Thursday, 18 July 2013

Bye B or The Human Zoo

I'm melting, I'm melting!!

It's so fucking hot in this room, my laptop is burning up and I'm sat here typing in my knickers, a sheen of sweat all over me. I'm pretty sure the people on the roof terrace above can see through my blinds into this horrible, messy room (it's too hot to clean, leave me alone) and I hope the sight of me- my skin all red and sweaty, as slick as a seal's- puts them off their refreshing glass of fucking rose wine and ruins the beautiful FUCKING SUNSET FOR THEM.

I think my biggest problem with not going out is the thought of them, sat up there, listening to me typing and swearing under my breath, whispering to each other: "Why is she staying in, again?'

Let's be honest, they don't give a shit. But in my paranoid, egocentric mind, everything revolves around me, even the evenings of people I've never met and who are probably having too good a time on their amazing roof terrace to notice the sound of typing, if they can even hear it under the sound of their clinking glasses and gay, tinkling laughter.


I'd go outside for an evening stroll but today I walked for five hours straight. I can't walk anymore. This week 'on my own' hasn't been too bad actually, I haven't been on my own as much as I thought I would be. But before I tell you about this week, I need to finish blogging about B's last two days in Paris...

We went to the ballet, at the Palais Garnier (the big opera house at Opéra). I really wanted to go before I left Paris and a few months ago- I think it was early March- B asked me if I wanted to get tickets for the ballet, because they were going on sale and you've got to grab them quickly. The tickets were about forty-five euros each but it was worth it- we were in a box to the right of the stage, on the front row. We had to lean forward to see the entirety of the stage but it was still a good view.

I've never been inside the opera house before, even though they do guided tours. It's beautiful. My phone ran out of battery just before we went in to the actual theatre, but think: red carpet, red velvet, gold pillars, gold statues and a huge fresco on the ceiling, which is painted in primary colours, like a child's drawing. This is a photo of before you walk into the theatre:

The ballet we went to see was La Sylphide, set in Scotland and based on an old fairytale. Basically, it follows the same structure as a lot of ballets and folk stories- a man and woman fall in love, the man falls in love with somebody else for No Reason and then the first woman dies. One of the women is usually a magical creature. The end. What I liked about La Sylphide is that for once, the man met a tragic end as well as the fairy/nymph-like creature that he kills (by trying to bind her to him with a magic scarf) and actually, the woman he ditched ended up marrying his best friend. Good for her. 

I love the ballet. It almost makes me want to stop eating kebabs and do some exercise so I can be all slender and lithe and wear a leotard everywhere, almost...

Every box at the opera house has a little cloak room, luxuriantly decorated with a pink velvet chaise longue and heavy, pink curtains. After the ballet we sat down for a moment and pretended to be aristocratic rich people who went to the ballet/opera every weekend and were waiting to receive some esteemed guests into our private box... and we realised, it was EXACTLY like that scene in Anastasia. I'd completely forgotten that they go to the opera near the end, to meet the Duchess. Do you know what film I mean? The cartoon one... 

Hold on.

This is it! This is the bit at the Paris opera!


I wonder what I'd be like if I hadn't watched so many Disney (and rip-off Disney films, like Anastasia) when I was little... would I be be more content with my lot in life as a non-magical, non-royal, non-gypsy (Esmeralda was my favourite, just ahead of Pocahontas) normal, average person?

That's not the question we're asking today, folks.

What we're really asking here is: What did me and B do on her last day in Paris?

I'm glad you asked. On B's last day in Paris, we went to the Jardin tropicale de Paris, on the edge of the Bois de Vincennes. For some years the gardens were home to a touring 'Colonial Exposition' otherwise known as a 'human zoo'. I know, it's sick, but we wanted to explore the abandoned site and see what was left and what France had tried to cover up (before you start, I know there were 'human zoos' in England and Germany too, they were a popular 'attraction' in 19th Century and early 20th Century).

It was eerie. The first thing we saw was a huge Oriental gateway. A few yards later we walked into a clearing in the woods and found ourselves in the middle of a Chinese village. (It reminded me of the Japanese anime film 'Spirited Away'.)

There was also a recently built pavilion opposite which, the plaque said, had been build to commemorate the Indonesians who lost their lives fighting for France. There were a lot of memorials like this and it was confusing, trying to work out what was left over from the Colonial  and had been updated; and what had been built recently.

Further on, through a weird, French-Oriental forest made of bamboo and erm, French trees, we found two derelict buildings, one a ramshackle wooden hut that wouldn't look out of place in an American horror movie; and the other a huge, white structure that looked as if it could have been a community centre. The fences were easy to climb over and there was nobody else around... 

We went inside the wooden hut but now, looking at the photos of the collapsing roof, it really wasn't such a great idea:

We trod carefully, so carefully... Tiptoeing across the rotten floorboards into a back room which still had faded wallpaper on the walls and a wardrobe in the corner. In the main room, where the roof had all but fallen in, we found a small blackboard propped up next to a carton of gasoline and somebody had written in chalk: 'home sweet home.' 

I felt like we were in Paris, Texas (Chainsaw Massacre), not Paris, France.

Next we tried to get into the larger building opposite. We walked all the way round, deep into the bushes... and found that a panel of fencing had been already been pushed over by somebody else. The doors to this building were all locked but there was a really sinister basement that we could look down into and high above it there was a little room, separate to the rest of the building, with a thin, rusty ladder leading up to it.

I climbed to the top and strangely, found a rusted film projector, with a roll of film still hanging out of it. It made me think of a reoccurring dream I used to have when I was younger... 

I would walk into a clearing in the woods and there would be music playing, very gently and tinkly like it was coming from a music box. In the clearing there would be a contraption a bit like a film projector, only there was a conveyor belt of film moving slowly along in a loop. When I got closer I would look at the film and see it was made of family photos, then I would wake up.

I know other people's dreams are boring, but it really freaked me out, finding a film projector and film, in the middle of the woods.

The buildings we broke into were definitely used a long time after the sick 'human zoo' exposition, but what were they used for? Who else lived there? I actually went back to the Jardin tropicale de Paris three days ago, with Julia, and we discovered something even weirder, but first let me finish blogging about B's last ever day in Paris.

When we got back to Paris, we had tea at my (by this point, our) Chinese traiteur. As we ate, we discussed what to do in the two hours we had before B had to get her bus to London. B wanted a nap, but as it was her last night EVER in Paris, thought that she should have one last walk along the Seine. It was a beautiful evening and I live so close to the river that it would be a shame not to.

They've opened up one of the roads along the river that used to be for cars only and at the moment it's full of pop-up bars and small shipment containers they've recycled into rooms with little gardens, big glass windows and furniture inside. (You could hire them for free apparently but unsurprisingly they got booked up quickly.) We strolled along, then climbed up the steps so we could look down at the river from a bridge. As we look into the glittering water, B said:
"There's one thing we've not done."

I looked at her. I knew what she meant but I couldn't tell if she was joking or not.

"Jump in the Seine," she said, "It's now or never."

I didn't think we'd actually do it, but B seemed serious. I said I'd do it if we could find a spot that had steps leading out of the water, as I didn't want to get stuck trying to flop myself over the side like a baby seal that everybody knows will be weeded out by Natural Selection, any day now.

We walked along the river, looking for a spot. I felt sick, I didn't want to do it, but I really, really wanted to do it at the same time. I told myself I wanted to do it, to be excited, not scared. But it didn't matter, because there was no way we were going to do it, anyway. We weren't actually going to do it.

Were we?

B had two hours before her bus left Paris. We'd have to walk home, get showered and dried, then get all the way to Bercy. I didn't think we had enough time. 

First we had to find a public toilet, because we both needed a wee and thought that the excitement of jumping in the Seine might be ruined somewhat if we both wet ourselves.

Ok, wees- done.

Were we actually, really, seriously going to jump in the Seine?

Across the river, we spotted a mini-jetty that sloped into the water and there were no people around, just boats. We crossed over and walked along the edge of the water, trying not to look suspicious. We kept seeing disgusting heaps of rubbish and dead leaves floating on the water, caught between boats. Then we found the slope we'd seen from the other side of the river and the water looked perfect, it looked so clear and inviting. We sat down, with our legs dangling over the edge. 

We took our bags off. Should we jump in from here? Or wade in from the end of the slope?

The sun was setting, we could see the Eiffel Tower. It was perfect. If we didn't do it, I'd always regret it.

I plunged my feet in, my ballet shoes filling with water.

I took them out again. We weren't actually going to jump in, I knew it.

B said we go to the end of the slope, so we edged along, on our hands and feet like crabs. We got closer and closer and we sped up. There was one second at the edge of the water where I debated not doing it, then I slid in and B came in after me.

The water was really warm and nice, I could have almost swam around in it but wasn't sure what might be lurking under the surface. We screamed and laughed a bit, then we climbed out and jumped around, soaking wet and looking mental. A family of tourist walked past and looked alarmed.

I don't think we even looked that wet on the walk home. Neither of us put our heads in so it was just our clothes that were wet and it was hard to tell if they were soaked through, or just made of shiny, dark material.

We had to rush to get to Bercy on time and it was a bit of a nightmare with all of  B's cases, but she got there with ten minutes to spare. (She got the new ID bus and she said each seat has its own plug socket and there's free wi-fi.) It didn't feel sad saying goodbye because I know I'll see her soon in London, but I'm glad we made a big deal of her leaving, jumping in the seine. Here's the spot we jumped (or rather 'slid') in from:

And that was it, B was gone. I was all alone. 

Except... I wasn't really. Now I only have one more blog post to do before I leave Paris for good- my last few days in Paris.

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