Sunday, 9 December 2012

The long, dark, rum-addled weekend of the soul

This weekend has been utterly replete with highs and lows. It has been a weekend of hideous drunkeness and glorious cold and intense irritation at damned stupid tourists.

Let's start with the rum.

Rum is a fascinating drink and goes well with all sorts of things to create refreshing and delicious cocktails. It can also be used to get our hero hopelessly drunk and turn the room into a spinning kaleidoscopic merry-go-round of unhappiness. I started with the idea of running with the first, and the evening culminated - oh, how predictably - in the second.

Being drunk is a bore, being drunk is a chore;
Being drunk is the worst when you look at the floor
It goes up and comes down like a ride at the fair
In the bath, on a bed, all the time, everywhere.
Being drunk is the pits
And next day it's the -

That's quite enough butchery of Seuss for today I think. In any case; Saturday dawned bright and clear, like an icicle to the eyeballs. A hangover of the type where blinking hurts, where your breath rasps like sandpaper and the smells of France, those delicious, rich, varied smells make your stomach turn over. Speaking of things that make my heart race and my stomach flutter - a segue so subtle that I need not point out how marvellously clever it is - a trio of friends had made the journey to Paris to see the wonderful Christmas markets. I was within a hair's breadth of blowing them off and heading home to be pitiful, but realised that doing so would be extremely impolite. And two of these friends are Americans. They rely on me to be the epitome of British good manners, taste, charm, wit and sartorial excellence, and since I'd already disappointed on one account - I was in jeans(!) - I could not disappoint on another. And so I dragged myself and my hangover - by this time it had had sufficient time to really develop into a back-hugging, joint-paining arse of a hangover - to St. Lazare. By that I mean I almost ran into the station by accident, having walked around it twice and still failed to see it. Don't judge. Remember the chocolate biscuits?

We ventured forth, the five of us, all three of my wonderful friends donating their water bottles to the battle against my hangover. It was to no avail, but the thought was kind, and I found that being underground eased the pain slightly. I have no idea why this is, but the next hangover I have I'm going to be borrowing a coffin. There is no way that is not a bad idea. The markets were, from an objective point of view, wonderful, with beautiful things to buy and delicious things to eat. Spiced sausages from Spain, sauerkraut from Germany, and French cheeses by the ton.

All of these things would have normally had me salivating and partaking eagerly in the titbits offered by every vendor in the place, possibly even using fake facial hair and a variety of colourful hats to swindle more.

As it happened, every sense I had was strangely enlarged - another punishment visited upon me by this bastard hangover; it rendered me superhuman and simultaneously as weak as a kitten - and every scent, from spiced to sour to the perfume my friends were wearing was a sign for my stomach to leap, like a salmon in spawning season, for freedom. I kept in down. I drank more water. I also searched desperately for toilets, because the French seem to have a phobia of having too many toilets. "Too many" here is a metaphor for "Any more than 1 per thousand metres"

We circulated, we oohed and aahed and ummed and strolled. The girls bought things, and I was awarded "homme le plus bon chanceux du marché," by a guy who sold just enormous portions of delicious-looking food. I was with three attractive women. Had I been less delicate, I would have agreed and tipped enormously while dazzling all and sundry with a cheeky grin. Other men would have seethed with repressed jealousy, and their girlfriends would have looked at me appraisingly.

Instead I smiled weakly and swallowed some vomit. I'm so much cooler in my imagination.

From La Défense - which, by the way, has a yodelling Swissman, a sight well worth seeing if you get the chance - we moved to the Champ d'Elysée, the most beautiful, the most disgustingly over-packed street I have ever been on. We went all the way down, doing out best to move through throngs of people gathered in the middle of the street. The middle of the street. The mind boggles. A special mention to the British tourists who walked incredibly slowly in a group of five, all with their arms linked, all looking down at their Blackberries and loudly wondering where they were. I told them very loudly; she looked up, veered to the side to let us pass, and loudly exclaimed her surprise that in the capital of France, on the Champs d'Elysée, someone else spoke English. Why this is a surprise to anyone is literally beyond me, but perhaps my raspy throat and look of pain and irritation fooled her into thinking I was not of English stock. Plus, I was in jeans.

We also strolled up the top part of the street; the girls wanted to look in Swarovski (the brand that nobody pronounces the same way twice!) and I strolled a little further up to venture into Cartier. The staff there are exceptionally friendly and helpful, although that may be because they're doing their best to fleece you. In any case, there were a few beautiful pieces, one or two worth purchasing, and a lot of very flashy but ultimately off-putting bling. Did I buy anything?

You'll have to wait and see, won't you.

At this point in the story my hangover was finally beaten by means of potato and lardon soup. A huge pot that steamed and smelled delicious; flavoursome but in a very wholesome way. I sipped it like a dying man sips the elixir of life; slowly at first and then, as his strength returns, in great gulps. It may as well have been the elixir of life. The scientist in me is suggesting I get more drunk next weekend and try the soup earlier, to see if it is, in fact, the true elixir. The scientist in me can get stuffed.

Finally - exhausted - we retired to the Champs de Mars, and after Instagramming and posing for multiple photos in front of the Iron Lady we sat down in an extremely swanky (and priced up to the very heavens) little café. Café du Trocadero. I recommend it heartily but advise you remortgage your house first. And here we met a friend of the girls, a Latvian who reminded me of my brother, were my brother a hundred times less mature and Latvian. And a little less intelligent.

There was some conversation, a bit of verbal jousting, several very awkward moments, and then I escorted my friends back to their train. The Latvian was left at the café with his ice cream. Goodbyes were said, alongside the frantic search by one of our party for the latest edition of Good Housekeeping, and I turned my nose towards home. Long weekend. Good weekend. And they'll be back next week, and I shall be sober and sartorially satisfactory.

And I'm also going to stuff my face, grin, and cause seething and appraisals from all around. Because I can.

Final thought. Putting people in boxes according to their date of birth is dumb. What affects our lives is down here, right now, and not up there. The five minutes you spend reading a horoscope is five minutes of your life you will never get back. If you watch the prologue to The Libertine, however, you will only lose two minutes but will really, really enjoy them. The recovery will take the other three.

Try it.