16 May, 1:53 p.m.
I’m sitting in Belfast International Airport, about to board my flight to Paris, and there twenty—I wish I was kidding—kids under the age of thirteen surrounding my table, all wearing identical highlighter-yellow hats that scream: PARIS 2011!!!! Yikes. I can’t decide if I want to change my flight, invest in a pair of earplugs and a bottle of Jameson from the Duty Free, or buy one of the hats off its owner. They’re pretty cool, all things considered. I wonder if that kid to my left would give me his hat in exchange for a packet of Maynard’s Wine Gums?
The past few days have been a blur, and surprisingly, a really happy one. I think I owe my life to Gigi, who swooped in as I was leaving Galway and “ripped off the bandaid.” Only someone who has been living in Ireland for a handful of years—and is similarly enamored with it—could possibly understand what I was going through, and prescribe the only suitable remedy: a road trip through the Irish countryside with a vague map, plenty of good food and drink in prehistoric pubs, Sheryl Crow, and a seaweed bath. It would seem the only antidote to dislocation is further dislocation. Mission accomplished! I am dangling like a dislocated shoulder, only far less painful. Ew. Sorry for that image. Anyhow, the past few days with Gigi have been blissful. I got to see a part of Ireland that was still a mystery to me—Wicklow, the county of my ancestors—and to let my mind wander through its inevitable longing for Galway. We hit Glendalough right after a heavy rain, so the entire place was lit up with greens and yellows—sparkling and majestic. Later, we went through Wicklow and ate at the legendary Johnnie Foxe’s pub, a place where two things happened: 1. I discovered I like eating mussels, which both disgusts and awes me; 2. I sat in the same rooms that, most likely, my greatgreatgreat relatives sat and drank in.
That same day, we went up the coast south of Dublin and visited the Forty-Foot Bathing Place, famous for its Joycean reference but also for its status as a nudie-male swimming site. At the James Joyce Tower, I had a sudden overwhelming urge to read Ulysses…which fizzled within a matter of minutes, as soon as I remembered the most intelligent thing I’ve recently read is the DVD sleeve of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Damn it. Still, the view of the sea beside Dublin was beautiful, stark, pinky gold: the perfect setting for reflection and a mildly invasive conversation with an old man sitting on a rock overlooking the water. We chatted him up for a half hour at least, and most likely prevented him from going swimming—which, God knows why, I think he was planning on doing. Jaysus. The next day, the ripping of the bandaid morphed into a full-fledged pamper fest, and Gigi took me to SOAK: a seaweed bath in Newcastle. She swears by the ritual’s healing properties, and before I knew what was happening, I was sitting in a clawfoot bathtub filled with piping-hot salt water and a mass of oily tendrils. Let me tell you, it was one of the most relaxing hours I’ve ever experienced. In typical fashion, I unintentionally made a significant portion of it into a comedy routine—accidentally catching the emergency cord on my foot (AGAIN. I’m noticing a pattern…) and later nudging the bath-stop so approximately 75% of the seaweed (and my dignity) got noisily sucked down the drain—but no matter. While I was in that bath, surrounded by Norah Jones and steamy air and a deliciously briny smell, I felt as though my soul was being cleansed. All my pores opened up and allowed Ireland to soak into my very core.
Which is perfect, because now I’m sitting eating wasabi peas in the airport and seriously second-guessing my desire to ever, EVER have children. If they end up this annoying and covered in yellow headwear, are they really worth the trouble? It’s going to be a long flight, but one that is more than worth it… I’m going to Paris today. To meet three of my dear friends. As much as I don’t want to leave Ireland behind, the better part of me knows that a new chapter in the adventure is only beginning. Plus, Ireland isn’t leaving me. Along with a substantial portion of seawater…it’s in my blood now.
20 May, 4:06 p.m.
Gay Pareeeee, ooh la la, what a dream. Before I even had a chance to realize I was on French soil, there I was…clackclackclacking my rolly suitcase through Charles de Gaulle in search of the RER B line, along with two older women from Northern Ireland that I met on the plane. They were headed to Paris for a “ladies weekend,” and began drinking white wine spritzers during the first fifteen minutes of the two-hour flight…one of many splurges that weekend, I think. That’s the thing about Paris—it makes you seriously consider details that are typically deemed inappropriate, like eating that third pan au chocolat or drinking coffee and wine instead of water, and re-categorize them as normal. Paris is romance, indulgence, and sitting on the Seine much later than you’d intended to…and the magnificent thing is, it never felt like anything other than exactly what we were supposed to be doing. We woke at noon each day and ate approximately two baguettes for every day that we spent in the city. Each.
The time immediately following my arrival was slightly traumatic, only because I was wandering around the area surrounding the St. Michel fountain—alone, schlepping bags, no clue where the hotel was—and expecting everyone to treat me with an Irish level of friendliness. “Parlaay-voo Ohn-glaays?” Blank stare. Blank stare. Blank stare and snooty hand gesture…possibly translating to “Fuck you, American bonehead, get a map and learn some French?” Jaysus. Toto, we’re not in Galway anymore.
It’s okay, though—one borderline hysterical phone call to my mom later (which only cost, you know, about 15 euro), I reunited with Katie in the lobby of the Hotel St. Pierre, and it was bliss. It’s amazing how months and oceans can separate friends, only to give way to a much more powerful feeling upon seeing each other again…that of oh hey, you, I remember you. It’s like no time has passed between us. I feel different, attached to Ireland and messy in the brain…but we’re both full in our hearts, and that only became stronger once we sat down to our first meal in the city. When we were eating, I got a call from Matt—my friend from Pomona who has been studying in Paris all semester—asking “Hey. Want to get a beer?” Not “Hey, you’re in PARIS and that’s absolutely insane, wanna make some supercomplicated plan to meet up at an obscure tourist location that you can reach by train x at x o’clock?” Just simple, like we were locals ourselves. I loved that feeling; it was a sign of things to come all weekend, and gave Katie and I a taste of Paris that surpassed any expectation we could have garnered from the back of guidebooks, or between the lines of food blogs. When we met up with Matt, we sat at an outdoor café to wait for Julie…and again, when she arrived it was as though no time had passed. I’ve been dreaming of visiting her in her city for so long, and suddenly here I was…it was utterly surreal. Oh hey, you, I remember you.
So we all started out on a high note, and it only got better from there. After Katie and I made our way to Julie’s neighborhood, the 12th Arrondissement, we embarked upon our Parisian goal of eating as much bread and cheese and seeing as many beautiful buildings/people/pigeons as humanly possible. Is it possible that French pigeons are just a little bit more self-assured than the average pigeon? Perhaps. We went to Montmartre, where the streets are lined with art and the paint on the café signs is peeling off in poetic, perfectly spaced strips. We went to Sacre Coeur and felt very, very small…and very, very overwhelmed by the capacity of a place to hold so much human spirit. There were street musicians playing accordion versions of Edith Piaf, and at multiple points, I wondered if I’d wandered into The Aristocats.
That night, we met up with a group of Julie’s friends, as well as Matt and Gaston (another SB veteran!) and sat in Jardin du Tuilieries. We walked around the cement square outside the Louvre and peered into the glass pyramid. We spent the rest of the night hopping from a bar called Crocodile to a dance club with a disturbingly empty dance floor…that, naturally, we changed. You might as well dangle a carrot in front of my face; maybe I’ve been in Ireland too long, but when I see a bunch of well-dressed Parisian hipsters sipping on 10 euro beers and bopping their stylishly coiffed heads to yet another remix of Rihanna’s “What’s My Name,” I see it as a game. Challenge accepted. We danced, danced, danced and then took the bus home, at which point we sat uncomfortably close—literally touching elbows—with the urine-soaked crew that takes public transportation after 4 a.m. In America, these men would be talking to the sock puppets that live on their hands and sleeping under the freeway…but in Paris, they’re just a bunch of twentysomethings heading home after a long night. Gotta love it.
Over the course of the next day, we: saw the Arc du Triomph and ate Macarons on the Champs Elysée, took pictures of the Obelisk (which I kept accidentally calling the “basilisk”…damn you, Harry Potter), ate sandwiches in the park, walked into Chanel and Louis Vuitton and pretended to care about the clothing (most of which could finance my college education using only a zipper), stood outside the Opera House (where I actually choked up, because the six-year-old version of myself—who loved Phantom of the Opera more than life itself—was filled to the brim), ate a delicious dinner at Chez Prosper with Julie’s family, and saw an underground jam session at a club near Notre Dame. The level of musicianship in this place was unreal. Afterward, Matt and his friend Phil took us down to the Seine, where we sat—listening to more acoustic guitar and upright bass, played by a group of kids further down the river—and talked about our pipe dreams, our plans to travel the world, and our desire to keep living colorfully.
During our last full day, Julie’s friend Pierre drove Katie and I to the Eiffel Tower: something that sounds innocent enough, but was actually the closest we—or any of the pedestrians in our direct vicinity—have probably ever come to a Vin Diesel movie. Thank GOD for seatbelts. First of all, there are no lanes in Paris: it’s just a pile of cars trying really hard not to hit each other, and then when they come close to hitting each other, letting out a stream of French cuss words and lighting up another cigarette. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but when we finally got to the Tower, I felt like kissing the ground in relief. All things considered, it was hilarious. And then the Tower! Wow. It was everything I pictured it as, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before: so majestic, powerful, HUGE. Katie and I went to the tippy-top and looked out over the city. After that, we wandered around for the better part of the day and ate buckwheat crepes at a David Leibowitz-recommended spot in the Marais…delicious. We rounded off the evening with a sunset cruise on the Seine, passing fresh pear and crackers back and forth between us, surrounded by approximately 200 Asian tourists and letting out an “ooooooh” as the Eiffel Tower lit up on the hour.
I wish there was a way for me to describe Paris without rushing through it, but nothing I can say would do it justice. I don’t feel like I understand that city the way others do, and for me to attempt to concretize the feelings, smells, and lights into words seems untrue somehow. I don’t feel an attachment to France the way Katie does, someone who speaks the language and understands the people. It’s her Ireland. For me, though, the days we spent there were perfect just because I didn’t understand it—I was a young girl wandering around a city I’ve always dreamt of visiting, and doing just that: visiting. Passing through. I want to go again someday and stay for longer, spend more time in the museums and wading through the rich history…there is so much to be discovered there. Even if the metro smells like warm peanuts soaked in sweat, and even if the locals answer “do you speak English?” with “No, I don’t” in perfect English, Paris is magic. No doubt about it. J’aime troup ça.
The silhouette of Notre Dame as the sun sank into the water? Something I’ll never forget. The vase of purply wine and bucket of Nutella-flavored tiramisu? Possibly the best dessert in the world. We are so lucky to be doing this, to have beautiful connections in beautiful cities.
Sometimes life feels just too good to be true. This is one of those times.