Down and Out in Paris and London (Part I of II)London Study London, Fall 2011
As our taxi skidded around the corner of a Parisian alleyway, I discovered something: when you’re about to die, your whole life really does flash before your eyes. I’d already lived through the bloody thing once and was in no mood for reruns, so I skipped ahead as far as I could, up through the chain of events that led me to the back of a taxi in Paris. One week earlier: “Want to go to Paris?” my friend asks. “Sure. Why not?” I reply on the other side of an Instant Messenger. The friend in question is currently living in Milan, either studying the Italian language, or laying low and waiting for the statute of limitations to expire on a series of arson cases, depending on which version of the story you’ve heard. “How’s life on the lam treating you? Burn anything interesting lately?” Hmm. She logged off. Must still be a sensitive subject. Two days earlier: Drawing inspiration from the gift shop at St. Pancras, I decide to christen my train “The Little Engine That Could” rather than continue to mispronounce the French name. (Editor’s note: Actually, EuroStar is pretty phonetic.) At long last, TLETC clack clacks into the station. I close my book, Murder on the Orient Express, with a pointed look at the man sitting across from me in the carriage. He seemed to have spent the entire trip snoozing lightly against the window, but that may have just been his cunning way of spying on me, waiting for the right time to strike. Agatha Christie understood. You can’t trust anybody. My suspicions prove correct. An innocent man wouldn’t run off like that, or keep looking over his shoulder at me. He appears to heading for the police, likely to turn himself in for whatever heinous crime he's undoubtedly committed.. I should stay and watch the process of justice, but there is no time to dawdle. My friend will be waiting for me. Two days earlier, but ten minutes later than last time: Or not. I reach for my phone, before remembering I have an intense allergy to planning that causes me to break out in hives, and thus precluded swapping our European telephone numbers. This could be problematic. Four hours and ten minutes later than two days earlier: I am standing outside of a Parisian internet café. My best tip for anyone interested in traveling is that being deported is a cheap and easy alternative to buying a return ticket. My second best bit of advice is: the Internet is universal. If you need directions or communication, look for a Wifi hotspot. I was regretting following my own advice. I had arrived at this place after nearly an hour of charades, gesticulating, weeping manfully, and when all else failed, actually speaking French. Well, technically, singing the lyrics to Lady Marmalade, but in such a soulful, interpretive way that one could not help but instinctively understand my quest for an internet café. If it wasn’t for the neon phone, flickering ominously overhead, I would swear this building was part of an elaborate experiment to see if tourists could differentiate between an internet café and a black market organ harvesting center. What the hell? I walk in. “Voulez vous coucher-” I begin. “Dude, I speak English.” “I need 15 minutes of Internet. Here’s 10 euros. Please don’t steal my kidneys.” Success. I find the address and name of the hostel. A short, uneventful, cab ride later, I arrive. I consult the front desk and discover that my friend has not yet appeared. I am concerned and worried and have been up for nearly 24 hours. I fall asleep on the bench. An inderminate amount of time later that day: A tap wakes me up. “Hey! How are y-” I am cut off as she closes the space between us distressingly quickly. “I am going to murder you!” she screams. “I know I was late, but how dare you wander off! I didn’t think you even knew where the hostel was.” “Please, I’m not an idiot,” I try to say, but it comes out garbled as she launches herself at my throat. “I spent the last four hours freaking out, wondering where the hell you could be!” I’ve long since grown used to my friends expressing concern through attempted homicide. Everyone has their own idiosyncratic way of showing that they care. We lock our bags in a secure room downstairs, and decide to immediately hit the streets of Paris, leaving behind a very confused desk clerk (who we later discovered knew just enough English to track the literal gist of our conversation) to wonder if this was an uncommon American greeting or if he had just witnessed the most poorly executed assassination attempt in known history. As they say in show buisness, always leave them wanting more. Look back here in a few days for the conclusion of this column, featuring travel tips, tourist advice, and croissants. Or don't. I get paid the same.
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