25 years ago give or take, a group of us decided to meet up in Paris for the holidays. I arrived on Christmas Eve the others arrived a few days earlier. The plan was to meet at M’s hotel room the following morning to exchange gifts and spend the day touring the city of lights.
M was working in London at the time so his trip was shortest; R and Vlad (I’ve altered all their names in case they want to run for President) were my roommates from NYC but their schedules allowed for an earlier arrival. I diligently stayed up late on Christmas Eve to acclimate to the time change and we arrived at M’s room at 9:30am on Christmas Day more or less fresh. I don’t recall all of the gifts, not even the ones I brought since they were mainly of the gag order but I do recall M’s – a baggy full of mushrooms.
We dutifully exchanged gags and gaffs and devoured M’s generous and bitter offering along with croissants and coffee. About a half hour later we decided to hit the streets; a walking tour of Paris including a stop at Père Lachaise Cemetery to visit Jim Morrison’s grave was the plan. As I waited for my turn in the elevator, it only fit two at a time comfortably, I noticed the little men in the print on the wall were already getting busy showing signs of life by moving around within their little framed world.
“Oh shit” was my thought seeing as we were only ½ hour into our trip and this could only mean that things would get even more animated.
By the time we hit the streets it was raining and cold so we decided to buy some umbrellas. I opted to wait outside enjoying the air and space as opposed to the cave-like store from Hell my friends descended into. I will also admit that I was finding their company, especially Vlad’s, stifling. Their conversation was interfering with my mind’s wanderings. By the time they emerged, plastic-wrapped umbrellas in hand, I’d decided to go off on my own. “Are you sure?” M asked with more than a hint of concern in his voice, “You’ll be alone on mushrooms in Paris.”
“No problem. Let’s meet up for dinner and thanks for the umbrella.” “OK, see you at dinner.” And they were off.
I struggled for what felt like a few days getting the plastic wrap off of my umbrella, the ordeal however was strangely engrossing, but I managed to overcome and opened my compact tote holding back the spitting gray skies with a sense of victory. But where should I go? I’d never been to this particular part of this particular street in Paris and I didn’t speak French but everyone that passed seemed much more at home with both. So I did what anyone would do in this situation. Panic.
My plan was to pretend to be out for a stroll in the cold and rain and make my way, post-haste, back to my closet of a room in my very reasonably priced hotel. I can’t tell you how long it took, nor can I imagine how I found my way back since even familiar landmarks were imbued with a new life, a new breath. Everything was foreign and menacing. I can’t understand a word anyone’s saying and the sidewalk is heaving, breathing a steamy foul-smelling breath. Or so I perceived.
The Hotel St. Pierre on the Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine had automatic sliding glass doors that failed to slide open when I stepped on their associated step-sensitive surface; surely another slap in the face of my increasing paranoia. So I kinda jumped on it but in a very non-paranoid fashion, my movement was meant to mimic a very self-important New Yorker. It obeyed and I made it in and up to my closet of a room post-haste.
I spent the next few hours alternating between looking out – my room had a lovely view of the rooftops of Paris, a very Disneyesque Aristocats scene – and looking inward. I drew some pictures in my little sketchbook I’d picked at Sennelier (bad idea #1), read some Rimbaud (bad idea #2), and decided to ride this one out in the fetal position on the bed (worst idea yet). When I’d tossed and turned and moaned and groaned being at once too hot and too cold, I decided to put on my headphones and listen to my mix tape.
Frank Sinatra was singing just for me. “That’s Life” erased every last ounce of imagined trouble and discomfort in a few short stanzas.
Some people get their kicks,
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine ol’ world it keeps spinning around
It does keep spinning around, doesn’t it?
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king.
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself laying flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race
I’m certain it was Sinatra’s frankness and his ability to communicate through song what was for me a deeply troubling human albeit all-too-human chemically-heightened predicament coupled with his blatant nerve – his sheer ballsinesss and swagger which could overcome any kind of shit the world had grown and thrown at him – that propelled me to pick myself up. Thankfully, it wasn’t anywhere near July (“But if there’s nothing shakin’ come this here July / I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die”) and it wasn’t Morrissey.
I picked myself up and went for my own abbreviated walking tour of Paris – the Luxembourg Gardens, then past one of my favorite asymmetrical churches Saint-Sulpice, and some simple wandering and people-watching. You cannot beat Paris for either in my book.
I met up with my friends for dinner as planned and when asked, “How was your day? What did you do?” I answered, “Oh you know, I’ve been up and down and over and out.”