We landed at 10am on Thursday morning and I couldn’t actually believe we were in Paris. I think partially because I planned so little for this trip (credit to Alley, she got most things in logistical order and I just decided to tag along, essentially) and partially because I’ve been so all over the place both mentally and physically this summer, it didn’t quite hit me that when we got on the plane in Portland we would end up…in France! And then there we were! I was surprised, even though that’s how air travel works.
The last time I was in Paris I was 20. I have distinct memories of myself in a blue linen dress that I had bought the week before in Rome; my hair was short and I had thick bangs. It was April, and Emily had kissed me for the first time just two months earlier. I didn’t know if I was gay or confused or in love, but whatever was happening felt important. I met my family in Paris after vacationing with my friends for three weeks, taking full advantage of the lengthy spring break NYU afforded its study abroad students. It was a quick trip and we soon headed back to London via the fast train that takes you underwater to reach your destination. That was the last time I was in this city. I think maybe I felt a little bit grown up then, but looking back at that 20 year old now I can confirm she was not in the least. At 28 I think I know enough to know I’m still not grown up, not really. But at least I’m a little bit older – that much cannot be disputed.
It took us hours to leave the airport. Alley’s bike made it unscathed, and I was so thankful – I’d been secretly terrified the entire time that the airline would somehow break her bike but hadn’t wanted to share this anxiety with her because I was sure she had enough of her own. So after we got through customs (a total non-event, I’m sure because of the color of our skin) I left Al to assemble her bike and I went off to do important tasks such as buy an international SIM card, obtain euros, and purchase us both Starbucks beverages.
Assembling the bike took Alley quite a long time and I could tell she was feeling overwhelmed and stressed, but I am literally zero help when it comes to anything bike-related so I just tried to offer praise and encouragement, which is what I would have wanted. Luckily there was a random man (a taxi driver?) who clearly knew his way around a bike and while he spoke no English he just kept popping up to help Al when she needed it. He was magic and we loved him.
Once the bike was finally assembled you’d think we’d be good to go, but no, I misinterpreted a man’s instructions about how to get the bike onto the train we needed take to get to Sarah and Scott’s (Alley’s longtime friends and our generous hosts) and it got stuck in the doors you have to walk through to board the train. To her credit Al remained outwardly calm while a million people, both French and tourists, gave us dirty looks for blocking one of the only working “turnstiles” (it wasn’t a turnstile but I don’t know how else to describe it). After asking approximately 10 different workers at the airport to help us (and only having to yell in broken French at one who was particularly rude to me) some dudes finally came and set Alley’s bike free. And then we were off! Only about five hours after we landed.
The rest of the day actually went smoothly. We took the train to Notre Dame, which is right by Scott’s work, and even though we were both exhausted by then it was pretty sweet to be greeted with a major tourist attraction (with good reason!) as soon as we exited the metro station. Scott and Sarah’s apartment is just a ten minute walk from Notre Dame and Scott kindly led us there and showed us how the code and key worked for the apartment. In an effort to beat jet lag both Al and I tried hard not to crash, instead having a small snack with Scott and taking a walk down the Seine river while we waited for Sarah to get off work. I couldn’t help snoozing for a bit after our walk though – I’ve never suffered too badly from jet lag but this trip has been rough!
I fell in love with Sarah as soon as I met her — chatty, clever, generous, and hilarious, she reminds me of my favorite parts of myself. She and Alley have known each other for decades, and it’s super sweet to get to hang out with someone who has known my love for so many years.
I got a second wind during our delicious home cooked dinner and allowed myself to be convinced to play a card game with Alley, Sarah, Scott, and their housemate Angela. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate games, so my participation was a testament to my love of Sarah, who was particularly excited to play.
We stayed up much later but then crashed hard. I woke up inexplicably at 3am and lay awake for awhile, trying to convince myself I truly was in Paris.
Friday, our first real day in Paris, was surreal for me because I spent the morning with my dad. He was in the city by total coincidence, for a work trip. But he’d organized his schedule so we could spend time together during the day on Friday. I left Alley to sleep in and met my dad bright and early; we proceeded to walk to Ladurée, a restaurant my family collectively loved the last time we were in Paris together.
I hadn’t seen my dad since November so we had a lot to talk about. After a delicious breakfast of almond croissants and tea we met up with Alley outside Le Louvre. My dad was more interested in frequenting 5 to 50 pastry shops than he was in standing in line for the museum and then exploring it, so we parted ways and agreed to meet for dinner near his hotel later.
Al and I braved the line, that was in truth not too bad, and were impressed by the digital self-serve ticket kiosks once inside. I love the Louvre – the iconic glass pyramid architecture, the overpriced restaurant, the unfriendly staff…I sound sarcastic, maybe, but I’m being sincere. I forgive Paris so much of its hostility because it’s just so charming. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t, but I unabashedly do.
Jet lag hit me hard during our time at the museum, and I have to admit I think Alley was more entranced with the actual art than I was able to be. My left knee was also inexplicably bothering me, which gave me preemptive anxiety for the Camino portion of our trip. What if my knee pain returns? What if I can’t complete the second long hike I attempt this year? Why haven’t I been doing more IT band exercises for the pain? WHY AM I IN PAIN?!?
I’ve noticed the way I interact with my body when it’s in pain makes no sense. At the vaguest hint of something wrong I panic, assume I will feel like this forever, wonder what I did to cause the problem and what quick fix I can employ to solve it. That’s not how bodies work. I know this, obviously – and yet.
I tried to keep my mood cheery and told myself I would stretch when we got back to Sarah and Scott’s, and I had time to strengthen my glutes before the Camino, and everything was okay. Deep breaths.
After the Louvre and a quick nap (damn jet lag!) we hopped on the metro to meet my dad. He’d picked a low key but amazing restaurant right near his hotel and the Eiffel Tower. Our meals were so, so good. Gotta hand it to the French, their food is fucking perfect. It was really nice to spend time with Alley and my dad together, as they don’t know each other very well but both matter to me a great deal, and as we don’t often have the opportunity to just grab a bite to eat together because my parents live so far away.
I could go on a tangent about being an adult forging an adult relationship with your adult parents, or how home functions when the family unit splits up, or what is to become of all of us and the universe, but I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say, dinner was lovely, and I cried a little bit after we said goodbye to my dad. Alley held my hand and let me be sad.
After we dropped my dad off we ambled toward the Eiffel Tower. It was Friday night in Paris, and we could see it sparkling a short distance away. How could we not go see it up close?! We got to the park and declined champagne from a million men selling it to picnic goers, listened to a different man playing folk music on an acoustic guitar, and admired the brilliant structure. We also saw a giant fucking rat. Ah, Paris — city of romance!
My jet lag hit extra hard on Saturday morning and I almost slept through my date with Alley and Sarah to go to the market. Luckily I didn’t though, because I love a market in a different country.
After the market and some chores we hung around at home for a nice long time, laughing and reminiscing and gossiping and just existing. I love when I have the opportunity to just exist while traveling — I find so often the mindset can become a race to cram a million sites into a short itinerary, it’s a true luxury to just relax on a Saturday afternoon in Paris as if we were in Portland.
Eventually we were hungry, so even though Sarah had generously planned an anglophone picnic by the Seine later that evening, Scott and I took ourselves on some errands to get an afternoon snack. Baguette from the bakery, cheese from a proper cheese shop, and some spreads from the grocery store — I was in heaven! I noticed a lot of Jewish bakeries on our walk and asked Scott about it; Alley had already told me we were staying in the gay neighborhood, but were we also staying in the Jewish neighborhood? “Yep, this is pretty much the gay Jewish hipster neighborhood,” Scott confirmed. My people! No wonder I felt so at home.
We ate so much that we weren’t hungry at all for dinner, but we’d made picnic plans so Sarah whipped up some delicious picnic fare and off we went. We stopped en route to fill up on sparkling water at one of the public fountains. A very cool thing about Paris is that there is FREE SPARKLING WATER available at certain locations throughout the city. Who needs a soda stream at home when your local city government has got you COVERED?!
Sarah had invited about eight other English speakers to join us, and it was really fun and festive. I snuck away at one point to buy a secret Diet Coke — I’d just told Scott earlier that day that I was quitting the habit cold turkey while in Europe and now here I was, off the wagon on Day 3 — but it served me right because I forgot that Coca Light is actually a poor substitute for the real American deal and I only somewhat enjoyed my chemical treat.
I could’ve easily retired once it got dark, but my darling girlfriend is nothing if not committed to exploring a good gay bar, and she’d been tipped off to a very good one in Paris — and of course, it was walking distance from Scott and Sarah’s. So I rallied, put on a bold lip, and off we went to La Mutinerie.
The bar, which I think also functions as a community center, was very hip. The inside was plastered with posters from rallies and films and magazines and there was original feminist art adorning the back wall, too. The place was packed and I immediately felt intimidated. Alley often teases me about saying I don’t like going out and then being the life of a party, but the truth is I love going out in Portland because the scene is so small. If I walk into a bar and don’t know anyone, what the fuck am I supposed to do?!
Alley bought us a first round of drinks and I stood next to her, feeling shy. “I feel so nervous and intimidated,” I told her, once she handed me my beer. “Why?! These are our people,” Al responded. “I don’t know if these are my people,” I said, looking around at the impossibly cool thin girls with edgy haircuts and super cute outfits. I felt very short and kind of dowdy, but tried to channel some of Alley’s vibes.
I thought about what it meant to have a “people,” a community I suppose, and what it looks like to search for that community while traveling. My dad often likes to visit a synagogue in a new city, and will go to a Friday night or Saturday morning service if he has time. Whenever I travel he asks me if I’ve been to synagogue in the city I’m in. I would never visit a synagogue to go to a service while traveling. It just wouldn’t occur to me – I don’t even go to services at home. That doesn’t feel like “my people,” even though of course we’re all Jewish. And I’ve gotta say, even though I ended up having a fun time at La Mutinerie and even though I would definitely go back if I were in Paris on a weekend night again (and I might be!), I’m not convinced the people I saw dancing and kissing and existing there were “my people.” Maybe My People are weirdo Jewish queer girls who prefer to stay home drinking wine with friends in oversized t-shirts and no bras, and that’s why I’d never meet them out and about in another country – they’re all at home being comfy with their friends. Or maybe I’m being ridiculous and I could find my people in a synagogue or a gay bar or a variety of other places abroad – I’m just not trying hard enough.
I eventually got drunk enough to put my social anxiety aside and dance a little bit with Al, strike up a conversation with a French girl wearing a Portland shirt, and buy a second round. We left at around 1:30am and I bought us delicious dessert crepes on the way home.
Sunday was for sleeping in, exploring the neighborhood, and getting ready to leave on our respective adventures.
Alley and I popped into a cafe for some tea, coffee, and cheese, and the extraordinarily friendly waiter struck up a familiar conversation with us when he learned we were from the United States. “I’m so sorry about what’s happening in your country,” he said, completely serious. “It’s a nightmare!”
I haven’t met a single Trump supporter in my time away, and while I guess you could say I’m in a self selecting bubble at home, I do think I’ve been in a pretty diverse range of places since leaving the USA. And it’s not like I’m bringing up the subject of Trump — Europeans, as soon as they learn where I’m from, want to tell me how much they dislike Trump, and they want to know how Americans feel about him. When I think about how excited everyone in London was about Obama when I was last in Europe in 2009, it’s pretty fucking depressing.
After we left the cafe we continued exploring until the shops started shutting down. It was really fun venturing into the neighborhood together, and a bit bitter sweet — the next day was Monday, and we’d both be heading off for our respective solo adventures for the month.
Alley and I are both fairly independent people, but I’m learning more and more that it’s okay to not want to do everything alone. For so long I assumed that if I relied on someone else for comfort and happiness then I wouldn’t be self sufficient and I’d be failing, but I think we’ve all sold ourselves on a myth of the necessity of self sufficiency. Again, this is something I’d like to write more about, but not today. I think about it a lot in relation to why I left the Pacific Crest Trail. Anyway. I was excited for us and our upcoming solo travel, but also a little sad.
We landed back at Scott and Sarah’s and made plans for the next day. Alley would be biking north, on the first leg of her first solo cycle trip in Europe, and I’d be taking a train to Bons-En-Chamblais, where I’d be picked up by the woman who runs the berry farm I’d be working on for two weeks. Such different expeditions! So many unknowns!
What would the next few weeks hold for us?