“Everything in Paris is gay.”
The streets of Paris were filthy at night, the gutters lined with trash. Strange dirty men would materialise and mob the sidewalk outside our hotel in the Moulin Rouge district of the city and whisper, “Cigarettes? Cigarettes?” loudly in your ear as you passed. A box tucked neatly in their hand by their hip. The smell though, it was beautiful. Some of the bums had turned old shopping trollies into makeshift cookers, the bottom filled with burning coal, a grate on top covered in tin foil held a giant pile of popcorn kernels. The city looked and smelt like you were in an old gritty film.
I was eighteen and scared shitless of the gigantic city. The gang I was with, we were all spending our first proper trip away from home without any parental supervision. It was our leaving cert trip, a trip most Irish kids take after finishing their final school exams. Unfortunately for me, we had left the organization of the hotel to two girls in our group. The location was interesting, the rooms were fine and the price was good.
But we had a curfew. A curfew at midnight every night. The crazy paranoid hotel manager would lock the doors and keep them closed until seven in the morning. This was a serious disappointment. I was looking forward to wandering the Parisian streets, slipping in and out of interesting places and bars, meeting interesting people and finding myself in interesting situations.
The only other person on the trip that seemed to share my deep sense of anger, outrage and frustration at the situation was Max. Max I knew through Diageo, whom he was sharing a room with. I had never really gotten to talk to him before now. We began to banter and give each other cheeky glances as we drank beer together in the airport bar. I realised suddenly he was much better craic than my roommate, Ginger. What an awful decision it was sharing a room with him.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice lad, just mind-numbingly boring. He spent every evening lying across his bed playing a Gameboy Advance, his lips plastered thick with vaseline. All the while, feet from his bed, Paris was staring in the window at him. You could see the Eiffel Tower from our fifth story window, hovering between two buildings every night, its rotating spotlight like a beacon that called us out to the streets. Streets that Joyce, Hemingway and Wilde had wandered. I left him to his games.
The two girls had decided to organize a group rendezvous on one of the last days of the trip at a nearby cocktail bar. To be frank and honest, I must hand it to them, even if I feel reluctant to do so; it was a pretty nice place with pretty nice drinks. The entire establishment was a giant curve, the walls arching around and behind our shoulders towards a point of infinity behind the centre of the bar, which was also curved. The walls were covered with thick heavy old mirrors that refracted and distilled the light into a glorious emerald hue. It looked like the inside of my mojito cocktail, refreshing as the icy mint on my tongue.
I was trapped at a table with the girls making small talk. Periodically I would turn and catch Max’s eyes through a reflection of a reflection. He was sitting with Phil and Con, two other lads that were sharing a room together on the trip. For whatever reason, like Ginger, Diageo had decided not to join us this evening. We gave each other a nod and a wink. No words needed. We had decided we would miss the curfew.
We both slipped out of our seats and met at the bar to order another drink. We looked over at our friends as they slowly got up and collected themselves and their belongings. It was approaching twelve and they would have to be getting back. We simply said, We’ll be grand. Thank you for the pleasant night. We’ll see you in the morning. I felt eyes on me and looked over my shoulder and saw that the round barman was looking at us. I looked past him into a mirror and watched as Con and Phil followed the girls out the large glass and brass doors.
A moment rolled past then Max and I turned to one another, placing our drinks neatly beside each other on the bar. We embraced passionately, a fitting French kiss. My hand on his lower back, his hand reaching into the back pocket of my jeans and squeezing my bum cheek. When we finally stopped I noticed the barman was still staring at us, so we slurped down the rest of our cocktails through thin straws and left.
A little further down the road we stopped into a small dimly lit café bar that had The Doors playing faintly in the background. We bought fancy beers with high alcohol content and necked and nuzzled them and each other in a booth in the corner of the room. The staff seemed amused by us and as they closed down the bar, turning up the lights and rolling down shutters, they let us stand out in the back alleyway with them and bum a joint. We wandered back towards the hotel giggling and goofing around. We figured we would try to wake some of our companions up and get them to open the door downstairs, or just pound on the door until the sweaty manager opened it.
As we rounded the corner onto the littered street we spotted the front of the hotel, a hollow gap where the door should be. It was open. Pleasant expressions spread across our faces and we jogged merrily over to the entrance. We approached the door and hesitated at the sound of yelling that was coming from inside. Two people were screaming back and forth at each other in French.
To be continued . . .