Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Making mistakes

Last night and today were not the pinnacle of my stay here in France. It started well; a drink with my old friend Rachael and a very long chat about everything we've done and planned to do. It's great to have a friend with whom one can pick up a conversation after years of not seeing one another. She convinced me that being in Paris meant I simply had to go out and enjoy myself.

I gave in. She is a good friend and was very insistent, so I hurried home, dumped various bags in my room, noted that I had nothing in my fridge and would need to get something the next day (more on that cunning plan later) and hurried back out. I strolled down to the station in good spirits, wandered through the open barriers - public transport was free in the capital on NYE - and was soon in the limits of Paris.

It was not until today, when I read up on French NYE traditions that I discovered that the majority of people stay in, have a large and decadent meal with friends, and go to bed in the wee small hours. The only people who go out are the people who like to celebrate in the English mode; that is, getting absolutely drunk out of one's tree and then starting fights.

I had decided to head towards the Eiffel Tower, presuming that it would be a little crowded but otherwise accessible. Both of these assumptions were wrong. Simply getting on a train required the vigorous use of elbows and the umbrella I had with me. The rest of my fellow passengers then very carefully said nothing as a group of young people lit up a couple of joints and smoked out the entire carriage.

The cheerful manner in which the French ignore regulations has been mentioned in this blog before, and in general I find it amusing and quite charming. However, when two or three of your fellow travelers ask you to desist, and when the third is actually cradling a child, then it is my opinion that you ought to - if not because it is illegal, then because you have been politely asked. Instead, there were torrents of abuse and lit joints waved. Again, small child being cradled at this time. Utterly incredible.

Getting out at Trocadero was hell for me; I am not happy in extremely enclosed spaces and I do not like the sensation of being forced along anywhere, especially when the crush is so great that breathing becomes difficult. The press of people was suffocating and the stink of other's fear was sharp, and on the faces of my neighbours I saw grim determination, I saw fear, and I saw anger as men tried to stop their wives or girlfriends being crushed.

The Champs de Mars was slightly better for being in the open air. The "light show" from the tower was not even worthy of Blackpool and it was with a heavy heart that I turned my feet towards home. The crush to get back was worse still, and fights started on carriages with barely enough room to breathe. Imagine, a babe still in its mother's arms, father and a friend trying to form a barrier around them, and fists flying not inches away. The entire journey was the most fraught, the most claustrophobic, the most awful journey by public transport I have ever had the misfortune to take.

Paris, je t'aime, but if I come back for NYE ever again I'm getting some friends together, having a massive dinner, and essentially trying to forget this ridiculous, ugly, wasted evening of my life.

Oh. And all the shops are closed today.

The moral of the story is - no matter how expensive the tickets, no matter how convincing your friends are, spend NYE with people you love. Especially when they'll make you a fry up the next day.