels each), and talk about whatever crossed our minds.


Throughout my visit, I was working on a screenplay about occupied France during WWII. The image I had of myself — staying at the bookstore and writing upstairs in the reading room, looking out the window at the view of Notre Dame — was very romantic.

Here I was, a starving ex-pat writer in Paris, just like how the literary greats started out. This fantasy was quickly shattered by the fact that my head was starting to itch from not showering for five days.

My friend Tyler from Kansas said that he had not showered in a month. He had only one set of clothes and smelled like carrots. For the next six months he had €300 and was planning a trip to Amsterdam. His plan involved sneaking onto a train and then hiding in the bathroom when the conductor came around for tickets. His food would be a rationed supply of carrots and baguettes.

And then there was John, the Irishman, who had an obsession with philosophical logic, the kind that can give a normal person a headache. He would sometimes trap me on the staircase, his face wrinkled up in turmoil. “If I equals the self,” he would say, “then the self is nonexistent except in our perception of it.” He would then go on and on and on in the same manner. I just wanted to shake him and say, “Just enjoy life, you fool!”

And that was just what we did after the shop closed to customers. John would play the guitar, Hannah would sing along, and Tyler and I would listen and drink cheap red wine and eat baguettes with chocolate Nutella. In the morning John and Tyler would go to the bakery down the street for chocolate croissants and baguettes, and Hannah and I would straighten up and make tea. Then we would all have breakfast together and wait for the bell of Notre Dame, our signal that it was time to open the shop.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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