Then came the illness.
On the Friday before I went to Paris, I found myself in a beautiful pub in Rotherhithe called The Angel with my good friend Dan Carpenter.
We like exploring Sam Smith’s pubs due to their more often than not beautiful buildings and decor, and their cheap beer. I’d arrived early that day and I’d been sat on a balcony over the Thames, listening to the Adam Buxton podcast about the death of David Bowie, and I’d had an ice cold pint while the sun sank behind Tower Bridge, which gave all of London to my west an incandescent glow.
The next morning I woke up and I could barely move. I’d only had three pints in the pub, and so I knew it wasn’t the drink. I’d had a busy week and so I thought it could be the after effects of that, but no. It was crippling – my head throbbed like the blood in my temple veins was lava, my arms and legs ached and didn’t have the strength to hold me up, and on top of this my nose was streaming with cold. All in all I was a hideous mess of illness laid there.
I next made any real attempt to move, beyond the shops for fruit and vegetables, on Wednesday morning at 6.30am when my alarm went off to tell me that today was the day I’d been looking forward to for months – today was Paris day – and I felt like I wanted to throw myself into the Channel.
Despite the ongoing fear about terror attacks on the continent, I found the Eurostar staff and security to be, as usual, fantastic in getting people through and onto the train with minimal fuss. Once on the train I went to sleep, and I awoke when my phone vibrated in my pocket to say ‘Bonjour’. A phone company had text me to say I was on their network now, and it seemed that each time I managed to get back to sleep they decided to welcome me in another way.
We pulled into Gare du Nord I did the usual sheepish traveller swift pacing down the platform with bags and purpose – even though I, along with the rest I suspect, had nowhere to rush to. I walked from the station to Belleville station, via the incredibly moving shrine to the terrorist attacks which is at Place de la Republique, where I met Steph who showed me to the apartment I was to call my home for the next week, and left me with an invitation to join her and some friends for a gig in Pigalle later that evening.
As soon as Steph left the flat I fell onto the bed and to sleep. The effort of walking from the station to the flat had worn down the energy I’d mustered through my train sleep.
I awoke a few hours later and headed out. I walked down to the Seine, taking in a coffee on the way, and I found myself stood in front of Notre Dame. It was raining, I felt terrible, and I thought about how I didn’t ever consider that it could rain in Paris. I thought the love stopped the rain. But it doesn’t, and so I sought refuge in Shakespeare and Company.
It was the first time that I’d been to this world famous book shop and quite frankly I was unimpressed (I do make a return visit where I recognise the wonder that has made it world famous). It wasn’t just the Margaret Thatcher biography on the shelf, it wasn’t just the seemingly never ending trail of tourists with cameras lunging between shelf stacks, it wasn’t anything in particular – I just didn’t feel settled there. I left, walked down Boulevard Saint-Germain, got the Metro, and headed north.
Pigalle is fascinating, in a Soho is fascinating kind of way. You get the impression that before the neon it was a place of debauch, magnificence, and of course the positives and negatives that came with such things. It was probably somewhere I would have frequented a hundred years ago, but today neon floodlit sex shops stand guard, tunneling tourists down the main street while locals, and invited guests, venture deeper to discover what remains of the area.
I met Steph and her friends at The Carmen and was given a hugely warm welcome, despite my sneezes making it obvious to all that I wasn’t on top form. We listening to a French folk band, a superb seven piece group, who reminded me of a cultured version Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The room that the gig was taking place in was sublime and perfectly supported what the band were creating. For all my inner physical turmoil, I loved the music and it was great to be in a different city, with different people, and feeling good about it.
I bid goodnight to Steph and her friends an hour or so in and got the Metro back to the apartment. Paris is beautiful for a stroll, but I’d done enough for one day.