Woody Allen got it wrong. You don’t go backwards in time at Midnight in Paris, you lose it altogether, or at least you do if you spend it with an eccentric Parisian barowner, a crazy French cougar, a feisty American barista, two lovely Irish drinkers random drunk locals and their dogs named Elvis and the perfect, equally as drunk, boyfriend on the eve of marking 21 years of your life on this planet.
But we’re not there yet. Remember, I’m a creative writing student, I have to set the scene, establish character, or just use this as an excuse to tell you some pretty funny stories about the French.
So generally, the French were lovely. At the end of the day, we were two ignorant English tourists and I don’t blame any of them for getting annoyed in that very cool French detached manner that we hear so much about. In fact, I found it hilarious. The problem I have, and I’m sure may of you have, is that in a foreign country, if you make an attempt to speak the language, one of two things will happen. They will suss out immediately that you are English through lack of correct pronunciation or the union jack displayed proudly on your t shirt, and talk English straight back to you, (this is the preferred reaction, I won’t lie). The other, more scary and off putting thing that might happen is that… they will talk back to you, in French. You don’t understand French. You learnt basic French phrases, practiced them on your parents and your friends before you left, got the accent down to a tee. Would laugh in that addictive French pompous way and live off a diet of bread, coffee, cheese and cigarettes. But when they speak back at you, you suddenly realise you are not prepared for their answer and confess, guiltily, ashamedly, “Je suis Anglais! Anglais!”. Let me tell you something. They already know this. They are messing with you.
So we are running late for an Eiffel Tower tour having spend most the morning trying to find famous graves in Montparnasse. We don’t have time to work out the Metro stops, we needed to get on a carriage five minutes ago to get their in time, so we run in to the info desk and ask the clerk, “Parle vous Anglais?”
He replies, quick as a cucumber, “Non, je peine parlent même pas français.”* Dave laughs. He speaks a little French. I do not and stare at him, bemused. Eventually he says, in perfect, arrogant English, “What do you want?”
I snap back, aware again of our urgent mission, “What is the quickest way to get to the Eiffel Tower!?”
The French clerk looks at me, raises an eyebrow and says, (with a stereotypical, beautiful, excessive French accent that I can only describe akin to ‘Allo ‘Allo), “By reading.” He hands us a stack of leaflets to the left of him which are a replica of the same giant posters plastered all around the station. They clearly state, in English and several other languages, just exactly how to get straight to the Tower. We thank him, embarrassed and amused. Dave explains to me what the Frenchman said (*No, I barely speak French) and we laugh the whole way there on the metro.
Another French man, when I, less willing to speak in French asked him if he could speak English replied, “Non.” And walked away, smoking. So clearly he could then.
To me, and to Dave as well, this only added to the wonderful city that is Paris. It’s strictly French, it doesn’t even try to cater to tourists, the cars have no quibbles about nearly running you over if you’ve crossed the road on the wrong bit and the bars, restaurants and vendors will serve you what is obviously the wrong thing because you got your French mixed up, even though they know well what you meant. If you think about it, in a way, it’s very accommodating. You’re not being treated any better or worse than a French local would be. You are getting the authentic experience, and I adore this. You feel the bustle of the city. The living, brutal and yet elegant organism that is Paris. If you ask for a coffee you get an espresso, but what better thing to drink in Paris anyway? I should note as well, if you ask for a glass of red, what you’ll practically get is half a bottle squeezed into one glass too, or so was the experience we had at the bar next door to our hotel.
We were staying in the Opera district, which in my opinion, is the perfect place to be. The rates are cheap and the attractions local. It’s quaint, somewhere stuck between the handsome uniformity and symmetry of le Champs-Élysées and the higgledy piggledy bohemian splendour of Montmatre. More importantly, The Hotel Albion was amazing. the staff were fantastically helpful, the rooms were basic but clean and pretty, the shower was awesome and the view… a picture says a thousand words right?
One evening, having got back from seeing about a million tourist sights, we collapsed onto our bed and heard music playing on our street. We made mental notes, this seemed like a fun place to be and vowed to explore the district the next night. We kind of explored. That is, we got as far as the bar next door, but we needn’t go any further. Within minutes, we had met and befriended Nacim, the owner, and Colin and Robert, the two Irishmen who had failed to make it to La Rochelle, on account of getting sidetracked by drinking. A lot of drinking. Holly the bartender took a bit of warming up, but we did order food after she had closed the kitchen as well as keep her there till 3am that night (at which point, she left, whilst we all kept going in the lock in until I would say about 5am). She was from Chicago, but had lived in Virginia for years before she came to France. It was where I would be going to study in just a few weeks for an entire year. Over the next few days, she was the first person to not just ease my fears about America but also to get me excited about going.
I can’t be particular about the details of this night. For some reason they are a bit hazy in my memory. Reviews of pictures would reveal there to be a riverdance session in the middle of the street where Blanche (who drank nothing but Blanche), the sixty year old neighbor from across the road took it to prove to us all just how high her leg could go into the air and told us how her twenty something boyfriends in the past kept trying to steal her cats and Persian rugs. I remember discussing politics with Robert, who was a school teacher. There is something inherently naughty feeling in getting drunk with a school teacher. A couple of sweet French girls showed up. I also remember Dave telling Colin to pursue his dreams of being an actor… and then somehow we all ended up inside literally dancing on the bar.
The next morning we woke up, unsure as to what had happened the night before. I was still in my party dress Dave even awoke with Robert’s sunglasses on his face. We spent the day recovering at Versailles. I would suggest there is no finer place to do this. The next night, our last night, we swore we would just go to return the glasses. Robert was there and greeted us immediately with such fondess like we were old friends, but Colin was still awol so we waited till 10pm for him to show. Apparently, they had stopped out till even later than us the night before, and, having failed to book reservations for another unplanned night, had to run across the city all the way to le Musee d’Orsay where their hotel was before midday. When Colin appeared after attempting to visit Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s grave, we agreed it would be rude not to stay for a drink with him too. Before we knew it, it was 11 o Clock and so it seemed silly not to stay till midnight as that would technically mark the start of my birthday. On the stroke of midnight, Nacim comes out with the bottle of champagne, I’m presented with two shots of Jamesons and some random French passerby who we have just met also would like to buy me a drink. If that’s not accommodating, I don’t know what is.
Thank you Paris. Thank you readers.