I may be pining for the canals of Holland and hoping they freeze over again, but for now, a trip that’s been in the planning for quite a while before Europe turned hard and frosty is finally under way.
It’s great to be back in France.
Things have changed a lot since I was this blond kid of 22, faking a photo in front of a wall plastered with pissing forbidden.
I’ve come to Paris to meet up with an old, old friend, who’s so old he’s here because he just retired from 25 years of teaching and is on a celebratory tour of France and Morocco.
We met 26 years ago at university in a programme of professional teacher training. My friend went on to have a fine, rewarding career in teaching for which over the years he won the respect of countless students and colleagues. I found I hated teaching and failed the course miserably, starting what turned out to be a four-year downward spiral of failed attempts to get going in another direction that only really stopped when I left Vancouver for good.
We’ve remained good friends all this time, but don’t see each other that often. In the last 10 years I’d say we’ve hung out fewer than a half-dozen times.
But meeting him today at his short-term apartment in the 20th Arrondissement, it was like he – and the way we’ve always been hanging out together – had never changed. We had breakfast together jabbering for what seemed like ages about our lives, wives, plans, and such before heading out in the cold.
We walked for miles through the streets of Paris, my friend as my guide. We saw a few old men along the way, and I remarked that you don’t see many of them of that age in Germany.
We ended up inside Sacré Coeur at the summit of Montmontre after running the gauntlet of an extremely aggressive gang of Eastern European street thieves. A tight pack of 20 or so girls between I’d say 16 and 22, they swarmed around us like hornets, thrusting petitions in front of our faces to get us to sign – and hopefully distract our attention – while accomplices threw their hands all over our clothes in a brazen attempt to figure out where our wallets were hidden. Turning around and hissing DON’T TOUCH ME, GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME was the only thing I could do to get them to back off, but they only paused for a second or two before attacking a passing Japanese tourist with the same tactics. As the poor woman tried to flee down the steps of Montmartre, we yelled at them to leave her alone or we’d call the police.
My friend said they’ve actually been hauled to Paris and are held in a type of slavery, forced to steal upward of €300 a day and if they fail to do so, they get the shit kicked out of them by their captors that evening. Forget having police patrol the area so the tourists don’t get hassled, what about throwing in jail the mafia that organise it all?
With that happy thought in mind, we went down the hill to buy cinema tickets for a showing at 3pm. It turned out to be one of the most horribly depressing movies I’ve seen in ages, highly inadvisable if you’re suicidal or have loose razor blades lying around. It’s called Louise Wimmer and tells the story of a fiftyish woman who’s left her husband and is waiting endlessly for a place in social housing, sleeping in her car, working as a chambermaid and pawning off her few possessions in a slow, desperate attempt to stay afloat before she finally goes under. I suppose if you’re in France anyway and haven’t had your daily dose of Albert Camus (everything is meaningless, the best thing you can say about any day is that you haven’t decided to kill yourself – hah-hah, Gosh, don’t you just love the French…) Well, just go see this film.
After the film we parted. He went home to bed, I went over to the Théâtre Antoine near to where I’m staying where I bought us two tickets to go see a play for tomorrow evening: Inconnu à cette Adresse. (Address Unknown)
This time the choice was mine. It’s a two-man play based on the book by Kressmann Taylor and tells the story of the relationship between a Jewish American and his German business partner during the early 30s as the Nazis were gaining power. I’m sure it will be equally as uplifting.