My second day in Paris seemed to be going well
I had had a dreadful night’s sleep in the hostel dorm. It appeared a young lady was having a ‘moment’. Unfortunately her moment lasted 2 hours between 2am and 4am. I had hardly slept when, at 5am, she began ruffling through her belongings beside my lower bunk bed while ‘whisper-shouting’ into her mobile phone in French. After not getting a response to my request for ‘quiet please’, I concluded she was either deaf, didn’t understand English or was ignoring me. I decided it was the latter. Rather than introduce her to my rage, I jumped out of bed, gathered my ‘washroom things’ and headed to the communal bathroom. I was in a backpackers’ hostel … for crying out loud! I wanted to. This kind of behaviour was part of the experience. I would take advantage of this interruption to my usual nightly activity (sleep) and explore Montmartre during the early hours. I was in Paris!!!
Change your perspective and you’ll change your experience
Cities are so peaceful in the early morning. I love the calm before peak hour. You can sense everyone planning their day ahead – cafes preparing for their day’s trade, market stalls setting up their makeshift shopfronts on the roadside, locals still at home preparing to go to school or work, and tourists still sleeping. I could’ve been one of those tourists, but alas, not on this day.
Are we there yet?
As I made my way up the steep backstreets towards Sacré Cœur, camera at the ready, I found a small cafe that was open and sat down to a coffee and croissant. It was easy, it was fast and I could say it in French. After bidding a fond adieu to 9 euros for the aforementioned coffee and croissant, I continued on my quest for non-touristy shots, leisurely roaming around the narrow cobbled lanes, enjoying the crisp morning air and the visible absence of tourists – there were only a few of us about.
Old world Paris is beautiful
I would come back to Montmartre several times during my stay in France but never again at this hour. With the absence of tourists and people generally, it was easy to imagine a long ago era, with the likes of Picasso, Steinlen, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec et al, wandering around, going about their lives. The quaint street scapes lined with small cafes & bars, alternative fashion houses and sex shops intermingled with various galleries and très chic stores made it a perfect tourist destination. Of course, at this time of day, most were closed.
Sleepless in Paris …
It was nearing 2pm when my lack of sleep began to catch up with me. People had come out of their hidey-holes, the hot July sun was blazing and the streets had become noisy. A siesta beckoned. I didn’t have the energy to walk back, so I made my way down the hill towards Blanche Metro. It would only be 5 stops back ‘home’. I desperately needed sleep.
My timing was impeccable, with the train arriving just as I was descending the stairs onto the platform. I hopped on, immediately finding a seat and sat down, closing my eyes for just a moment.
Next stop – Anvers Metro. A woman in her 30’s entered the carriage searching for a seat. The train is not particularly crowded with a few people on their feet even though there are seats available. She eyeballs me and quickly notices a vacancy beside me … it seems today is my lucky day. I am about to make the acquaintance of one of the rudest people I will meet in France (the other one would be in Lyon 2 weeks later).
As she was getting comfortable in her seat, she turned to me and said something in French.
“I do not speak French” I replied.
Sister, can you spare a dime
An English accent, most probably acquired from across the Channel, came out of her mouth. She asked me for money. Still adjusting herself and before I had the chance to respond, her tone quickly became aggressive as she continued with “because I am hungry and I need to eat”. Sensing that she was trying to intimidate me into parting with my euros, I instantly felt agitated. I am generally happy to help out strangers when I can but her demeanor was not endearing her to me. I tried not to show it.
Killing them with kindness …
“Sure”, I heard myself say. “I would be happy to help you with whatever coin I have in my purse”. I actually said it. Without a word, she extended her hand and waited. I knew my early breakfast had gobbled up most of my cash and that I only had 2 or 3 euro jangling in my wallet. I gave it to her. All of it. I tipped my wallet upside down and watched as the coin fell into her palm … until there was nothing left. I even shook it animatedly to show her it was empty.
There was no ‘Thank you’.
Only something in French. Something I, again, didn’t understand, except this time it sounded like she was cursing me.
When I spoke again however, my words reverberated through the carriage – she had pushed my invisible button.
‘I know you understand everything I’m saying’ I began, ‘you’re not fooling me’, and smiled at her. A big cheesy smile.
She continued huffing and puffing in French and began towards the exit doors as the train was coming to a standstill. This ‘in-between Metro stations’ caper seemed to last longer than the 2 minutes it took for the train to transport us between Anvers and Barbès-Rochechouart stations.
“Have a nice day” escaped from my mouth as I watched her disembark and then immediately walk into the next carriage. On the same train. Probably to pester another unsuspecting tourist.
As we departed the platform, an elderly French lady sitting at the opposite window had quietly observed my blossoming new friendship. From her seat, she told me I should not have given ‘that woman’ anything at all. “She is a regular on the Metro. You should have asked her for a receipt!” I wonder what that would’ve sounded like in French. We both laughed.
I had a very long nap that afternoon. The dorm was mine for 3 hours and it appeared MademoiselIe “I’m having a Moment” had moved on.
© madame fishflower® 2018