I’m heading to Paris this weekend and it’ll be my first time back in 5 years. The mention of Paris always brings a smile to my face but I’ve stopped telling the story of why I have such a fond memory. I started to realize it’s just one of those situations where you just had to be there.
The alcohol, the adrenaline and being 20 probably made it seem a lot better than it really was. In any case, I’m breaking the silence. I may be headed to Nuit Blanche but it won’t be my first all-nighter in the city…
* * *
I was just finishing my second year of university in Toronto with a minor in French. Another member of the student association I was part of, Heather, was the co-ordinator of the summer abroad program and convinced me that it was worth the money. Four weeks in Tours, France to improve my French and spend time abroad.
When the day arrived to fly to Charles-de-Gaulle airport, Heather (she had been backpacking Europe for a few months before starting her work as the co-ordinator) asked me to bring her an oatmeal raisin cookie from Tim Hortons. We had only had a few interactions prior to her departure but she let me barrage her with questions while she was away anyway.
You could say we weren’t really friends at this point so I like to think that safely carrying two Tim Hortons cookies around the world really solidifies a friendship.
We met two other people on the bus to Tours from Charles de Gaulle Airport: Golnesa, an outspoken rapper/ballet dancer who tells it like it is but makes you laugh in the process and Tanya, a fiery red-head that could make you pee just by telling stories about her Russian/Ukrainian family. We laughed the entire drive and it was clear that we were going to bring that town on the Loire alive in July.
* * *
Bastille Day fell on a Tuesday so the jour ferié meant we didn’t have classes. The four of us, along with a girl named Kathereen and a guy named Sami decided to go to Paris for the day. I had just gotten back from Toulouse/Carcassone/Leucate on an overnight train to spend three hours in class on Monday. By lunch, I was back on a train to Paris with Heather.
The six of us shacked up in a little hotel in I don’t remember where and on Bastille Day, we were out and about in the city. When we double checked the time of our train we noticed that it left before the Bastille Day fireworks. We all changed our tickets so we could go home early and see the fireworks in Tours instead.
As we were walking away, Heather and I thought why not take the early train home instead? It left at 7:50 and arrives at 9, so I would only be a little late to class (missing a lesson without a medical reason could get you sent home).
“Let’s do it. There’s no way I came to Paris to not do at least one of the things I wanted to do,” I said. We were supposed to go clubbing the night before until someone started puking and lay down in a McDonald’s bathroom…but that’s another story for another time.
We changed our tickets again and that’s where the trouble began. We looked for hostels and there was nothing. They were all too expensive or too far away – it was a major public holiday after all.
Heather has another genius idea: we’ll lock our bags in the train station we’re leaving from and stay up all night.
“It’s Bastille Day, people will be out all night. It won’t be unsafe,” she says. Looking back, I’m sure there was some hesitation in her voice and skepticism in my face. But I can’t be sure.
The two of us saw the rest of the group off and then returned to the Champ de Mars where thousands of people were gathered for the celebration. We thought, surely there must be some cool Americans or Canadians around we can hang out with. Maybe they’ll even let us sleep on the floor of their hostel!, we hoped.
We walked around and I notice a guy with Greek letters on his shirt: Phi Delta Theta. Readers: You may not know this about me, but I was in a sorority in university! We had a Phi Delt chapter at U of T so we walk up to them and say:
“Hey! Are you Canadian or American?!”
“American, how did you know?,” one of them says.
Heather points at the letters on his shirt and I explained I’m in a sorority. So we got to talking and Ted, Ryan, Ryan, and Drake were geeky frat guys from Nebraska.
We run out of alcohol and decide to get some more. They didn’t want to separate and we didn’t want to lose our place on the Champs, so we offer to buy everything and let them pay us back.
“Really? Are you sure?” asked Ryan.
“Well, yeah. I mean, if you don’t pay us back or we can’t find you again, we’ll just keep it, right?” I said.
We go to a tabac down the street and buy a few bottles of wine, rum, gin and mixers. We find them and they pay us back.
An older French man asked Ryan for some wine and offered him money. Ryan just gave it to him for free. The French man proceeded to supply him with bisous – and his wife’s phone number. For a ménage à trois…
Heather, Ted, Ryan, Ryan, Drake and I watched the fireworks together. Since it was the 120th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower, they had a special display, projecting images onto the Tower that showed its history as well as important parts of Paris through different eras.
It was one of the best fireworks I had ever seen!
(Please excuse the TERRIBLE PHOTOS)
* * *
Ryan, Ryan, Ted and Drake were nice, but they definitely weren’t going to invite us back to their hotel, so we left when they lost Drake.
As people were spilling out on the streets after the fireworks ended, Heather and I needed to pee. We had just spent the last few hours drinking wine, gin and rum. Naturally, nature was calling.
The portapotties had lines down the street. Neither of us would make it. There is a tree-lined wall that runs along the west side of the Champs de Mars. It was dark and there weren’t that many lights. We look at each other and know what has to be done.
Staying a safe distance away from each other and keeping an eye out on other people, yes, we dropped trou and peed on the wall. On the Champ de Mars.
Classy, I know.
But you do what you gotta do and I don’t remember people being particularly concerned.
After we walked away from our shame and were thinking about what we would do for the night – maybe there were some after parties? – a guy says something to us. I almost ignore him but I turned around and say Bonjour! So we start talking and his name is Romain (for the rest of the time we ever talked about him, he was referred to as ‘Lettuce’) and he was with a couple friends, JC and Alex.
They invite us to walk along the Seine because people hang out there at night and stuff and there would be little parties and stuff.
At the first couple bridges, they meet up with some more friends. We were chatting away until Heather got a phone call that pulled her away from the rest of us.
Heather and I need to pee again. This time, we choose trees on the opposite just off the gravel path along the Seine, near the main road. Again, not my proudest moment.
After a couple hours by the river, Romain invites us back to his place.
Yes, I am aware that we did everything any safety handbook tells you NOT to do. It only gets worse from here.
We tell them that we have a train to catch at 6 (in case they decide to screw us over, we would still have some time to get to the station). JC offers to drive us to the station because it’s not that far; we agree and get on a bus somewhere and start walking down some residential streets. I keep looking at where all the nearest Metro stations are, just in case…
Finally we get to his house and we’re hanging out in the street outside. Heather and I are speaking in English, wondering why he hasn’t invited us inside. Heather has a realization:
“Dude, I think he lives with his parents.”
I turn to Romain and in my most obnoxious voice, I say “Est-ce-que tu habites avec tes parents?!”
His friends start laughing and he says “Oui“, looking away. Heather and I burst out laughing, as you do…
“Well… definitely not going in there,” Heather says.
Around 4:30AM, we start saying we have to get to our train. So we walk to JC’s house (I can’t remember how far it was) and he opens his car and tells us to wait. He was going to drop us off on his way to work so he needed to shower and change.
Romain, Alex, Heather and I pile into the car. Right before he goes inside, JC turns back and sticks his head in the car to say “S’il y a les flics, n’ouvrez pas le coffre.“
If the cops come, don’t open the trunk.
Finally, at that moment, Heather and I look at each other: What the fuck have we gotten ourselves into.
We start telling the guys that it’s fine, we’ll find our own way – he’s taking too long and we’re going to miss our train. They tell us, not to worry – he’ll be back.
As the sun starts to rise and we both start to sober up, it dawns on us what’s been going on this whole night. Heather remembered seeing them giving people little silver packages. Are they drug dealers? I mean, petty ones, clearly – the guy still lived at home. Between the travelling around to different bridges and the trunk comment, had we been walking around the whole night with strange French men selling drugs to their “friends” on the bridges of the Seine?
* * *
I did get to class that Wednesday morning at 9:30 (only a little late). I looked like shit.
To this day, Heather and I still look at each other and think what the fuck were we thinking that night? I don’t think I would have wanted to put myself in that much danger with anyone else. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have put myself in that much danger if I was with anyone else.
So maybe it wasn’t the oatmeal raisin cookies. Maybe what really brings two people together is the memory of looking down under the fluorescent light of Gare Montparnasse and finally noticing your dirty, grey feet speckled with splash marks.
Where did those splashes come fr… Oh. Right.
* I am almost certain that most of these pictures are Heather’s – my camera died during the fireworks.