Again on a train, second one of the day – this time riding between London and Bath. We left Paris early this morning on Eurostar and arrived in London a short while ago. When we came out of the Chunnel into the English countryside I was so happy, so relieved to again be back in England’s arms. The sun is even shining today.
What best typifies Paris is perhaps our arrival into the city. We arrived in the afternoon to gray skies into Gare Nord. We were excited to get on the subway and head to our hotel. We waited in the insanely long queue at the subway ticket machine, for whatever reason there being only two of them at this huge arrival point for foreign travelers, all of them trying to understand this ticket machine and so the line taking even longer than it might otherwise have. While waiting, young Roma girls kept coming up to us asking us to sign some piece of paper for some reason, it clear that it was a scam of some sorts, a distraction to either pickpocket you or hit you up for money. Long into our wait, tired and aggravated with heavy backpacks on our backs, we see a police officer rip up one of these girl’s stack of papers and then from every corner of the station these young vagabond children took off running, a policeman chasing them through the station.
Finally, we make it the front of the line and of course it would turn out that the machine cannot read either of our credit cards. So off we go to find an ATM. And, as we soon would learn is typical of anything that might be convenient, there was no ATM machine anywhere in the entire station. So we left the station, into a sketchy area with more Roma girls with sheets of paper asking you to sign them, men selling random knick-knacks aggressively, and wandered for several blocks in circles before coming across an ATM. We take out cash and go back to wait in another line to buy subway tickets now. Finally once we reach the front of the line, we choose to pay by cash and attempt to insert our bills only to see that there is no place to insert them. The machines only take coins. Of course they do. So we wait in another line to see an actual subway attendant. Finally we have subway tickets and hours after arriving in Paris, arrive at our hotel, which is actually insanely cute and located on the Ile de Citie on one of the oldest streets in Paris, Place Dauphine.
We drop off our stuff and wander around the city. It starts to rain. This was my experience of Paris in a nutshell. The rain lasted on and off, mainly on, until our last day in Paris. It was chilly, in the sixties, and usually cloudy. I have a list of complaints that I could name about the city, and there are many, but rather than do that, I will try to instead talk about the nice things that occurred in this city.
That same first night, we saw the interior of Notre Dame, which is stunning, saw the Eiffel Tower (found out that tickets were already sold out to go the top of it though), and went to some fun gay bars. We went to Le Souffler in the Marais and soon met a cute boy, a Marc-David, and he took us with him to an underground dance den, the Cud, where we danced and drank and made out, the three of us. We left with him, went back to his massive apartment in a beautiful old building and had sex. Once we left his apartment, we were in the completely dark hallway of his building, unable to see the staircases, the wall, anything. We broke out a lighter to guide the way, a torch through the darkness. We walked home in the rain at five in the morning, continually getting lost, consulting our map, fighting with each other, hungry, wet, sleepy. It was a lovely evening.
And there were nice moments. There were moments when I was overwhelmed by the history and the beauty that existed within this city. There were also moments, many of them, where I was incredibly frustrated the huge crowds of tourists everywhere we went, had a bit of shame about being one of these foreigners on holiday collecting these cultural tokens, wanting to be able to either see or to say that I have seen these things – Notre Dame, Versailles, the Louvre, the Mona Lisa within it, Pere Lachaise, the Eiffel Tower, Centre Pompidou, etc. I felt like for a large number of these shutter-happy tourists everywhere we went, it seemed forced, more so to say one had seen it, notches on a belt, rather than to actually see it, experience it, and be moved by the contemplation of the history and beauty present in these objects. And so of course, I began to question my own participation in this, what it was for, and what, if anything, differentiated me from this chorus of foreign voices at all of the attractions in this city.
I do know that when I went to Pere Lachaise, my heart beat insanely fast when I was in front of Proust’s grave, that I had trouble breathing, that the entire cemetery had me on the verge of tears constantly, thinking about the lives of these artists, thinking about my own life, and thinking about the nature of life in broader terms, mortality standing tall above these trees with leaves that weren’t even green, the leaves getting an early start on fall, yellow and brown. The ground perhaps not giving these trees what they want, the freshly dead, instead these men and women dead for too long, entombed in boxes anyways. Moss covered many of the graves, leaves were strewn about, and there were parts of the cemetery (away from Jim Morrison’s grave of course) that were quiet and empty and one could get really lost in thought. I waited until no else was around, kissed Proust’s grave and had a moment that was absolutely magical.
And so there were moments like this. And then there were moments when I went to Versailles and my ticket didn’t work at the train station that dropped you off nearby, that I was unaware that you had to purchase a separate ticket to get there, and the lady at the ticket window that I tried to ask for help literally jumped out of her seat and shouted at me through the glass, pointing at it, ripping down a sign in French and pressing it against the glass like that should help me understand. Were it not for the glass separating us, I believe she would have beaten me up.
We went to more gay bars, one of them with a sex club in the basement, Le Depot, which was one of the most fun bars I have ever been to. Upstairs was a full throttle dance party to R&B and hip-hop with vogueing queens on the stage, while downstairs was a labyrinth of hallways and sex booths and dark rooms. I got my dick sucked downstairs in some room, hands all around me groping me. It was the next morning when I woke up to see how much money I had spent the night before that I realized someone had emptied my wallets of all its cash, about 95 Euros, while I was getting off in the dark.
At least they didn’t take my wallet, ID, or credit cards, I thought – just my cash, which Paris was doing a good job of already. I had always been told London was so expensive, but I actually found London to be fairly affordable, whereas prices in Paris were so much more expensive. London is also filled with corner stores everywhere in which one can purchase a mixed drink in a can or a beer, which one can legally drink of the street as they are walking to go out somewhere, making going out so much more cheaper. Paris has so few little small corner stores and none in the areas where we were staying or in the neighborhoods we went out in. There are not places to get late-night post-bar drunken snacks – no pizza or doners or even shops to buy chips. So much about the city frustrated me.
Even the sex club frustrated me. We went to Sun City, which is the nicest sex club I have ever been to, the interior decorated like a harem with a mishmash of any Eastern item they could cram in there. There are statues of Krishna all about, the lockers are all painted with Hindu religious icons, and then there are also Buddha statues thrown about. It is over the top and tacky but also so amazing – the décor made me so happy. There is a huge pool to swim in, a big gym, a huge steamroom, and lots of cruising areas and sex rooms. I saw the most beautiful men I have ever seen at a sex club here. These perfect little French gym bunnies, but they just walked laps past everyone, never making eye contact, just getting off on how desired they were. I don’t know – but the place was a bit frustrating as well with regards to the lack of sex happening at a sex club.
I finally gave up on the sex aspect, having done too many cruising laps throughout the sex area, passing the same pretty boys over and over again, everyone walking around, trying to look pretty, and no one getting it on. It was a mid-20th century French play being enacted, an existential take on the loneliness of man and his absurd folly in failing to recognize that loneliness. It was a play I wanted no part of; I went down into the steam room and started to jerk off while watching a blowjob happen in the corner. This started a bit of action and soon Jacob and I were both getting sucked off and people were jerking off all around and finally sex was happening.
After orgasming, we went into the pool, swam around, did headstands, dove underneath like seals, and had a lovely time.
And so again, it’s this jumble of narratives – really nice moments occurring as well as terribly frustrating ones. I wish the balance could have been more skewed to the nice moments, but it is what it is and Paris is what it is.