Oh how I was swept up in the Parisian romantic cliché, it literally took a minute of seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkling against the dark night for me to get goose bumps and fall madly in love. It’s undeniable that this city of lights is everything it is said to be, if you allow yourself to see it. As with all big cities, there are many cracks around the edges, downfalls and negative points that to a tourist or traveller who isn’t willing to embrace the large picture it could ruin the experience. Yet, I promise to those who want to see the magic, it is sizzling and alive in this wondrous city. It resonates from the stroll of a beautiful French lady to the down and out artist haggling over his water colours. Even the wrought iron balconies patterning the buildings seem charged with a beautiful glow.
Paris made me want to stay. To write tortured short stories and poetry that delved deep down into my psyche to that place where all kinds of crazy lurks within us and maybe shouldn’t be disrupted from its hiding place. Not to mention food. I joked with one of the guys on Topdeck that I could stay in Paris forever, just eating and lounging around the street. Fat and happy, a blissful existence.
Of course, I did not get to stay in Paris. Yet, like it is with most cities, once you have lived there either the short term tourist illusion breaks or you fall into a deeper totally committed, “I want to propose” kind of devotion. Perhaps one day I will get to discover which way the dice would roll when it comes to living in this city. I imagine, “ability to speak French” is possibly the deal breaker on it being good or bad, but who knows!
Our Topdeck group had a rocky start to Paris, we were staying on the second to last Metro stop and the quality of the area reflected this distance from the city centre. Being taken to a local restaurant across the road from our accommodation and forced to down escargot dimmed the mood further. I genuinely do not care that all you taste is garlic and butter, never again will I touch the stuff. A delicacy the French can keep. Our main consisted of a miscellaneous stewed meat on top of macaroni and cheese. Not even going to approach that one.
The core issue found with the Parisian ghetto that was to be our temporary home for the entire 48 hours we occupied the city, were the many local drunks and homeless people scattered through the streets blasting cat calls at all of the girls. Treatment for this problem – keep your vigilance up if you do actually feel nervous. Instinct and alertness can help anyone rationally analyse a situation to see if there is danger involved. I can affirm that I do not believe any of us were in danger, beyond of course, the threat of pick pocketing in the station, but this is rampant in Paris from the dirtiest murkiest back alleys to the pristine Champs-Élysées.
The next day, Jess and I assembled a group of keen tourists from our Topdeck to stomp our way through Paris hitting up the top spots. We set out early on the Metro to the Louvre, trying to get in before peak rush hour (all opening hours save the first). A trick to skip the massive queue is never ever, I repeat, never, if you value any desire to not have to wait in endless queues (New Yorkers ignore this, I know you thrive for a good line so please proceed as normal) – please follow these instructions. If you walk past the pyramid, there will be an entrance with a large archway, keep walking through this until you emerge on the other side of the street. Look to your left and you will see perhaps 10m along the building, a red door. Go through here. I promise you will be saved hours of wait time by taking one of the back entrances into this museum.
Once inside, please do everybody a favour and don’t run to the Mona Lisa. The mob inside that room is ruthless. You need practice with crowds for other popular pieces such as the Venus di Milo before taking on feral tourists trying to get to the front for their snapshot. Believe me when I say, it is not pretty. They take no prisoners in there. Good luck.
Our morning then took us to the Lock Bridge and Notre Dame after strolling along the River Seine checking out the stalls filled with vintage books and street art. Looping back around to the Tuileries we grabbed a quick baguette roll from one of the vendors in the park. Chicken, lettuce, tomato and a mustard that was sent on express mail from heaven. This unassuming roll, of which I had no expectations, is now in my Top 5 most memorable meals I had in Europe. Biggest regret – Jess and I shared one and I didn’t go back to get another. Come what may, I promise that I will return to Paris and seek out more of those succulent sandwiches.
After strolling up the length of the Champs-Élysées, we made a quick detour into the world famous Laduree, where I selected a box full of macarons to sample. The flavour power packed into those macarons was truly exceptional and I was very pleased to see that this had not been over-hyped. Reaching the famous Arc de Triomphe, we decided to climb to the top for the gorgeous bird’s eye view of Paris including of course, an exceptional vantage point to include the Eiffel Tower in your panoramic sweep snapshot.
Re-joining the Topdeck gang in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for a dinnertime picnic, we were soon throwing on some eyeliner and lipstick to try disguise a day of sweaty tourist activities in the summer heat and being escorted to a cabaret show. The cabaret that we were taken to is one called Paradis Latin. It is one of the less expensive ones, compared to say, the Moulin Rouge, but in this case we can refer back to the old saying, “Penny wise, pound foolish”. Actually, don’t, because I genuinely have no idea what that means, even when I google it for clarity, I still think it’s a ridiculous idiom. I digress.
I struggled to find this cabaret entertaining in a way that it should have been. Nudity is never a big deal in any way, but what I found to be laughable were the scenes and skits that had been set up in order to showcase their dancing. Scenes of girls dancing in towels in a gym locker room before being transformed into leather wearing biker chicks gyrating all over a motorcycle was utterly nonsensical. I felt as though instead of a cabaret, I’d stumbled upon a sexier version of a Samuel Beckett play. Absurdity is the word for what Paradis Latin brings to the table. I’d perhaps pay half the price to witness the comedy and chaotic hell break loose on stage, but not 55 euros. When your headlining act is a man on a unicycle with supernatural abilities to balance things on his face, it is a little concerning 110 euros is worth it for the Moulin Rouge where you are guaranteed the elaborate costumes, the big spectacle and just as much boob if that’s what you’re there for. Topdeck offers an alternative evening excursion on this which is an evening cruise along the Seine and it is 8 euros. Go for that. Otherwise, when in Paris, splash out and see the Moulin Rouge. I believe there are even better and grander cabarets to watch, but hey, if you’re going to be a cliché in Paris, why not add visiting that sexy little red windmill to your check list. Just think back to Nicole Kidman dying of TB and singing Elton John songs to Ewan McGregor and all the magic stardust will blind your eyes as you blow a smoke ring from your cigarette and whisper, “Paris, J’Adore!”*
*Despite my year of learning French at age 13 where I was even told by the teacher that I, “had potential, but was bringing the rest of the class down due to my erratic and attention seeking behaviour”, I know nothing of the language. My knowledge is only that which has been drilled into me through years and years of popular culture. Madam S, so sorry to have let you down. Please forgive me, merci!