So, I’m in Paris. Paris hates me already, Paris wants to beat me up. I suspect Paris hates me because I’ve spent the last day or so walking around in some fizzy, angular fog due to a lack of sleep, a waking hangover, and an excess of coffee that somehow seems to have both negated and intensified the lack of sleep and waking hangover. Yesterday I arrived at 6:00 am having not slept and spent the day still not sleeping whilst looking and behaving liking a maniac.
It hasn’t been fun. In fact, it’s been disastrous. For a start I can’t speak French. In order to make up for this I’ve embarked on some English-Spanish-French hybrid language, the likes of which hasn’t been heard on the streets of Paris before, perhaps hasn’t been heard anywhere. I keep saying “Si” when I mean “Oui” and blurting out “No parlez vous Francais! No French! I’m English. J’Englais! Hablas Espanol?!” when anyone asks me anything which seems to be all the time. Seriously. I’ll be sitting there minding my own business in a park or outside a cafe and strings of people will come up to me and ask me things. What things I don’t know, so I’ll just bark at them in my mixture of French and Spanish and English or otherwise just sit grinning at them like a maniac until they leave.
I don’t think I like travelling to foreign countries. I don’t like it because I’m pretty terrible at it. I hate those travel writers – or any writers – who write stuff like: “This hip, easy to miss gem is tucked down some obscure side street but make an effort to find it and hang out with the beautiful people.” I don’t think I’d ever like to visit a hip, easy to miss gem and if I ever did want to, wouldn’t have the patience to find it. Wherever I am I like to know – or at least look as if I know – where I’m going. I also hate consulting maps and so I’ve spent the last day or so just careering round Paris, pounding the streets as if I’m on my way to an important business meeting and am already late but this acting means that I keep getting lost and having to walk much further than I should and so spend all my time thirsty and tired and covered in blisters. If I were to ever write a city guide book my advice would be along the lines of: “Just fucking bowl around the streets chain smoking like a maniac until you collapse.” It’s actually quite good fun, in a way.
But as regular readers will know I didn’t come to Paris to simply pound the streets and have some kind of irregular holiday. I came to Paris to write, to work on the three books I feel I should be working on.
Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that that hasn’t happened. Nor is it going to. Shakespeare and Company – the bookshop I was hoping to stay in for free – is full of writers at the moment. They can’t house anymore. They told me as much this morning.
“We’re full,” said the girl behind the counter. “We’re always full. And the owner’s not here. All I can suggest is coming back at the weekend and trying again when she is here.”
“But you’ll be full still?”
“Probably, we’re always full.”
“Okay. But if you weren’t full – if I came back at some point and found out you weren’t full – what are the criteria for staying?”
“You have to be a writer,” she said and then looked at me for a while. “And young.”
I wanted to say, “Is 35 young for a writer?” or, “I thought this was a refuge for penniless writers, not a place for young rich American college girls to hang out in the summer and pretend to be writers” but I didn’t, I probably said something like, “Cool, I might pop back then” and walked out.
When I walked out Paris was still there, still hating me, still sucking what little money I have out of my pockets and I thought about buying a raft of wine and sitting in a park and drinking until I passed out but instead I just pounded business-like through the streets until I found a cheap hostal where I am now. I’m a little concerned that I have hardly any money, only one pair of clean underpants and no clue what to do next.
I need a plan, and fast.