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Monday, January 15, 2007

LET'S NOT TALK ABOUT PARIS

Daphne Unfeasible, my much-loved agent, and I go way back. And we have an agreement. We don’t talk about Paris. Even when French rights were sold for my books, we still won’t talk about Paris. We just kind of skip over the subject. There is a reason for this.

Daphne and I knew each other somewhat in college, but not incredibly well. We were both in the same theater group, but never worked on the same shows. Also, Daphne worked at the information booth in the studio union, so she was on display a lot. One day, we happened to be at the fast food place in the studio union at the same time, and we had lunch together. The following conversation ensued:

DAPHNE: So, what are you doing this summer?

ME: I’m going to go to London and work. Don’t ask me where, or doing what.

DAPHNE: Me too! Want to live together?

ME: Okay!

And that was that. What followed were apartments in London and New York, incalculable hijninx, and eventually, Daphne becoming my stupendous agent.

But first things first. We went to England.

I arrived in London two weeks before Daphne, and in those two weeks, I was generally living in the worst conditions I have ever had the misfortune to experience. Daphne’s arrival brought much joy—along with better weather, and the sudden availability of a good apartment.

I worked two jobs. I was a waitress during the day at an upscale lunch place in the City, and a bartender by night. Daphne found work in the office of one of the major London theaters, which was currently the venue for THE hot show of the summer.

And we were broke. So, so, so, so broke. Whatever money we had brought along from America had quickly vanished—and our new English money was taking time to process. There were forms that needed to be filled out, special clearances needed (because we were foreign), processing time needed at banks. The result was that for at least a week or two, Daphne and I lived on the tips I brought in from the restaurant and the pub. Quite literally, we lived on change. There is a written record of the day we found a pound coin in the sofa. That is the level we had gotten to.

We ate a lot of cereal (specially, Honey Nut Cheerios, called Loops in England). For fun, we either watched TV, sat in the hallway trying to get glimpses of the mysterious guy who lived in the other room of the apartment and rarely came out, or went and stood in the wings of the show at Daphne’s work. On the nights that I worked at the pub, Daphne came there.

But then, one fine day, our checks started to come through. They definitely didn’t amount to much, but it was enough that we didn’t have to have cereal every single night. We had a Pizza Hut feast and discussed our options. We were, after all, in EUROPE! We could travel! And so we decided, one Wednesday night, that we would go to Paris that weekend.

That we could make this kind of decision amazed us. Just go to Paris! Just like that! It was only a few hours away.

All of the planning was done on Thursday. We would maximize the weekend, we decided—while taking advantage of the cheapest travel times. That meant we would take a coach from London to Dover at 11 PM Friday night, to catch at 2 AM ferry across the channel. We would arrive on French shores right before dawn. From there, we identified a train that would take us right to Paris. We would be there just as the city was waking.

As for sleep, we figured it would happen on the various coaches, ferries, and trains. We would have one full day in Paris, returning on Sunday afternoon.

At work on Friday, Daphne booked all of the necessary arrangements. We met at our apartment on Friday evening, ate our Loops, and packed our small bags. To save money, we had purchased a small amount of food to take with us. We liked that. We would be taking English food to France. Hilarious, we thought. Then we tried to nap for a little while, but it was useless. We were way too excited. We were going to PARIS!

Around nine thirty, we gave up on sleep and headed out to the coach station across town, getting there in plenty of time. Daphne went up to the window to get our pre-paid tickets. The coach was right there, ready to go. I smiled. We were clever travelers, I thought to myself.

Then I noticed that Daphne seemed to be in some distress at the ticket window.

“But I spoke to someone,” she said. “It’s already paid.”

“Sorry, love,” the ticket seller was saying. “I have no record of it.”

Funnily enough, all record of Daphne’s ticket transaction had mysteriously disappeared. Daphne begged and pleaded for them to search. I stood outside and put my hand on the coach, as if that would prevent it from leaving.

It departed one minute before Daphne came running out with our tickets, which had just been found.

We marched back inside. The ticket window was now closing for the night. No refund could be offered they explained, not until Monday morning. But if we ran, very, very fast, we could catch the train leaving from Victoria train station in fifteen minutes time.

So we ran out into the balmy London night and down the street to the train station, where we missed the last Dover train by three minutes. The next train was at five in the morning.

Daphne and I would not give up. We figured it was senseless to go home. We would only want to sleep, and then we would never wake up on time to get back and make the train. The only solution was to stay awake.

“Let’s just go to the middle of town,” I said.

There were some policemen standing outside the station. We asked them if the night bus ran all night. The policeman openly laughed at us before directing us to “the little man in the box” who could help us. We did not like the sound of directions that seemed to have been taken directly from The Phantom Tollbooth, plus we were tired and already out of a lot of money and opportunity. And when we did find the box, the little man was gone.

“They are mocking us for being American,” I said bitterly.

That night, we wandered London. There are photos of me drinking warm wine (from our food supply) on Trafalgar Square at 2 AM. By three, we were throwing Pringles into the Thames.

By four, we were just tired. We returned to the station to find that it was locked for its nightly cleaning. We could barely stand, but we had nowhere to go. There were new policemen guarding the entrance. I don’t precisely remember what I said—but I distinctly remember lying to these policemen in order to gain admittance. We slumped on the floor in the corner. There were a few other stragglers in there, including two clearly insane people who taught us their favorite game—throwing trash at pigeons.

“This is not how I imagined it,” Daphne said, struggling to keep her eyes open.

“It’s going to be great!” I said, leaving wearily though the Paris guidebook I had purchased (a major purchase, as a matter of fact).


After a very cold train ride, we stepped out at Dover. Daphne pointed toward the famous chalk-white cliffs. Normally, we would have greeted this sight with great enthusiasm, but we just weren’t feeling it.

“There are the white cliffs of Dover,” she said unenthusiastically.

“@#$#&*^$* the cliffs,” I said.

It was a cool, grey morning as we passed over the English channel. We arrived on French shores just as the morning was really starting. We punished an unsuspecting ticket agent with our terrible French, asking for two tickets to Paris. We were summarily informed (in perfect English) that we had missed all of the good morning trains. The next one of the type we wanted left at ONE O’CLOCK, getting us into Paris at FOUR.

This did not work with our “one day in Paris” plans very well.

The only alternative, we were told, was the fast train. That was leaving in 45 minutes. It would get us to Paris by noon. It was also four times more than what we were planning to spend.

We scrapped together whatever monies we had and bought the tickets.

The fast train was fast, and it deposited us in the center of Paris as promised. I had dressed warmly for the Scarlet Pimpernelesque night crossing, only to find that we had arrived during a blazingly hot Paris afternoon, and I almost fainted immediately from heatstroke and lack of sleep and food.

Also, we arrived in the middle of a gay pride parade, and were accidentally shuffled off the sidewalk and into the rainbow-colored fray. This is something I would have normally have liked, had I not been sleepless, wearing a turtleneck, and profoundly confused.

Using my guidebook, we then set out on foot to a number of promising Parisian hostels that I had noted. They were all gorgeous, fun, cheap, and completely full.

By three in the afternoon, we weren’t having fun anymore. We were running on fumes and badly in need of food, showers, and rest. We had eaten all of the English food and had no French money yet to buy more.

Mercifully, we found a hostel around three that had two empty beds. It was a massive, airy place—some kind of old school or public building. We were given keys to a Spartan, yet very clean room. We spoke to our new English roommate who told us that she had abruptly left home six months before, and hadn’t managed to get back since. She lounged in her bunk and read.

Once we had showed, we headed out. We sat by a fountain at the Centre George Pompidou. We walked along the side of the Louvre, which, we decided, was extremely, extremely, extremely big. But we were too tired to try to go in, and there wasn’t much time left for admission anyway.

The Eiffel Tower winked far in the distance. We blinked at it.

“There’s the Eiffel Tower,” Daphne said, yawning.

I nodded.

Then we took the Metro back to the hostel and fell asleep.

The next morning, we were woken by a loudspeaker at 7, and we were out on the street by 8. We had a few hours to see Paris, most of which we spent looking around some of the famous graveyards and pretending to be dead. Then we went to the Tuileries (a famous park), sat down on some chairs in front of a fountain, wrapped our bag straps around our ankles, and fell back asleep.

Then we went back to London.

I went back to Paris while I was working on 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and the visit didn’t go much better. I did spent two days in the Louvre, but I have still never been to the Eiffel Tower. And I watched a drunk guy steal a bottle of whiskey.

In any case, I didn’t say much about it to Daphne. She’s busy at Unfeasible Enterprises, and I am busy writing. We pretend that our schemes will all work perfectly.

But there is always Paris—the glittering symbol of everything that doesn’t work quite right, yet marches on restlessly . . . the magical lights too far in the distance, the tickets that vanish, the little man escaped from the box. That’s travel. That’s life.

I’ll bet you one thing, though: it all would have worked out if I had a stun gun. I’m just saying.

8 Comments:

Blogger Maryrose Wood said...

dear Maureen, I am touched by this sad tale, only because I love Paris so much. I am so touched that I will share with you my very favorite tip for visiting Paris. It's called: how to visit the Eiffel Tower WITHOUT WAITING ON LINE.

That's right. You heard me.

The tip is this: There is a restaurant inside the Eiffel Tower, called Altitude 95. The morning of your visit, you call and make reservations for lunch. You arrive mere moments before your reservation and go to the info kiosk, near where other people are waiting in kilometer-long lines for admittance. You announce yourselves, they call up to check your reservation, and you proceed DIRECTLY TO THE ELEVATOR.

You then have a nice lunch. And you're already inside. After lunch you can go up and down the elevators, wander about the Tower and have a great time.

Bon appetit!

xoxo
m

5:08 AM  
Blogger Little Willow said...

Quote: "@#$#&*^$* the cliffs."

This is from WUTHERING HEIGHTS, no?

6:50 AM  
Blogger Becs said...

Hehehe, stun guns. :D

Hi, by the way. I've read your blog for a while, but didn't comment till now. In fact, I didn't remember there being comments at first.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous jocelyn said...

But your misery in Paris has made so many people laugh! Myself included.

Although perhaps it's a good thing that my European trip (very exciting!! this summer!!) will be a canal boat in England and then southern Spain--no Paris :)

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Liz said...

Perhaps I shall rethink visiting Europe. Or just cut out Paris. I wonder if Amnesty International would get over their issue with stun guns if they, too, heard this story that could have been righted by the ownership of a stun gun...

1:33 AM  
Anonymous Daphne Unfeasible said...

I am not commenting on this story, because I, unlike SOME people, do not talk about Paris.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Welcome2France said...

It makes me terribly sad to hear your time in France was less than enjoyable. While in every country there are those people that can be downright rude, there are also those that strive to be friendly and helpful. I sincerely hope that someday you visit our country again and meet those of us "Parisans" who are much more welcoming.

Sophie

11:14 PM  
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