International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: France
Journey Through Paris
bus sailed on the paved road through the darkened hills of France.
The passengers spoke in hushed tones, excited to arrive in Paris.
Every once in a while a piercing cell-phone shattered the quiet.
I looked at my friends Sean and Taylor and thought, "Whats
next?" We had devised a brilliant plan. We would fly into France
and take a late night bus into Paris, even though we didnt
have a place to stay.
As the bus barreled
toward the city, we grew more apprehensive with each mile passed.
Taylor tried some mangled French with the woman sitting next to him.
She smiled and replied back in English, much to our relief. It was as
if this woman was an angel sent to help us. She showed us on a map where
the bus would stop and gave us hotel numbers to call.
Frantically, we tried number after number, looking for any room. Most
of the calls ended with a rude clerk laughing through the phone. After
about an hour, the buss engine squeaked to a halt. Everyone hustled
off except for us, not looking forward to a November night in Paris.
When we got off, I made sure to thank the woman who helped us. She wished
us luck as she melted away into the lights of Paris. I surveyed our
surroundings and saw a beacon across the street. The Concorde Lafayette
Hotel jutted up into the sky, beckoning us to enter.
Seeing no better option, we drifted into the lobby of the hotel (our
next mistake of the night). Here we were, three American kids with backpacks
and worn hoodies, in the lobby of a swanky, Parisian hotel.
Im talkin white marble floors polished to a sheen, a bar
filled with patrons clothed in crisp tuxes and gleaming dresses.
We approached the front desk and the two clerks raised their eyebrows
at our sorry sight. They asked if we needed help and we told them A)
we needed to get to the city centre and B) we needed a hotel. I noticed
they exchanged a bemused look after we said this. They gave us a map
and informed us the Metro lines werent working, the conductors
were on strike. It was time to trudge toward the city centre.
We left the cocktails, chandeliers, and piano music of the Lafayette
Hotel. Unfortunately, we still had no clue where to go. It was the middle
of November and cold winds whipped our faces as we pulled our jackets
tight. Trying to steady the map as it snapped in the wind, we picked
a direction and started walking.
It was hard not to stare in wonder, even in the bitter cold with no
place to go. We passed by warmly lit cafes, tendrils of cigarette smoke
curling up into the light fixtures as people jovially carried on conversations.
The lamp posts on the street seemed to be glowing exclusively for us.
Every couple of blocks we would whip out our map and look in befuddlement.
It took us about a half an hour to realize Paris does not have square
blocks. Oh no, Paris is divided into districts and streets move in a
circular movement outward. Which means that each time we tried to stay
on a street it morphed into another.
Having corrected that mistake, we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe
in the city centre. It was another thirty minutes of walking through
the mysterious streets before we finally reached the Arc. The streets
were quiet, a far cry from the busy chaos I expected to see. Instead
of honking cars driving rings around the circle, an occasional car lazily
worked its way around the structure.
My eyes focused on the raised engravings on the Arc de Triomphe. They
seemed to be from a Napoleonic Age, when empires were celebrated. We
tore our eyes away and trekked on.
Our next destination was the Champs-Elysees Boulevard, in the very heart
of the city. The wide boulevard was lined with sparkling trees draped
in brilliant lights. The amazing sights blocked one fact from our minds.
We still didnt have a place to stay.
So we made our way to hotels. Tentatively, we approached the foreboding
doors of each hotel we passed. We opened each one to see a skeptical
clerk take in the three shaggy Americans walking through their doors.
We found nothing less than 120 euros for the night. This was what we
were hoping to spend for our four days in the city.
As the number of hotels that rejected us continued to grow, Pariss
magic began to lose its luster. I started sniping at my two friends
and they returned the favor. We found ourselves walking the massive
boulevards, feeling like three tiny ants lost in a house.
The clock struck two and we still had nowhere to go. Sean suggested
hopping a wall and sleeping in a park. I wasnt to keen on a cop
finding us and having to explain why we chose to pass out in a public
park. Finally, when all seemed lost, a taxi stopped and asked if we
needed a ride.
The cabbie took us to the hostel we had booked for the following night.
We arrived and approached the last door we had to knock on. A man greeted
us at the door and asked what we wanted. We explained the situation
and by some divine inspiration, there was one room left.
We seized upon it and collapsed onto our beds. Taylor started talking
about the crazy night but I cut him off. There would be time to laugh
in the morning, all I wanted was to wrap myself into my warm blankets
and fade into sleep.
© Jason Phelps September 2009
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