Saturday, August 22, 2009

Social life

Last night John, Charles (a friend of John’s), Oliver and I decided to visit the Sacre Coeur in Monmartre. I had been once before with Emily during the day but I was keen to see it, together with the spectacular views, at dusk. We arranged to meet at Barbés metro at 8:15. Within five minutes of having left the metro station I had been offered hashish, coke and almost had my wallet stolen. As I exited a large, sweaty looking man started saying something to me in French which I didn’t understand. I explained that I didn’t speak French hoping this would discourage him but no such luck - he and three or four other guys surrounded me and asked, in English, if I wanted any hashish. Despite my clear lack of interest they kept persisting so in the end I just had to push my way past them and keep walking hoping they wouldn’t follow me. I walked over to an area which looked less riddled with potential drug dealers and texted John to let him know where I was. At that point a guy put his hand on my shoulder and asked if I wanted any coke. He was holding me with quite a grip and it was a couple of seconds before I felt a hand reaching inside my back pocket where I had my wallet. I spun round and the accomplice withdrew his hand, thankfully, before he had got a proper grip on my wallet. Rather than reacting aggressively I kept my English poise (code for passive aggressiveness) and said something like ‘okay, game over, no I don’t want any coke and no, you’re not having my wallet’. They walked off after that, laughing to themselves, and I moved my wallet to my front pocket, took my iPod headphones out of my ears and put them in my pocket and moved my sunglasses from my head to the neck of my t-shirt. I must have looked like a veritable gold mine to the numerous pickpockets around that area.

The atmosphere in Paris is entirely different from London. Whereas London is fast paced, difficult to navigate and swarming with people, Paris is relaxed, quieter and much easier to explore, either on foot, or on the metro. The result of this is an atmosphere that breeds spontaneity. Last Thursday I went round to Emily’s (a 10 minute metro journey) for a few drinks and, before we knew what had happened, it was nearly 5am and we were leaving a club, still packed with people, and heading home. There now seems to be a discrepancy between my earlier depictions of Parisian nightlife and this latest account. However, it does seem that, although predominantly, there is a very strong bar culture in the city, one can find little pockets of activity that continue into the early hours if one looks hard enough. Presumably being unemployed helps this notion of spontaneity since one doesn’t have to worry about getting up in the morning but Katy, who lives with Emily, works at 10am every morning and thinks nothing of it.

The production involved with having a similar night out in London is greatly increased as a result of having to navigate the tube (whose distances between stops are far greater in London than in Paris), choose a venue that is to everyone’s liking and then fight with crowds of people at the bar to get a drink. Undoubtedly London has a buzz and can feel like it really is the place to be, in fact, this was one of the main factors I thought I would miss most. However, having been here for over a month now I am starting to appreciate the more relaxed environment, the lazy summer evenings and the ease at which things can be done.

Yesterday John and I decided to do one of the walks from his ’24 great walks in Paris’ book and arranged to meet at 1pm by the Luxembourg RER stop. I was 25 minutes late on account of it being a bank holiday and every RER B stop that I found seemed to be shut – the above paragraphs no longer ring quite as true for me. However, it was a beautiful day and once we had met up and I had bought a sandwich from Brioche Dorée (a delicious sandwich chain), we embarked upon our walk which took us through all the little back streets lined with quintessentially Parisian restaurants, cafés and shops. We also saw the Pantheon, the Sorbonne and several spectacular fountains. One of the most interesting parts of the walk was when we came across the street that George Orwell lived on when he was writing ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. Although still narrow, it showed no signs of once having been a dank and squalid backstreet inhabited by tramps. It is now lined with pretty restaurants and the building that he lived in is, in fact, one of the nicest on the street with attractive window boxes and a pleasant facade. However, it was nice to imagine him living there, in a room similar to mine perhaps, writing about his experiences in Paris.

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