Monday, 12 September 2016

I went to Paris with no wisdom teeth

Earlier this year I visited Paris with one of my best friends. It was my first trip; he'd been before. Immediately before we went I'd had my wisdom teeth removed and developed a horrible, painful condition called dry socket. I kid you not, the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I called Alex from the train platform on my way to London to meet him (we were getting the coach) and said "I'm in a huge amount of pain, and will probably be grumpy as hell for this whole trip, but I'm really looking forward to it". Or something along those lines. Luckily with the help of French pharmacists (who really know their shit) I managed to get hold of some clove oil, so I spent the 5 days relatively pain-free, smelling of clove, with everything I ate faintly tasting of clove. Although I would warn anyone taking French paracetamol that you should NOT TAKE TWO DOSES AT ONCE of 1000mg of paracetamol. I made that mistake, went completely loopy, and sat in a park staring at paper boats in a pond, completely mesmerised, for about an hour. Although I guess at least I was distracted from the pain.

(the park where I got high on paracetamol)

(me looking 'jaunty', as Alex put it, in a French bakery, with a swollen face)

We decided to stay in a small hostel in Belleville to escape the higher prices of more central hostels. It turned out to be a great decision - Belleville is charming, cheap and full of indie bars and vegan restaurants. Alex and I had a deal that I would accompany him to galleries if he would accompany me to vegan restaurants, and generally this worked pretty well. A particular favourite of mine was a thai restaurant we found just 2 streets away from our hostel - pretty much always empty, but so cheap and the food was amazing. There were 2 bars we went to whose names I can remember - Aux Folies and Cafe Cheri(e). Both had a similar grungy, posters-all-over-the-walls, lots of people with piercings and tattoos kind of vibe, both were very cheap. One bar in particular sticks in my head, though, even though I've forgotten it's name, because we stopped off for a drink there one night (it was just up the street from our hostel) and stumbled upon a slam poetry night. Neither of us can speak fluent French, but both of us were pretty sure that the poetry standard was quite low. That night, drinking too much beer and trying really hard not to laugh at the awful poetry, was one of my favourite memories of the trip.

During the day we'd alternate between wandering the streets (Alex has a weirdly good sense of direction) and finding galleries to browse. Neither of us were particularly fussed with doing the basic touristy things in Paris, Alex because he'd been before, me because I'd been warned off Paris by all my friends who'd stuck to the tourist areas. So my experience of Paris was atypical but wonderful: by day we'd look at art and eat vegan food, and by night we'd buy a cheap bottle of wine, find a park, and watch the sun set before heading to a nearby bar. One of my favourite days was when we went to the Picasso gallery in the morning, then had lunch at a restaurant called Neo Bento, then walked back to the metro along the Seine in the sunshine.

(sunshine on the Seine)

(Alex ft a Picasso sculpture)

(post-Picasso bento)

On one day, after I saw an advert for it in the Metro, we decided to go to a photography exhibit at the Museum of Jewish History. Alex has commented often since on the level of security on the way into that museum - it was unlike anything I've experienced before. The general feeling in Paris that week in March was of a city on edge, for obvious reasons, and you might see men with guns, in army uniforms, outside a building or a children's park. But this museum locked you in a glass room while they scanned you, and your bag went along a conveyor belt to be scanned also. I can only imagine that if they found anything untoward in your bag or on your person, you wouldn't leave that glass room anytime soon. But luckily for us we got through, and it was worth it. 

The photographer, Lore KrΓΌger, spent much of her life either fleeing or fighting the Nazi occupation. She lived in Paris for a while, and studied there. The section which depicted her life prior to her photography was heartbreaking - it included a letter from her parents telling her that they'd decided to pre-empt being forced out of their homes in Majorca by committing suicide. Much of her work consisted of portraits, many of them colleagues from the anti-Nazi newspaper which she was actively involved in when in New York, and also a series of photographs depicting the lives of gypsies on their pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.  It was an incredibly moving exhibit.

(the heartbreaking letters from Lore's mother and father)

Alex is a great person to walk around a gallery with. Imagine you're strolling along the streets of Oxford with him, and comment on a building nearby. He will likely be able to tell you the architect of it, the year it was built, and an interesting piece of trivia about it. So for someone like me, who has but a tenuous grasp of what impressionism is, walking around the impressionism exhibit with him in the Musee d'Orsay was enlightening. He'd point at a painting and be like "so the interesting thing about this painting is...." and I'd listen to him for about 10 minutes, learning more about the painting than I imagine even a tour guide would be able to tell me. 

He's a great travel companion in other ways, too. When I was in the most pain between paracetamol doses, he'd be there with a witty comment to distract me and make me feel better. He always seemed to have a radar for good coffee. His sense of direction was amazing. And he let me drag him to Shakespeare and Company (one tourist trap that I was not willing to forgo), and even a cat cafe (although he kind of hates cats). And, you know, if you're going to sit next to someone in a park and talk about life and drink wine as the sun sets (even though the wine tasted like clove), I can think of worse company.

(Dancers in Blue by Edgar Degas - my fav painting at the Musee d'Orsay)

(I call this his cocaine face)

(Alex's coffee radar led us to this little cafe in Belleville every morning)

I love Paris. I couldn't tell you what the Eiffel tower looks like up close, I haven't been inside the Louvre (although I have been in the park next to it and petted a large group of dogs, which in my opinion is better), and I haven't done pretty much any of the main tourist attractions of the city. But if you want small gallery recommendations, or vegan restaurants, or cheap hole-in-the-wall indie bars, hit me up. If, like me, you are a fan of the occasional vegan instagram, head to Bob's kitchen for an acai bowl. They are not only amazing but also aesthetically pleasing.

(The acai bowl at Bob's kitchen)

(the closest I got to the Eiffel Tower - if you squint you can see it)

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