This day started, like virtually all of them since my arrival, around two in the afternoon. Sometimes I’ll sleep until three, sometimes I’ll get up early at one, but it’s usually right around two. I’m not setting an alarm, obviously, so I’m just sort of freeballing it on wake time. Just about everyone I’ve talked to here is surprised by this, and they ask “what? You haven’t adjusted to the time zone yet?”, to which I reply that there really isn’t motivation to do so.
I mean, there’s not exactly anyone waiting at an office somewhere. There’s actually not anyone waiting anywhere, ever, here. That is actually nicer and less lonely than it sounds, at least when you’re in Paris with a book to write. It probably would suck in Topeka with nothing to work on.
Plus, even if I did adjust to the times, it’s just not practical to be up in the morning – not only is everyone that I talk to or text back home not up yet, but the cafes are pretty busy until after lunchtime, and I wouldn’t really have a place to comfortably work outside my tiny apartment until 2pm or so anyway. All I know is that for the first time in years, I’m well-rested, energetic, and relaxed. So I’m just going to roll with it.
After rolling out of bed [literally – the mattress is on the floor], I stumbled hazily over to the mini-fridge in the ‘kitchen’, which is actually more of a closet that happens to have a sink and half of a stove top. For someone who doesn’t really cook, it gets the job done. I grabbed one of the assortment of sandwiches and microwavable pasta meals that I keep in the fridge – they’re better than you would think, and they’re only good for 5-7 days after you buy them; this makes the several-months-away ‘best by’ dates on some of the meals I buy back home seem strangely artificial.
After the late lunch I head out to Breakfast in America, an American-themed [duh] diner that serves American coffee and is pleasantly unbusy in the afternoon. I can get coffee and some kind of dessert at a good price there, and the staff knows, or at least tolerates, me by now. After a chocolate shake, a refill or two on my coffee, and about three hours of writing, I pack up and head out.
By now the daylight it starting to fade, so I set out to walk a bit to burn off the host of pastries I’ve been indulging in, and just take in the sights. I always end up near the river, somehow. Everything else is pretty enough, but there’s something about the bridges and the water that draws me every time.
After a quick stop at home I head back out, sans laptop, to meet a friend for a drink. Well, for me it will be a drink and dinner, since I haven’t gotten around to that, given my ‘unconventional’ schedule. The drinks come and go, and now it’s 10pm and I haven’t eaten yet. I’m in a new part of town for me, so I look for anything that seems like it would be quick and easy. Food, I mean.
Within a couple blocks of wandering I see a diner, of sorts, the likes of which are found all around the outer edges of Paris. They’re small, with five to ten tables in them, and a menu that always has an assortment of sandwiches, pitas, and crappy pizza. They also have a penchant for giving their sandwiches macho-sounding English names; this particular establishment had a double-decker club sandwich that they named ‘The Hammer’.
I walk in and quickly scan the menu for a doner kebap – they surely must have it, I see the lamb on a spit in the corner, and they’ve got virtually every other permutation of meat and bread on this damn menu. It’s like Taco Bell – there’s seven discrete ingredients, and they make 153 menu items from them. Before I can find it on the menu, I am ‘greeted’ by what has to be the man with the shittiest attitude in the history of the service industry. He asks me, in French, if I have made my choice. I answer, in French, by asking if they have doner kebap. His answer was a grunt [I suppose that could have been English or French], and he walks over to angrily pluck a piece of bread from a pile of buns. I don’t know if this guy has a permanent redass, or he hates Americans, or what, but he actually looks actually angry at me. He holds up the bread and shows it to me and mutters something unintelligible. I just ask “quoi?” and hope the second attempt will go better. No dice. Apparently I’ve missed out on a chance to modify my bread somehow, as now he is just shaking his head and spitefully jamming lettuce and onion into it, muttering something in his native tongue to his coworkers behind the counter.
Now that the bread is stuffed with all but one of the necessary components for the sandwich, he pauses from punching it full of vegetables and looks up to ask me another question, “whatki zozz uwan?”. I think he was speaking English, but I couldn’t follow him. It definitely wasn’t French. So I apologized and asked if he could repeat himself. He rolled his eyes harder than a petulant 13-year-old being told her parent is coming with her shopping, and again asked “waaa kizossss YOU waaa?”
So now I’m at a crossroads. I am terrified to ask him to repeat himself a third time, as I’m relatively sure he will dive over the counter and attack me with his lamb-shaving knife. But unlike the apparently optional bread question, this answer appears mandatory to move forward with my damn sandwich. Feeling trapped and desperate, I did something I have never done and likely never will do again – I quietly asked “en Francais, s’il vous plait?”.
Yes, I actually asked someone if they could switch from English to French so I could understand them better. Since my French vocabulary is somewhere south of one hundred words, this is rarely advisable, but the Grumpy Grumbler left me no choice. As it turns out, he was asking me what sauce I wanted for the doner. Oh. Garlic, please. Merci.
After throwing the tray containing my sandwich and fries to me over the counter, he muttered more to his colleague and turned his back. I realized I had no ketchup for the fries, and at this point I was enjoying the prospect of interacting with him again. “Pardon!” I sweetly chirp to him. He turns to give me the stinkeye, and I ask for some ketchup. He lifts the giant red squeeze bottle and squirts one plop on the tray as forcefully and disdainfully as possible before pushing the tray back to me and saying “ketchup”, as if he was a contestant in a spelling bee ending his answer.
I finish the meal, and when it’s time to pay it clearly pains him to talk to me one last time, but we manage to exchange Euros without anyone getting hurt. I head back out the door into the Paris night to meet more friends at a different bar in the 11th. Even though I was alone, before I walked to the Metro I took a deep breath and said “ahhhhh….. Paris!”. There’s no place like it.