Visiting Rouen on a Friday night was pretty fun, and a lot less hectic than where I otherwise would have been. Saturday afternoon in Paris was exactly my speed, however. I had made plans to meet up with a friend from high school, with whom I’ve become closer since we both found ourselves playing cabaret and Balkan music as adults. I had suggested we meet out front of a chain coffee shop in the station, so of course we waited at two separate ones. Finally, we found each other and headed out for lunch. Shortly after we started on our way, we walked past a lingerie store and immediately got drawn in. It had been years since we’d hung out, yet there we were ignoring each other in the interest of lingerie – which we agreed was a testament to the lasting bonds of friendship. I bought a very inexpensive but excessively frilly bra, feeling unreasonably psyched about finally having lingerie from Paris. At this point, we were both very hungry and stopped into a tapas place she liked, where she treated me to lunch and sangria, finishing with shot glasses of espresso and dessert samples. There was a lot to catch up on, so we took a long walk towards the hip part of town, stopping for more espresso on the sidewalk.
My friend finally left me at an outdoor market full of mostly antiques, which was on the way to the neighborhood with all the cool bars. I had some vague plans to meet up with my German friend, but had a feeling I would probably make a new one by the time I got out of the market. I talked to a guy I thought I might know, but he turned out to be from New Zealand. Another guy heard us speaking English and joined in the conversation, and wound up accompanying me around the market. It didn’t hurt that he had bags full of artisanal sausages and Turkish delight… indeed, a stranger with candy. It turned out that he was an American who had moved there to work for a French video game design company, and we spent a while hanging out on a park bench watching hipsters play bocci ball and drink beers, discussing geek culture. Somehow, I wound up being taken to a Cuban place for fancy happy hour cocktails and appetizers. I also discovered Orangina and red wine, although it was an early night for me. My German friend had invited me to see a punk show at a squat, but after a straight month of doing that every night, this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my Saturday.
At this point, my belongings were spread around Paris between two friends’ places and what I carried on my back. My friend from high school had offered to take my sax to her place, but four locations seemed even more daunting. The new clothing and underwear I had bought in the last couple of days came in handy indeed. I managed to make it to the hotel on the other side of the city just in time to meet my friend before he left and grab my smaller bag. He was meeting his co-workers to do a bit of sightseeing, and via their cabs and some walking, I made my way back to my French friend’s apartment near the Eiffel Tower.
I convinced the cafe on the corner to let me call my friend on their phone and he let me into the old courtyard building where he lives. When I walked in, he was listening to WWOZ, streaming live from New Orleans on the internet. We finished his bottle of wine and had a lovely and relaxing bit of afternoon, finally getting tempted outside by the gorgeous weather. We took a long walk down to the Seine, where we met my hilarious Croatian squatter friend (who teases me about reading my blog; hello there) at Shakespeare and Company. That’s something I’ve never done which has always been on my radar, work at the bookstore for a nook in which to sleep. We didn’t have a lot of time to hang out, as he was trying to get into a concert that night, but he bought me a falafel and we hung out by the water for a little while. I had met him on our previous European tour, but he hadn’t made it to any of our shows this time. He emailed me randomly after tour ended, so when I wrote back I asked if he was in Paris, since he is also a traveler and could be anywhere at any given time. Sure enough, he was.
We parted ways at the subway, and I followed the sights and sounds of what appeared to be a rock show up the street, soon discovering that it was in fact a massive sound parade traveling down the street. The event was called Solidarite Sida and consisted of a number of stages rolling along with different bands playing for the spectators and the clusters of crowds who walked alongside. Alas, I had missed La Rue Ketanou earlier that afternoon. I followed the stages for a little while, practically retracing my tourism steps from earlier that day, when the Germans and I had walked through the courtyard of the Louvre, taking the obligatory photographs. Now, though, everyone walked past it on the street as though it was nothing too special. From the back, though, it does blend into the streets more than I had expected. Suddenly, the music was over and the crowds thickened as the rest of the revelers caught up to the stopped parade. I was on the wrong side of the street from where I need to be and got stuck in what was essentially the worst mosh pit ever. Fences went up and pushed everyone together, it was pretty awful and more similar to a protest than anything else I’ve ever seen. In Paris, though, even the riot cops are more fashionable than the Americans. Finally, the crowd was allowed back onto the street, and I hurried back to Notre Dame to meet my friend.
My friend from high school had suggested having a picnic dinner by the canal, and sure enough she met me at the cathedral with a bag of food and wine. We strolled over to the canal and found a nice bench and spent a long while there talking and eating. She had made incredible quiche and peanut butter chocolate cookies, plus we polished off a bottle of red wine. It felt like the perfect thing to do in Paris. I remembered my picnic under the Eiffel Tower after the Velorution, on my last lengthy stay in that city a couple years ago. After we finished, I walked her to her adorable attic apartment, which is randomly in the red light district, where I finally got to meet her boyfriend. She then showed me the way to the opera house, on whose steps I was supposed to meet my Croatian friend. She surprised both of us with her knowledge of the language. He was staying at a large squat just outside of Paris which I was curious to see, so again I stayed somewhere different for one night. After a subway ride and quite a bit of walking, we reached a rather nondescript-looking building. While we waited to be let in, we shared a Belgian beer on the steps. I was Orkestar Ziveli posters everywhere and later found out that this is where they rehearse.
The squat was far larger on the inside than it seemed from the street, which was lined with quite average-looking houses. After meeting some of the residents, who were gathered in the kitchen, I got a tour of the different floors of the building. It was vast, with a rehearsal space, free box area, large yet cozy common kitchen, various rooms and guest areas, and who knows what else. We wound up sleeping in the nicer of the two options, as the large sleeping room was full of folks who had just come off of the wine grape harvest. In the morning, I awoke feeling splendid, realizing how much better this felt than any of the fancier homes I had woken up in over the past several days.
My friend was trying to get an early start on hitchhiking to Barcelona for a festival, while I was planning to spend some of the afternoon wandering around Paris. Of course, despite only slightly sleeping in, we both got wrapped up in the leisurely morning routine common to communal living. We had coffee with the folks upstairs, he made couscous in the kitchen for breakfast, we headed to the spacious rooftop garden patio and had more strong espresso, then moved onto the infinite supply of dumpstered peaces, pears, and avocados. I met a lot of really cool people and spent a lot of time talking with the Italians who lived there. They were quite disappointed that I was only staying one night, insisting that they needed an English coach in the house. I will just have to visit them again next time, I suppose. I would certainly like to meet their resident Balkan brass band.
As we were getting ready to leave, I met a French guy who was staying there momentarily. He had seemed sad all morning, so I insisted that he come with me on an adventure. I had given up on making it up to Montmartre during this trip, but he had never see the other squat I was headed to, so we made a plan. We accompanied my Croatian friend onto the subway, then split ways with him as we headed to Pere Lachaise, a beautiful old cemetery on the way to our destination. Since we were there, we checked out Jim Morrison’s grave, at which point the security guards made us throw out our beer. I suppose one shouldn’t be drinking a beer in a cemetery in the middle of the afternoon, even if it is France and one is visiting a rockstar’s grave. We crossed the entire cemetery, finishing up at the Holocaust memorials. Somber, we headed back out into the bustling city.
After a stop at a supermarche for supplies, including a giant bottle of vile black Orangina which I soon abandoned, we headed for Le Miroiterie, a long-lasting squat which is soon going to close. When I had been invited to a show there a couple of nights before, I hadn’t realized that it was the same place where my band had played in Paris before I joined. This had made me extra keen to check it out. We weren’t sure that anyone would be there, but we decided to try anyway. Sure enough, the gates were open, and we soon found some folks to chat with. Once I told them I was in World/Inferno, we got into a lengthy discussion over beers and a tub of licorice. The stage is decently sized but the room is otherwise small. Between getting lost repeatedly, lacking a phone, not finding wifi, and getting distracted, I found myself on the brink of standing up my high school friend, who I was supposed to help shop for a touring bike that evening. Via email, we finally decided it was too crazy to meet up that night and made a raincheck for whenever we wind up in the same city again.
My new French friend and I had meanwhile wound up at some sort of jazz bar, where we drank Cuban liquor with the friendly staff and patrons. It was a Sunday evening, so the scene was very relaxed. We then set out on a long walk towards where I stayed, hit a far too hip yet alright bar that had Chimay on tap, then grabbed tepid food at an Asian takeout place. It was a fun adventure on my last night in town. Sometimes hanging out with a total stranger is the ideal way to leave a city; goodbyes are much easier this way. Eventually, he had to head back to the squat before folks there fell asleep, so I set out on a six kilometer walk to where I was staying. It was too beautiful of a night to take the subway. I happened to pass the bar which I had visited when I first arrived in Paris, and my phone still remembered the wifi code, so I stood around outside for a bit. Eventually, I was rewarded with the sight of Notre Dame at night. An Italian man asked me to light his cigarette, eventually admitting that it was simply a way to get to talk to me. I confided that I don’t even smoke, so the only reason I carry the lighter is to have another way to meet new people. I then realized he thought I was hitting on him, so I excused myself and continued walking. I arrived back at the apartment just as it began to rain.
In the morning, my friend and I woke up wearily and headed out to our respective paths for the day. He rode part of the way with me on the subway, then headed to work. The train was a very easy way to get to the airport. I arrived with just enough time for my flight to buy a bottle of duty-free calvados from Normandy for my mother. On the plane ride home, I chatted at length with the Lebanese model sitting beside me, who also believes in optimistically summoning your own future reality. Still not sleepy, I watched a major film which features one of the Broadway kids I have nannied. After this and a particularly dinner-like lunch, I set about building this post, which I inevitably didn’t finish. I managed not to sleep the entire flight, which boded well for avoiding massive jetlag.
Once I arrived in Chicago, I took the subway down to my old high school to meet up with my mother, who teaches there. It was the perfect sort of homecoming. That night, we ordered in Thai food and had a relaxing early night. The next day, she had to work, so I did laundry and began to repack my bags. Despite being in Chicago for only 48 hours, I found myself comforted by tour routines like working on my blog. In some ways, this brief piece of home in such a length of travel was more than I could process and every moment seemed like something I was supposed to be treasuring. Meanwhile, I was supposed to be unpacking for tour while simultaneously packing for the next. Having a phone again after a month was fairly distracting as well, although I limited myself to texting. Somehow, even with a long dinner with my uncle, plus showing them both all of my photos from the trip, I got myself packed by the next afternoon. It had been wonderful to not leave the building the whole time I was home, only going downstairs to do laundry or to hang out with my friends who live on the bottom floor. Forty-eight hours later, I was getting dropped off back at O’Hare airport and heading to Boston.