Paris: Je ne sais quoi. (Or, I need that hat.)

Oh, lord. At the end of my second day and already so behind on documenting things — it feels like I have a million little stories that don’t fit anywhere. Much of what happens, then, will likely just stay in my memory and in silly, scrawly notes in this leather-bound journal a boyfriend gave me during college. With my name embossed on it in gold letters.

DSC_0064In the book thus far:

  • Directions to my new hotel. I checked out of the one in Montmartre this morning because I was bitter that I had no clock or plugs and a shower with a door that extended only half the length of the bathtub. The new one has one plug, no clock and a curtain in the shower. C’est la vie. (And, on a happier note: I am blocks away from several key monuments, down the street from a church whose choir is performing Mozart’s Requiem tomorrow, and surrounded by haute couture.)
  • Things I’ve seen, in list form. À Montmartre: Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge, Rue de la Cauliancourt. (This does not matter.) Assemblée Nationale. Musée d’Orsay, exterior only — that will change, possibly tomorrow. Tour Eiffel. Apparently I stopped taking notes on this yesterday.
  • The sketchy Russian’s phone number. Which he wrote in my book yesterday morning. I promptly noted, mentally, that it would never be used. Apparently he also called the hotel for me last night when I was out for dinner. I’m OK with the fact that I checked out.
  • Furious notes from my dinner at the Brasserie St. Jean. Which can be summarized with this: What. Is it. With the French.

Je ne sais quoi.
They have it in the way that the French mean it. And I have it. But in the literal sense. Like…I don’t know what.
A girl walked past me while I was sitting on the sidewalk with my apéritif — Ricard, a small amount of anise liqueur that came in a tall glass, which I didn’t know I had to dilute. Until I took a sip and made a face. And the server came over and said, “You put that with the water, idiot American.”
Right.
Anyway, a girl walked past wearing a crappy flannel shirt, cuffed black jeans, white KEDS and the worst bob ever — and I stared at her all the way down the street.
They are all like that.
It is the je ne sais quoi. And I hate them for it. Their cigarettes aren’t offensive; even when they’re talking about boring crap or poking around on their cell phones — which feel even more ubiquitous than in America, but there’s no way that’s right — it sounds gorgeous; even the homeless people look amazing.
This can be explained by their hats.
One man, who was on the Métro when I was coming into Montmartre for the first time, took up all four seats in the area by blocking his section with a chair. A…chair. And he had on this straw fedora with passerby graffiti all over it, like he broke his brain and everyone signed his cast.
And there’s another man, a stumbling drunk who harassed les gens de St. Jean for the entire time I was outside last night. He wears the jauntiest bowler hat in the history of jaunty bowler hats, and he’s probably been wearing that same three-piece suit for the past month. But he is an establishment; the waiters all knew him, and instead of shooing him away when he lingered too long by their tables, the patrons made conversation. I don’t think anyone gave him money, but maybe that’s not what he was in it for anyway.
Je ne sais quoi.

  • Really, really random chickenscratch from tonight’s concert at Café de la Danse, near the Bastille. (By the way, I found where Paris keeps all its hot men. The 11th arrondissement is like Wicker Park on steroids, only the pants aren’t so tight. Because Frenchmen aren’t idiots.)
    About two weeks ago, my friend Stephen told me about William Fitzsimmons, a really moody singer-songwriter that sounds a lot like all the other crap I listen to. And upon stalking his MySpace, I came to find out that he would be playing in Paris with a British band called Sophia. So I made plans to hear him.
    William Fitzsimmons is a smug, hipster asshole with a bad beard and a nice guitar. He makes crowd-banter jokes he knows will make people laugh, then he berates them by saying it wasn’t that funny. And once everyone feels sufficiently silly and gets all quiet, he says, “Well, maybe a little.” And everyone laughs again. Get over yourself, sir.
    But, during one of these games of when-will-you-find-me-funniest games, it would seem that being a loud American desperate to speak English, loudly, in a city full of even louder French people, finally got me somewhere.
    Because between songs in his set, he apologized for playing songs off his new album, which has yet to be released in France. Because “it’s pretty fucking great.” Then started to go back on it, until I yelled out, “Yeaaaaaaaaaah, it is!” (Never having heard said album. But I could have. Because I’m an American. We are free and brave. And fat. And get the new music first.)
    He looked up into the blinding stage lights.
    “What? How have you heard it?”
    I s.h.a.’d a bit myself and said, “AMERICAN.”
    And, damn, did we have a moment.
    Suddenly, the two Americans in the room were engaged in a little American conversation.
    He asked how the trip was going, made everyone in the room say hello to me — “I’m a PUPPETMASTER!” he said — and asked whether he at least had a leg up on the Eiffel Tower in terms of beard growth. Absolutely, he does. Without question.
    But his hipster comedy bit backfired when he tried to wrap up: “Well, I hope the rest of the vacation is wonderful!” “So far, so good…” “With the William Fitzsimmons of it and all…” “Ehhhh. Comme ci, comme ça.”
    Cue French audience laughter and a bewildered musician. Heck.
    “Where were we? Oh, yeah. Sad songs…”
    The moment was over, and my red face and I were grateful for the near–pitch black of the concert hall, which had only moments earlier caused me to knock over a table. No points gained for grace, Paige. (Also, I tripped over a concrete post in front of the Notre Dame today. Total disclosure, apparently.)
    In all. A great set and wonderful to be mortified for reasons other than a foreign-language gaffe or restaurant mishap. Like upending half my portion of rice onto the ground last night. Or using the pay tray (for lack of a better word; it’s what the server brought to collect my money from the bill) as a receptacle for my olive pits. You know. Better than that.
  • Names of two fabulous red wines. Chateau Chinon and Brouilly, both recommended to me by Simon, the scruffy Parisien who hopped off his bike to keep me company as I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle by night. Through two cycles of twinkling lights. More about that later, maybe. But I am attempting to avoid cliché here.
  • The address of a falafel joint in the Marais. The goal for tomorrow: Eat at least one actual meal. Today’s menu consisted of a Nutella-and-banana crepe outside the Tuileries; an ice cream bar called Magnum, pretty much the best thing you can eat off a stick, washed down with a Heineken while I floated down the Seine on my croisière; half a baguette and half my weight in brie from a patisserie and fromagerie on the Ile St. Louis; the aforementioned olives; and a few random drinks as the night wore on.
    Not that I’m complaining. Besides the fact that I would weigh 569 pounds, I could honestly get behind eating like that for the rest of my life.

So that little journal. It’s covered a lot of ground with me — the first “entry” was written March 8, 2004 — but it’s finally serving a purpose. No grand designs of housing anything profound (like this? yeah, right) but maybe it can contribute to something bigger.

My French skills are improving, I think. Or the paralyzing fear of misspeaking is beginning to subside. Either way, I look forward to a tomorrow that will come far too soon — it’s 3:15 a.m. — and whatever it will bring.

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6 Responses to “Paris: Je ne sais quoi. (Or, I need that hat.)”

  1. To A Bright Yellow Says:

    1. Magnum = deliciousness. Lived on them in Israel.2. Yay for falafel in the Marais.3. Michael says “This can be explained by their hats” will be a lovely title for your memoir.

  2. Aurore Labenheim Says:

    You know that I never realized we didn’t have magnums here………Wow….I have been in this country for way too long!!

  3. Sara Says:

    Oh. My. Gosh. You wrote about Magnums. Funny that upon arriving here to comment, so did the other two commenters. Magnum = heaven on a stick.

  4. Mold-A-Rama Rama Says:

    Magnum is amazing.

  5. Dylan D. Says:

    Nutella and banana crepe…. those are amazing here. Probably nirvana in Paris.

  6. Full circle, part two. Says:

    […] I remember of the concert is what I wrote afterward. I remember taking my first look at Fitzsimmons, hearing the first notes he sang, and not […]

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