Posted by: cousindampier | 2 January 2014

Uncle Sam gets me drunk at the Eiffel Tower; I wake up on Rue de Monceau

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My final evening in Paris came far too soon. I’d fallen in love with the city, and then I had to pack up and leave. My flight to Istanbul was scheduled for 11:30 at night, which is everyone’s favourite hour to be at the airport, and I was faced with the prospect of flying through Moscow, which probably would not be an issue (with an emphasis on probably).

I’d spent the day playing tour guide to a person I’d met at the hostel, because I had a pretty good tour guide myself.  It wasn’t yet stormy in Paris, but the threat continually loomed overhead. The gray clouds looked more imposing than they were. Like the city itself, even the clouds did not want to open up.

I made it down the Boulevard de Batignolles, curving around to Saint Augustin, and then all the way back to Shakespeare and Company and Notre Dame (maps are for the weak). After my newfound friend and I parted, I decided to walk the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. I’d seen the tower from a distance, but never up close.

The walk to the Tower from the Jardin des Tuileries is a decent stroll. Night was settling in, but dusk was holding on, creating a stormy blue background to the white lights of the city. The tricolour flashed and waved from flagpoles along the Grand Palais, bursts of wind causing that snapping sound so unique to flags. I walked along the Seine, my peacoat buttoned up against the oncoming wind.

The weight of a backpack was beginning to wear on me, so when I walked up the small bank and crossed the street to the Tower, I resolved to sit for twenty minutes and rest up. It was about 5:30, and I had plenty of time before heading back to Montmartre, and where I wanted to be my last stop in the city.

Arriving in Paris, I’d never been set on seeing all the sights. I was there to hang out with a friend, and Paris, I figured, would be there for a long time. But then all my attempts to encourage Kate to miss her flight back to America went for naught (what’s this new trend with going home for Christmas?), and I had a couple days to relax on my own. And even with those couple of days, it was only now, in my last six hours, that I stared up at the magnificence of the Eiffel Tower.

And it is magnificent. At night, it is bathed in glowing, yellow light, brighter than anything around it and yet a little subdued, and every hour on the hour it explodes in bright white, sparkling as if struck by lightening. I did not make it to the top, but the base is an immense area. In a way, it reminded me of a huge, open-air tent at an outdoor event, poles propping the roof up, people moving in and out on all sides.

I sat on a bench, staring upwards with a slight disbelief I was really there. Next to me a woman sat down. I scooted over a bit to give her some space, and a minute later her husband appeared with their daughter. Now I moved all the way to the end, my personal bench stolen, and mentally prepared myself for the ‘sorry, American’ conversation about to be had.

As it turned out, however, the family was American. They were living in Germany, and Paris was Christmas vacation. Topping it all off, they were pleasant and nice and wonderful to talk to. The amount of English spoken in Paris became a theme for me. There is a presumption that speaking English is stigmatized in Paris, and be that true or not, I found it strange to hear so much spoken around me.

We chatted for a while. My twenty minute limit came and went, but the family was nice, and the notion of being around a family, two days before Christmas, made me happy. I taught the daughter a handshake and then she demanded cotton candy. As fathers do, he checked with the mother to make sure it was okay – she’d had a lot of sugar that day – and as they strolled to find some, I talked with the mother about Christmas in southern Germany.

The common knowledge about Christmas in southern Germany is apparently correct.  It’s lovely.

Night came and the wind picked up as we spoke. The father and daughter came back with a fluff of cotton larger than the daughter’s head, and as she ate the cotton candy and started to engage me in an arm-wrestling competition (she always wins, ask her dad), the mother stood up to move around and get warm while the father sat next to me. Soon after, the little girl had to use the restroom and she and the mother wandered off to find one.

As they did, the dad finished his beer. I’m still unaware of the public consumption laws in France, but I get the impression that they don’t matter, because as the dad told me to stand up – he was buying me a beer – we walked across the street to a food cart which sold crepes, beer, cigarettes, and hot wine, which I believe are four of the five food groups.

So we bought a liter of beer in cans, each. And then some hot wine, and then some more beer, and by the time the mother and daughter came back, having searched for a while and not found a restroom, the dad and I had been sitting on the bench for a while. He had been in the military for nearly two decades, and was telling me about being stationed in Seoul and the bars there, and what they were like in Germany, and his time in Afghanistan, and for once I just shut up and listened because my hilarious stories of speaking Russian in Almaty seemed much less hilarious and much less edgy in comparison.

The daughter and I exchanged one more handshake, and she beat me at arm-wrestling one more time, and I bid the family farewell, each of us wishing the other a Merry Christmas and I thanked the father for his time. As they left, I sat there, finishing my last beer and last glass of hot wine, and then I stood up.

And it hit me.

Shit, I was drunk.

***

I came to on the Rue de Monceau.

I was nearly four kilometres away from the Eiffel Tower. I vaguely remember getting there – I think I walked along the south bank of the river for a while first, I remember something about Woodrow Wilson (a street?) and apparently I took some amazing pictures of the Arc de Triomphe.  From there…

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My best guess

My eyes went wide as I grabbed my phone and checked the time. It was only about 8 or 8:30. This was good – I was not going to miss my flight – and bad, because I wanted to get warm bread and sit on the steps of Sacre Coeur one more time. I was more bummed about the warm bread, because warm baguettes in France are a religious experience.

My eyes probably went wide again as I checked all my pockets. Wallet and passport were still there. So was the money.  So was my backpack.

And I stood there in the middle of this very empty sidewalk, lots of pale stone bathed in pale light, staring at a street sign, I started to laugh. Not because I was drunk – though I definitely was – but the circumstances finally hit me.

Uncle Sam got me drunk at the Eiffel Tower. And I navigated Paris, drunk, without getting lost.

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