Friday, July 1, 2011

My first overseas trip: a year on- Paris

01/07/2010 From Paris to Portslade

So much has happened in such a short amount of time!
I have been to
Paris, walked the streets and seen the sights. I also met a man on the train on the way to the city of love (Paris of course!) and I am now back in Portslade (U.K.).

In my last update I had just made an emergency Sunday visit to the dentist in
Mannheim, Germany and an hour later was to catch a train Paris! At the Mannheim train station I had stood next to a handsome man, who was now sitting in second class. So I decided to brave the elements and leave the comfort and safety of 1st class to say hello. Squeezing my way through the narrow 2nd class aisles to my man, was well worth it. Not only for conversation, but, he also invited me to sit with him! He had such lovely blue eyes and a very warm smile. I forget his name, but do recall that he was German, about 40 years old, lives in Mannheim and was off to Paris on holidays. He was going to take a 2 week drama course !!! Marvelous!!! Anyway, I left him my number and email details and suggested that if he was free, that perhaps we could meet for a drink. I went back to my seat and contemplated what might lay ahead for me in Paris, the city of love...ahh…

And what did lay ahead, I hear you ask?
Dodgy areas, lots of poor and homeless people (some of them openly sleeping in the street), a man pissing in the train station passage, Africans harassing us to buy things from them, a few escalating verbal arguments, people fighting in the street, bed bugs at the hotel.. oh, and no phone call from my handsome German man. So much for the city of love…

I must say that my mate ‘M’ from
Dublin (who had come over and hung out in Berlin) was coming to meet me again! We stayed next to Gare D'lest Station, which we soon found out was in a dodgy area of town. When we took a metro train to the more affluent areas, we heaved a sigh of relief, ahhh this is the Paris we expected !!! We also didn’t expect the 30 plus degree days!!! Despite my prior comments about Paris, so many amazing things happened to me.
M and I climbed the steps to the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, dodged the Africans aggressively selling wares and took refuge from them and the heat inside the cool church. We then looked out over the
Paris skyline to decide our next step. From Montmartre we walked the streets and tasted life. Found our way to the 7th arrondissement (du Palais-Bourbon) and visited the headquarters of the Daughters of Charity (who I had done some work for back home).

M has a few friends in Paris and we met the lovely Gayle. Gayle, took us to Notre Dame, we walked the Latin Quarter and tracked down a patisserie that Loretta (from back home) had recommended- ‘Gerard Mulot’, and we had a lovely afternoon tea!!! We then walked some more, had drinks and watched people pass. On a bench behind Notre Dame I read Gayle’s Tarot card’s and afterwards we had dinner at a dodgy faux-greek restaurant in the Latin quarter.

I set off alone the next day and went to the amazing Musee D'orsay. I waited about 45 mins in the hot sun to get in, but it was well worth it!!! They had a great Vincent Van Gogh collection. I am not sure why but I felt teary in front of his self portrait. I then walked across the
Seine and through the Jardin des Tuleries, past the Obelisque and up Avenue Des Champs towards the Arc de Triomphe. I didn't get all the way, because of the heat. M and I then caught up and did so with another friend of hers- Eva at Invalides. Eva took us to meet her friends where we chatted, had a picnic, drank Ricard and played a game called pétanque. All with the Grand Palace as our backdrop!

Many hours later, M and I drunkenly walked towards the
Effiel Tower. All lit up and glorious it seemed to beckon us. At about 12.30am we found it, walked under it and though it had closed, we still had to dodge the Africans selling tourist gear (I guess the early bird gets the worm)! M and I did our own thing again the next day and I spent it with the lovely Gerard and his Australian partner Richard. Gerard took us to Versailles and gave us a detailed tour of the 3 palaces and gardens, simply HUGE and amazing!!! We then went back for dinner where Gerard produced Duck confit and salad, with a lovely red French wine!! Such an amazing day!

Unfortunately, that night M and I discovered bed bugs at the hotel. I woke to them crawling on me!!  Yikes!! M had been bitten and had had a rash for days but we didn't know from what... well, we didn’t know till now.  Poor thing! Though we weren't in a great part of town we stayed at a decent and respectable go figure.

Paris, I am not sure about it as a city. I felt a constant tension in the air, people argued and sometimes it escalated into something more physical. Though the city itself has some amazing things to see, I didn't love it, but...the people made it. If I had not met Gerard and Mary's friends (who were all amazing and gave me a glimpse of real French life), I don't think I would have liked Paris, not that I would have disliked it.. but, just not liked it. It is a city, big, concrete and full of tension. There is no love in it. For me it was not the city of love that I was expecting, and not because my handsome German man did not contact me, but because of the tension that sat constantly. There was aggression that sprang up so fast and unexpectedly that it unsettled me. Perhaps it was the heat, I don’t know. I ponder this as I wait for the Eurostar train to take me back to the United Kingdom and to Portslade.

Once on the train, I listened to the walkman and gazed out the window. Billy Bragg played 'St Swithens day' - 'Thanks all the same, but I just can't bring myself to answer your letters. It's not your fault that your honesty touches me like a fire.. the Polaroid’s that hold us together, will surely fade away, like the love that we spoke of forever on St Swithens day'… Ahh Billy !!!  The honesty, the fragileness of human hearts, the hurt that fills where once was love.....I sit with these thoughts as the train passes
Calais, signaling that we are soon to leave France. Paris is far behind me now. I think of the hearts we break, instead of keeping safe. I wonder if Paris' heart is now filled with hurt and anger instead of love. Maybe another revolution is needed, but this time a peaceful one, a change of emotion, out with the old and in with love and tolerance.
Arriving at London St Pancras, I change trains and head off to Portslade. Simon and Garfunkle play the ‘Leaves that are green’. The lyrics 'and the leaves that are green turn to brown.. they wither in the wind and crumble in your hand' sing out as wildflowers by the side of the train tracks pass me by, like spectators they stand and wave us on... they are wild, unwanted weeds, but today I see their beauty. They make me feel more connected to everything, to the fleetingness of life. 'I stand alone without beliefs, all I have is you' (Kathy's song- simon and Garfunkle). I can't help but think that we only have each other and to deny one is to deny ourselves... Finally, the 'sounds of silence' plays out - 'the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls', again my thoughts return to Paris and to the homeless man pissing against the wall in the subway station.... I think of how we all pass him by and choose to ignore his message. I don't know what any of this means... they are just thoughts and feelings. We are all connected and yet we seem to live life in a manner which ignores this fact.

Soon I arrive in Portslade for a few days rest before I head off to New York

Next stop: New York!  Did I say that already??


Gerard's for dinner:


  1. brilliant. best one so far. i'm looking forward to new york. :) photos are awesome.

  2. Thanks Yevisha kind of you to say so :-)