This is another excerpt from the journal I kept when I travelled for the first time this year. I wasn’t initially going to post it, but I’ve had some positive feedback from the few people with whom I did share it, so I’ve gone ahead and made it public. This particular entry covers my first day in Paris. You can read the other entry I posted here.
Charles de Gaulles Airport is fucking hideous. To have such an uncomely slab of concrete greet you as you land in Paris, it’s no wonder that Japanese tourists are on occasion reportedly struck with a condition in which their disappointment that Paris is not seething with romance and sophistication at every turn leads them to be physically ill. This is to say nothing of the industrial wasteland that one passes through on the RER B from Charles de Gaulles to Central Paris.
The patrons boarding the train at early stops were an especially colourful assortment of characters. Not yet being in the heart of the city, I felt especially foreign among a group of locals who I’m sure were equally aware of my status as newly landed. The massive suitcase with an airport tag did nothing to really help this matter, and though I didn’t wish to give credence to stereotypes regarding pickpockets on European public transit, I held on to my wallet with extra vehemence.
It was something of a small miracle that I made it to Montparnasse. The terminal at CDG was nothing like some travel guides I read had described and I was slightly lost when it came to buying my train ticket. In addition, all the French that I had practiced prior to taking this trip suddenly escaped me, likely due to nervousness, forcing me to make my inquiries in English, which in turn inspired an internal state of raging Catholic style guilt and self-laceration. Add still to this that the Paris Metro is not exactly built on a philosophy of accesibility. As a result, I found myself dragging my fifty pound suitcase up long flights of stairs for a good part of the morning, at one point picking up and tossing the motherfucker over the turnstiles at a transfer point before putting in my ticket and going through myself.
Montparnasse is especially chaotic and laden with traffic, both human and vehicular. Gare Montparnasse itself is crawling with rushing travellers and is a pain in the ass to navigate because escalators will only get you to some floors but not others – other floors can be accessed by escalators going down from certan levels. Make sense? Didn’t think so. Through trial and tribulation and dragging around my jetlagged body – seven hour overnight flight with no sleep and a jump of six hours ahead by the time I landed – I found the lockers where luggage can be stored and rid myself of my suitcase, quite literally a load off. I then paid fifty cents to take a piss and don’t care to discuss that episode any further.
By this point, I had about two hours to kill before I met my companion and host for my time in Paris. With the task of conquering my fear of flying and getting to the center of Paris behind me, I was nonetheless exhausted and, truth be told, despondent. A series of small moments, however, would bring my journey to its true beginning, and a euphoric beginning at that.
After my fifty cent piss I walked to the back exit of the station via the platforms. In the midst of the noise I could hear a melody coming from the station’s sound system. It was familiar and eventually registered as Serge Gainsbourg’s “Sea, Sex, and Sun.”
Serge Gainsbourg, or Gainsbarre to those who love him, is one of my favourite revolutionaries, musical or otherwise. The prophet Gainsbarre (PBUH) came to us trumpeting the message that love and affection, and their sister sex, are together a human right and they are not sold to us through slogans or products or conferred upon us by societal norms that claim knowledge of what is beautiful. This homely man knew that we all exude love, want it, deserve it, and we ought to be grateful that he channeled this energy into the beautiful melodies bursting from his soul…or pants.
It was Gainsbarre and Henry Miller who inspired a brief infatuation with Paris in the ninth grade. As a poor student with no desire for what I felt was the North American understanding of succcess, and no talent or skill that teachers could discern, I became convinced that I would some day pack up and live the life of a starving and destitute artist in a city where the art was all that mattered. I won’t say that I’ve abandoned the notion altogether, but I’ve at least found contentment in my surroudnings and circumstances at home and come to understand that distance often lends enchantment and that no place is truly perfect. Nonetheless, this pipe dream from my youth seemed to be there to greet me at Gare Montparnasse.
I walked along the street behind the station, my head hanging and dizzy with jetlag. When I did look up, she was there to greet me in the distance. Though it’s such a cliched, post-card type image, my first real-life glimpse of the Iron Lady reminded me in the midst of my fatigue that I somehow made my way across the Atlantic and that everything I would see or experience here would be a “first.”
Back at the station after my walk, where I was scheduled to meet my companion, I finally managed some French when I ordered a croissant and espresso from Paul, who is apparently the Tim Horton’s of Paris. Maybe it’s the Paris talking, but it was the best fucking croissant and espresso I’ve ever had.
Suddenly I found myself in some piece of French New Wave cinema as I recollected my luggage and stood alone in the middle of the rush of Gare Montparnasse. At this precise moment, it began to rain buckets. I took my windbreaker, which had a hood, out of my backpack, swapping it for the blazer I was wearing. I stood outside under the canopy, again alone under the massive clock above the entrance of the station where I told my host I would meet her. The rain was persistent, and I was soaked, still awaiting her arrival.
There was another clock at the other end of the station’s massive entrance, perhaps she was there. I began walking, and I fucking kid you not, just like another incredibly clichéd scene out of a movie, I heard something of a yelp in front of me.
I raised my head and there she was. Not the Eiffel Tower this time, but the real reason I came to Paris. The dear friend who departed for her own Parisian adventure this past December and who I had been missing something fierce every day since. All I can remember her saying initially was, “You’re here!” I probably replied with “Yeah,” but I was ecstatic.
Now it was time to celebrate my first time travelling after five gruelling years of academics and after finally seeing my career develop positively in 2012. Now it was time to begin the adventure that was primarily financed by literally counting coins in a piggy bank that I had since childhood. Now it was time to spend ten days basking in the glory of the company of a friend who continually proved a source of strength and love. Is there any better way to experience Paris? I sincerely doubt it.