Sunday, 16 December 2012

The tripartite nature of bad luck.

Firstly: this is a giganto-blog, and by all means dip in and out. I broken it up with pictures to make for snack-sized morsels of writings, but if you feel like going at it American style, by all means tuck in and get it all over your face.



An enormously long day which, at 3am, has still not finished. This might be seen as evidence that I am suffering for some sin that I have committed or some serious karmic backlash.

Despite the path of my life being strewn with cowpats from the devil's own satanic herd, and the excited and impassioned speech of 8 drunken Venezuelans that is providing the soundtrack to this blog, it's been a delightful day. Warmer than expected, a solid dose of excellent food, and I got to crack out my camera and take touristy pictures of the Eiffel Tower.




I'd like to pretend I did it ironically, but in fact I really like the Eiffel Tower, not least because it's been used in a con trick by a man named Victor Lustig, who - long story short - sold it to an enterprising American who planned to turn a profit on the Iron Lady by scrapping it. He did this not once, but twice.

To sell the Eiffel Tower once would be a trick of wondrous proportions. To sell it twice, the same method, to the same nationality, is worthy of note in every book of morals under a warning about avarice. What a marvelous man. What a wonderful trick.

But I've jumped ahead. My student and I finally completed his descriptive writing; he's come up with some excellent ideas and an analogy that's absolutely smashing. I don't know how much more I'll say about it, and I'm afraid we shan't hear much more from him for a little while. He's going off to Germany for the holidays - and so I shall be quite without funds for several weeks. On the other hand, I shall be having a lovely week of paid leave with my delightful family:





I'm seriously excited by this.


But not by the distance that separates us.

I headed into town at about quarter to one, catching the bus in, and didn't manage to make it to the Champs de Mars until 2. The traffic was a nightmare; short of tentacles and my old classmates critiquing this blog, it could not have been more horrible. I do not like cramped spaces, I do not like armpits in my face and I do not like the capricious system that the French metro uses to judge the length of time to keep the doors open. I'd like to say it's an inverse-proportional law, but that would imply some kind of...process. And it's not. It's just capricious. And nearly chopped off someone's hand. Capricious and vicious.

In any case, my friends and I managed to rendez-vous at the Champs de Mars - cue the touristy pics above - and then essentially strolled about. We had a wander over to St Michel Notre Dame, where there was a tiny little market which featured both corsets and garters - curious garb, considering the way Notre Dame loomed over us - and made our way to the Palais du Luxembourg, which eagle-eyed readers will remember I've visited a couple of times before. This time, we had come for the gardens, and made it just in time for a stern member of the gendarme to point sternly to a sign that told us that the gardens closed at half past four.

By the sheerest of coincidences, that was exactly the time. Bizarre. We retired to a nearby café, where a very stroppy waiter - where are these people found? - told me off for having cards. No gambling, no card games, not even an illustration of an exciting statistical principal. There was a cat behind the bar, however, because while gambling and magic is anathema to the French spirit having a cat in a drinks preparation area is absolutely a-okay. 

It's a shame, because this was otherwise a lovely little café, with delicious rillettes sandwiches and milkshakes. The staff are otherwise friendly and attentive, and the cat is quite sweet. It was marred only by a pompous and over-officious little tit behind the bar. 

From this café, we went to dinner at a place called Café Indiana, which is apparently a south-western American style restaurant. It's also sort of racist, apparently, but I can't for the life of me see why. There are portraits of Native Americans on the walls, and the symbol is the stereotype of a Native American :

But otherwise, I'm not really sure how it's racist. Perhaps a friendly American passing by this blog will post an explanation.

In any case, the food was delicious and hugely portioned; my friend Mary attacked a plate of ribs and wings with such gusto that I felt sure that she hadn't eaten in a week. No photos, but imagine, if you will, an otherwise sweet and cherubic face coated in barbecue sauce and smiles. Kate, who was sitting opposite, had the same meal but managed to keep her face quite spotless. I have no idea how.

For myself I had fajitas, which in Indiana are apparently served with rice as well as the normal bits and pieces. I didn't know, but now I do, I shall be adding it to all of my fajitas. Gives it a more solid feel. I couldn't face the whole thing - I probably shouldn't have had the gigantic rillettes sandwich previously mentioned - but Kate was kind enough to relieve me of my burden. Paula, who's also known as Lea, arrived at last - she protested that she was Hispanic, and therefore an hour behind us. She had the same as me, and as it arrived she looked at it, and at me, and pulled this face:


But she managed nonetheless, and did rather better than I did. We finished with desserts - caiprinha for me - and sorted out the bill. A curiosity, by the by, of this restaurant was that the food came with almost alarming alacrity. The bill may as well have come by post. At any rate, we settled up as Paula explained that in Spanish to eat and leave without paying is called "dead dogging." 

(In British English, dogging is generally frowned upon. Dead dogging more so. I did not tell her this. She is pure and lovely, despite her weakness for Belgian cake.)

At this point, things went a little bit Pete Tong.

Last week, these same friends of mine had made the same journey and, before taking the train, we were all convinced that we'd seen two trains that departed later on the departure board. Certain in our misapprehension, we dawdled in the restaurant, unwilling to face the rain. 

You will note the prefix "mis-"

We arrived at St Lazare in good time for the train that we expected to leave at ten to ten. As it happened, that train arrived at ten to ten, and then sat calmly in the station until twenty to nine the next morning. It seemed that my friends were stranded in Paris.

I can't say I know what the others thought in that moment, but I will conjecture that Kate was annoyed at herself more than anything. She and I are both slightly obsessive about checking things and arriving in good time, so to be undone by what she felt was a failing on her part to be her normal self was, I imagine, a little frustrating. Paula sprung immediately into action, calling friends she was staying with to see if room could be found. All of this with all four of us a little pregnant with food babies. It could have been the Christmas story all over again.

Mary asked for fifty cents to use the loos. The French may have invented sang-froid, but I believe Mary has perfected it. Within fifteen minutes she had expertly (aside from her first attempt to ring her father at his office on a Saturday) wrangled sufficient cash to stump up for a night in Paris. For my part, I recommended the Hotel Cosy, which is a stroll of about five minutes from Nation and absolutely brilliant. I stayed there last week, and the beds are wonderful, the rooms are - as one might expect - cosy as anything and the café next door serves an extremely decent breakfast. The floor is made of stripped wood and the walls are painted calming colours, and each room has its own little character. It cost the girls 55€ each, and that's for a room with a washbasin. A room with a shower and toilet was 70€. It's amazing value, especially when the girls payed 50€ for a room in a hostel that was not, by all accounts, too pleasant.

Kate flopped into bed like a human-shaped water balloon. She didn't look 100%, and so Mary and I headed downstairs into the little café next door for a drink and a chat. There's no doubt that Paris is having an effect on us; we made one drink each last about an hour and a half and talked about the desperation of creativity, the agony of editing and the half-expressed dreams of awards and recognition. It was terribly Parisian.

On the other hand, she was drinking a pina colada with a glowstick in it, so perhaps we've not achieved total assimilation yet. We also talked about the physics of magic in writing, and family, and influences. I am constantly surprised that our colonial cousins forbid drinking until the age of 21, but it would go some way to explaining the three wrong turnings Mary took between the café and the hotel, a distance of perhaps ten metres. She is a curious girl, simultaneously bubbly and spiky, and I always enjoy talking to her. Two snaps of her and I follow; in both, my face is slightly obscured. A shame, but life isn't all wine and roses. If you'd like to read what she has to say, she's got a blog too: http://marysabroadadventure.blogspot.fr/ 


In any event, we wound our merry way back to the hotel and I caught the last train back. One short slog later and finally, finally, I was home. To the sound of salsa. 

Gardens - Train - A party until 5am

I know that science doesn't accept anecdotal evidence, but I feel like this is sufficiently compelling.