Things are not good. The self-imposed thesis deadline has become an actual deadline. I must submit this rotting albatross by 1st December, before I fly home to Oz, otherwise the university will charge me fees to the tune of 3750GBP per term, charming people that they are. On top of the stress generated by trying to complete a thesis to my own (admittedly high, but unconsciously so) standards before the said deadline, I have various other editing and research projects to complete to keep myself financially afloat, with the consequence that I no longer have any days off. My body has responded to this unpleasant state of affairs with insomnia, two bouts of flu in quick succession, gastroenteritis, a cold and episodes of depression. To this end, I thought I should pen some notes on my last moments of happiness before I become completely shrouded in gloom and send my readers to the Slough of Despond. Actually this will be the last post between now and December, when I finally finish up four years of work and fly home for three months of sunshine.
So, H and I had arranged to travel to gay Paree a few weeks ago on the Eurostar to meet our dear friend SP and his sister. Lo and behold, the night before we were to travel, the fire broke out in the Channel tunnel. H put off telling me for as long as he could, but a friend mentioned it to me when we were out at drinks and I plunged immediately into despair. I had been looking forward to seeing SP for months. For the next day I obsessively checked the Eurostar website and, overreacting a little as is my wont, dreamed of tracking down the culprit for the fire and enacting revenge. Fortunately for the truck driver, the Eurostar got itself up and running again, and I was able to get a ticket after work on Wednesday. Poor H had to stay behind though and help his boss with Design Week. He wasn’t very happy.
I got myself through the shiny new St Pancras terminal and onto the Eurostar (which was operating on a case of first in first served). An excited little boy crowed all the way to the tunnel. The train shunted through the tunnel slowly and, in the darkness, the child obviously thought it was bedtime and quietened down. Once on the other side however, the twilight filtered into the carriage and he was off again. ‘Baba! Baba! Baba!’ And on and on.
I am a bit slow with maps. I can read them well enough (and navigated H and I over hairy Thai highways), but not quickly. Thus it was with some degree of pride that I got myself to the hotel near Notre Dame, which was very sweet and neat, with Lepidoptera mounted in frames on the walls, along with a gnat-like insect that was the size of my head. I had visions of coming across it in the Amazonian forest, and was disturbed. SP turned up not long after, a bit shaggier than when I had seem him last, but still delectable. He had been in the Alps running up mountains that day, as one does.
Realising that I was in one of the worst countries for a gluten and diary intolerance, I had done internet research on Vietnamese restaurants (there was nothing to do at work, ok?) and, to my immense delight, SP took command of the map and directed us to Kim-Lien. The lighting was warm and red and the food was fresh and tasty, but they stumbled with the Vietnamese pancake, into which they had put bacon and cheese. We arrived there late and after a while the patrons began to leave and the staff gathered around a table, chatting and laughing. A man walked down the stairs, blowing out the candles in their red lamps, and a fat tabby came up to say hallo, and I stroked him. I miss having a cat. All I have is my rather stupid angel fish, Andromeda, who looks very pretty but doesn’t do a lot.
The next morning the sunshine was abundant and I was happy. There has been no sunshine in London since the fortnight in May that seems to constitute an English summer these days. We walked past Notre Dame to the Pompidou as SP wanted to see Brancusi’s studio. It was a bit chilly en route so SP stopped by a rack of coats outside a shop and five minutes later was purchasing a black jacket for twelve euros and pulling it on. I couldn’t believe that someone could look so shit hot after a mere five minutes and twelve euros. However, as SP pointed out, much of my knowledge of men’s shopping habits stems from H who, admittedly, spent fifteen minutes selecting five pairs of undies from a market in Bangkok, and who even sent me away during the selection process because my disapproval (well, it was mild scorn, actually) was unsettling him. I can’t imagine why.
The Brancusi studio was shut until the afternoon, so we went on to Montemarte and had a coffee at the café where Amelie was filmed. We sat outside in the sun and the waiter sneered at us in true Parisian style, which made me laugh, and by the time we left I had managed to get a smile out of him. We went on to the Eiffel Tower where SP was to meet his sister and their friend, and as we stopped to look at a building-length advertisement for Australia.com juxtaposed beside the tower, there was a commotion behind us. An old man had tripped on the uneven pavement and grazed his hands. There was blood, and he was disorientated, but some people helped him and SP asked for my bandaids (blister contingencies) and handed them over, and said this was the third time he’d seen blood on his trip.
At the Eiffel Tower I craned my head back to look at the marvellous lattice of iron beams while SP chatted with his sister. We arranged to rendezvouz at the Brancusi studio, then jumped on a boat and emerged at the Jardin des Tuileries. People sat on chairs, tilting them back to feel the sun on their face. Others read newspapers; some old men played boules. The light was glorious.
We walked back to Brancusi and my feet started to hurt (I was wearing one of my two pairs of flat shoes, but still, they rubbed), so I was glad to get to the gallery and sit down. SP liked the smooth, simple forms but I find most modern art quite boring (and was in a vile mood when I was dragged to the Pompidou with H and the parental unit two years before) so was happy to look, then rest, while SP did the circuit more slowly.
That evening I pulled on my brown boots, short black ruffled skirt and my favourite dark pink top, for Londoners never appreciate glamour the way the French do and I needed to make the most of it. I waited for SP+friend+sister outside the Charonne Metro, and they were late, so I was delivered orders to find three interesting character descriptions by the time they arrived. I wondered if the three green wheelie bins counted as people but suspected this would be disqualified; instead I made notes on a person going past on red rollerskates and a group of Salvation Army donations collectors, which totalled five people. The area we walked through was dark and nondescript, thus it was with a little shock of pleasure that I turned the corner to see a beautiful Parisian bar lit up with warm light from chandeliers. Inside, it was luscious: delicate and refined, with a charming waiter, lovely wine and excellent food. The only odd thing was the bathroom which, instead of having soap from a dispenser, had a ball of yellow soap stuck onto a stick; one had to stroke it to get the suds, which felt Freudian in some obscure way.
The girls were worn out, so SP and I ventured on and found a dinky bar with cheap drinks and the requisite footy showing on the TV. SP gestured to two boys at the table next to us who were staring silently at their drinks. ‘Do you think they’re on their first date?’ he asked. I dissolved into laughter.
We walked back along the Seine, though I was having difficulty negotiating the cobbles by this stage, not least due to that fatal combination of poor (meningitis-induced) balance, high heels and alcohol (see here for effects of said combination). Naturally any sensible person would remove the high heels from this equation, but I prefer the risk of falling flat on my face to giving up my heels. Then, as we drew near to Notre Dame, we saw a group of people clustered around a huge, suspended ball of light, which lit up the front of the cathedral. It transpired they were making a film clip with Bollywood dancers and the light was for the filming. Then they lit another ball and we moved further back to watch, and found that the Indian families of the dancers had come along too. It was bizarre and magical.
The next morning I didn’t feel so good as my alcohol tolerance is nil these days. However I managed to get myself upright, clothed and checked out. SP had wanted to take me to a café he’d found that served good coffee but it didn’t open until 11, so we wandered through a Medieval garden on the other side of the road which had been redesigned, according to an American tour guide talking to a bunch of people (who I couldn’t hear but SP related) in a contemporary style that was sympathetic to the original herb garden.
We found another café in the sun outside the Jardin des Luxembourg and the excellent boy persuaded the French barista to whip up some soy milk so I could have a coffee. The Luxembourg gardens were even more beautiful than the Jardin des Tuilieries, and the sun stroked through the trees, some of which were beginning to shed leaves. Out on the other side we passed a crèche, and saw two women bundling seven toddlers into a trolley, which they pushed and pulled up the pavement, which was unfortunately on an incline. The kids looked about brightly, their faces alternately jollied and blissful.
The afternoon was passed picnicking with SP’s sister and friend in the gardens of the Rodin Museum, which were formal and plain. I lay in the sun and snoozed while the others looked at the sculptures. Then SP and I pushed on to the Sacre Couer, stopping first to buy some tourist tat for H. ‘It has to be under 5 euros, and exquisitely bad,’ I told SP, and he returned to me with the most marvellous mug, which I think speaks eloquently of how much I love my brother:
At the bottom of the steps of the Sacre Couer we were harassed by Africans trying to sell us their knotted bracelets. SP merely put his hands up and shook his head but I was angry, for they had invaded my personal space and they were touching me. ‘No!’ I said loudly and barged away from them all, but SP moved on meditatively ahead, and I felt that I had overreacted again. Note to self: never travel to India.
At the church we crossed wires and lost one another, so I ended up going to the top alone, up three hundred steps. There were marvellous views of Paris and, while I’m not afraid of heights, my imagination galloped on and had me toppling over the edge, so I went down again fairly quickly. And then it was time to leave the heat and sunshine and drag myself back onto the Eurostar, feeling sorry for myself.
Tomorrow is my first day off since then, and likely to be my last before I submit my thesis. Meanwhile my computer has imploded so I am having to use H’s and my fish is ill. Even if she is a bit of a bimbo, it would be the nail in the coffin if she died. Never will I put myself through anything like this ever again.