a party bus, ventriloquists, a tank filled with snakes and dancing minature ponies made to sit and beg as dogs, muscle men wearing leather bras, girls on the fourth show of the day lagging behind the other dancers, stealing champagne from the Japanese tourist's table beside me, everything so incredibly kitsch and bad, and so fucking hilariously good that it becomes one of the all time Greatest Experiences of my Life TM? ARE THEY TAKING THE PISS AND WHO EVEN CARES?
This will never happen again. The first time I sat through this show. It's taken me three days to even try to write about it, and in the end, I cannot find the words. Maybe, years from now, when I am a perverted Wrinkle Holder, something will come.
Wait, that didn't sound right...
And the teenage American girl who walks beside her mother as we collect our coats and says, "but...that was nothing LIKE the movie..."
Oh god. So bad it was fucking AMAZING.
Anyway, enough about things which are amazing, but which distract.
There is the tour - The hotels, the bars, the roadies who talk loud English in the Tourist Cafes which line the village where we are. My beautiful Meka, who follows her own agenda, and rightfully so. The hum of the air conditioning, and the Beige Lighting of the corridors and the room I am in. This seems almost like work. And I am not working, I'm an anoymous guest. But I can see now what Meka was describing. It's one thing to travel the world, and another to be so tired all you do is travel to different hotels and see the inside of different stadiums. I try and avoid this place as much as I can. Though I'm walking at least 5 hours a day, and occassionally need to come home and bury my face into the clean, soft Hotel Pillow. Yum.
There is the Paris I have discovered - The streets, the monuments, the famous, the hidden. The desperate homeless who crawl on sticks across scenes so familiar to me. Scenes I have seen hung on a gallery wall. There are the minorities who are stopped by the gendarmes at every corner. The fashionable and wealthy who have an Access All pass, but choose to stay on the correct side of the Rue de Royale. There are the vendors who line the Seine selling books. Books! Books and art! The street vendors sell books and art. That was the first time I truly fell in love with this city, when I saw that. There is cafe after cafe after cafe, all so expensive, and impossible to discern without serious investigation. There are baguettes and donuts and crepes and pastries and wines and beers and bars and girls and lights. Oh my, the lights. And I've seen all of this on my own. Just walking. Hour after hour, day after day, just observing and taking it all in. Knowing that I'll need it, not for this cheap arse travel blog story I'm writing. But for the real thing. And that's the one thing I really feel I have taken in. That this city can light the creative spark, just by being itself. All it has to do is exist. That's what I'm taking in, as I walk the streets. Gallons and gallons of Creative Spark TM.
There is the Paris that is yet to be - Because for all its beauty, Paris is hollow, without somebody to share it with. To hold the hand of the one you Love while taking deep breaths rather than photos, to stop beside the river and touch each other's skin, to make love at night, knowing that this is where Love came home, this is the Paris that is yet to be.
But it will be here soon.
We've made it so.
So in the meantime, I'll walk, and I'll wait, and I'll grin.
Because soon that True Paris, will start to begin.
The answers are just out of reach. Hidden in the future. But how can I not believe, when I am walking the streets of Paris, and reading her words? I will not over think it. But the city has a way of making my head spin, and as I discover new parts of Paris, I open myself up more and more to The Narrative of Our Story.
Hilarious. And so beautiful.
Thursday I watch the Dinosaur Show from the crowd. Hundreds of French families clap and cheer and wear silly dinosaur hats and buy Unofficial Merchandise from men in leather jackets, out front of the stadium. And the men spit and smoke, while the ladies shower affection upon the children. I'm in a surreal Paris. I am so proud of Meka and her part in this. It's more of a lifestyle than what anyone could imagine. But she is still so damn cool.
We have tickets booked for Moulin Rouge later that night. Christmas Eve at Moulin Rouge. Sure, why the fuck not? I imagine the lighting, the crowd, the tables, the dancers. I prepare my suit, my shoes, my hair...
Walking with Dinosaurs is the third biggest tour in the world right now, after U2 and Coldplay, and I'm right in the guts of it. Two shows a day they sell out, all across Europe, then later in the year, Japan. Meka is, typically, adored by all, and being her guest makes me part of the family. The first day here it's name after name after name, and I give up trying to know everybody. They've been 9 months on the road, over a 100 people, techies, truckies, production staff, catering, fucking everything and everyone. What do I do at home? I sure as Hell don't travel the world making gigantic robot dinosaurs. Everyone's a character, the Drivers especially. Hard nuts from Northern England, covered in tattoos and whistling at French girls. This is not My Paris. But it's a hilarious Base from which to discover what it is I'm really looking for. That's home for me here. A small, anonymous fish, in a monstrous travelling pond. The hotel empties in the morning, and then they all come charging back about 9pm. So all day, every day, I wake up, eat a croissant, drink a coffee, then start to walk. I'm going to know this city. I promise myself that. And being alone, I am free.
The first morning I wake up dazed and confused, and leaking "Ham Sandwiches" from my nose. I can't feel my face, hairy mouth, all the Jazz that the City of Lights could dish up on one long Winter's Night. But after a blink or two as I open the curtain, my heart soars and I am ready.
It's not cold like London. There is no snow, yet. It's just grey and a casual 2 degrees. Two pair of socks and back in the Connies. The hotel is right by the river in Bercy, so we're away from the Heart, but easy to find. Not that I want to be found. I want to be lost. I hide in my jacket and put the sunglasses on. The ones she gave me when I woke in her house in London. I wear them every day. I want her to see what I see. And I want her to be close. But that's...
I carry a camera when I walk, but it's impossible to know what to snap. I'm no photographer. And every fucking street corner is a postcard, once I start drifting away from the river through Bastille and then back toward Notre Dame. I mean I could be taking photos of a tacky restaurant, which to me looks so beautiful beneath the impossibly perfect apartments. Balconies, curtains, everything is as anyone has ever imagined. And all the Parisiens, with their coats and dogs and cigarettes, deftly navigating the city streets, so I just dig my hands deep in my pockets and go with the flow, be one, be this, cross the roads hard not scared, I don't want to visit, I want to live in this place, I want to know how it feels when I surrender to the beat, when I shed my old skin, and am reborn in this sacred heart.
I walk for six and a half hours, that first day. I get to know back streets, shortcuts, dive bars, where to go and where to avoid. I see both sides of the river, and I fall in love with Isle St Louis. I walk from Bercy to the Tower and back again. I watch the buildings light up, one after the other, at dusk. I see a Golden City beneath a Golden Sky, and I have come Home. My soul knows it. It brought me here. And I let it take control.
There's only one thing missing. And she is back in Hackney.
But I have come this far on blind belief.
And I don't lose Faith, in Fate's Beautiful Plan TM.
I'm tired. It's taken me ten hours to get here from London. Fucking crazy. But I'm in Paris. I work out the Metro and head to Cour St Emillion, where the hotel is. Where my friend is waiting. It's 9.30pm. I fucking made it. That's all I can think. I fucking made it to Paris. I fucking made it. Now, all I need is a good night sleep and I can start to enjoy myself.
I should know better.
It takes me about half an hour to get to the hotel, and just as I'm walking in the door, I hear a scream. There she is, my little Meka. Bouncing up and down and waving at me. We scream and hug and cry and kiss and laugh all at once. I'm surprised I don't snot or shit. Everything is happening and I'm dizzy as Hell.
C'mon, she cries, drop your bag upstairs, we're going out!
She takes me by the hand and I don't feel tired anymore, I don't feel anything. No, I mean I really don't feel anything.
Meka is so excited. I am so lucky she is here. I just grin as she talks. I don't know if I have the energy to make words happen out of mouth anyway. Doing doing doing, she bounces as she talks, "the Production Manager is taking us out to Buddha Bar! Some famous place or something. We just called a taxi, but I knew you would make it!" We get to the room, I literally throw my bag in, take one second to think of Train/Ferry/Snow/Train = Bed, and then I stick my fingers out from my hips and say, "yeeeeeah. let's fucking go out!"
Yeah, right, ok. Buddha Bar. There's 5 of us. Meka and her gay, Pat, David and Lisa, the Production Managers for the show Meka is working on here in Paris, and I. They're all amazing. They take me in their arms and we walk into Buddha Bar. I've heard about it. They make bad fucking chill out CDs, but the place itself is fucking amazing. Stairs lead down from the front reception area and overlook a huge dining room, a film set, James Bond, baby, with a gigantic Buddha statue at one end of the room. We are seated right in front of it. There are people everywhere. Everyone is hot. The place is red, black and dark wood. Music is blaring. Waiters are all around us. Hot girl, hot girl, hot guy, head spin, Matty, Matty, Joing, Joing, Joing, Sensation, Paris, French, what the FUCK is going on? Woooooooo!
Lisa looks at me and laughs. Welcome to Paris, Matty, she cries. And I laugh, we all laugh, we all drink and drink and drink and drink, and eat and drink and drink for hours. Champagne, White Wine, Red Wine, Sake, More Sake, More Wine, a tiny bit of Sushi, Drink, Drink, Drink.
A few hours in, Meka leans over and says, we might get to have Ham Sandwiches later...and all I can think is, Fucking Awesome. Long day. I'd actually really enjoy a Ham Sandwich. I can picture them. In the hotel on a clean plate. Nice Ham Sandwiches...awesome. Yum, yum, yum. Nom, nom, nom.
But that's not what she meant at all. And all of a sudden, it's London, all over. I may never sleep again. This was not the Paris I was looking for. This is Fun TM.
The Port of Calais is about as far removed from my romantic image of France as my friends are to me now. A thick layer of snow can not conceal the cold concrete greeting we receive when the ferry docks. Foot passengers are made to wait as the cars roll off. And my earlier decision to stand close to the gangplank has succeeded in having me squashed flat against the door, as hundreds of tired, drunk, and angry English people mill like cattle behind me. This ain't a "yeeeeah" moment. And to top it off, I find out that my TGV ticket to Paris actually leaves not from Calais town centre, but from Calais Frethun, which is out toward the country side. Yeah, cool. I have 45 minutes. There is no connecting bus. Hundreds of people fight for the four or five taxis which are there. I have 25 euro, and there is no ATM. Everything is covered in snow and I am in fucking Nowhere. I start to walk. In Converse. Through the snow. What choice do I have?
About 500 hundred metres up the road two French girls with the same plan succeed in stopping a taxi. He gets out of his car and walks into the shop to grab a coffee, and they throw their luggage in the back and jump in. I run toward them and stand in front of the cab, saying, s'il vouz plait, s'il vouz plait, but they ignore me. I stand there, shivering, and wait until the driver emerges. He tries to ignore me and in my panic I slip into English. Please, please, please, I have to get to my train. This is my only chance. He stops and looks me up and down and asks, Are you English? No, I say, Australian. He smiles, and says, Ok Kangaroo. I take these girls to their hotel, and then I take you. I shower him with Merci, and climb into the front of the cab. I have 25 minutes. I have no fucking idea where this train station is.
We start to drive and he and the girls end up speaking good English. I am Big Willy! The driver tells me. You know why they call me that? I laugh, the girls laugh, Big Willy laughs, and the atmosphere in the cab is relaxed. The guy even tells a Dad Joke. He says, What do they call William in England? I don't know, I reply, Billy? Yes! He says. And what do they call a dog with no paws? I don't know, I reply. They don't call it anything, he laughs, they just go and pick it up!
I can't believe I get the one fucking Dad Joke taxt driver with a huge cock in France. Or maybe they're everywhere, I don't know.
The girls, Charlotte and Marie, are awesome. They tell Big Willy to drive me to the station first, as I am on a deadline and they are not. Big Willy agrees. What time your train? He asks. I look at the ticket. 15 minutes. Oh, he says, okay. Let's go fast.
I shit you not, Big Willy drives through the tiny streets of Calais at about 140kph. On the snow. I'm gripping the fucking dash and asking, so, errr, you use chains on your wheels? Big Willy spits out the window. No chains! We don't use chains! I drive like this my whole life!
The car is sideways half the time and at one point we actually mount the sidewalk to pass cars that are stopped at a red light. The girls are chatting casually in the back. I'm thinking I'm going to die. I never made it to Paris. But at least I died in France.
Eventually we make it to the station. I have 2 minutes. The fare comes to exactly 25 euro.
I want to kiss Big Willy.
I may never write that again.
I scramble over the snow toward the platform and get on the train just before the doors close.
The clouds that roll into the channel from the Atlantic are ominous. I'm on the top deck of the ferry, chain smoking and drinking wine to keep warm. It's -2 degrees up here, but it's better than being inside the guts of this floating retirement village / food court. I find a spot behind the glass wall, and I sit on my backpack and smoke and the sun sets somewhere behind this monstrous grey cloud in the sky, which stretches over the horizon and moves with fanatic conviction toward the coast of England. The centre of it is thick with battle. On the edges sparse skeletal fantasms float beside the storm, and I wonder if they are victims, tossed aside, or demons, who herd the storm across the seas and keep it tight, keep it condensed, keep it vicious. Below this sky, miles from our ferry, I see the lights of tanker ships braving the waters below the war and I take a slug of wine from my plastic cup and silently salute. I try not to turn and look at England. I try to stay focused on what is ahead. We text, from time to time. But as I approach Calais, my mind turns to the job at hand. My connecting train to Paris, which leaves in an hour and a half. I don't see a problem. My ticket says Calais. The ferry arrives at Calais.
I am certain I can get to the train station in an hour and a half.
London has me trapped. The whole city is covered in snow. All the trains to Paris are cancelled and all the airports closed. I try in vain, along with 30,000 others, to crawl my way to France, but the snow keeps falling and it seems as though the whole city has shut down. Eventually I cut my losses and head back to safety at my friends house, where we sit online for hours searching for an answer. Train to Dover, ferry to Calais, train from Calais to Paris. The red wine starts to flow. Outside it's a Winter Wonderland of snowmen and snow fights and children playing in the middle of major roads. Everyone has surrendered. And those who haven't rush for the warmth and close the hatches. I put clean socks on and kick back relak. It's going to be a slow, lazy night, this last night in London.
That's when she appears. Red dot. Bottom corner.
I smile. It's rare this voice, but it's never changed. Last I heard she had flown to a new life in L.A. A designer now. In vogue and in Vogue. But the memories of us have never died, and on a night like this in London, everybody needs a little warmth.
Hello You, I type.
London is covered in snow! It's amazing!
She replies - How do you know? And I say, Because I'm in it!
There is a pause.
Hackney! I type and wait...
WTF? I'm in Hackney! That's my hood!
Get out of town...you moved to L.A.???
No! I didn't end up going! I've been in Hackney for six years!
We keep talking and there's an urgency now. We are ten minutes from each other and it's my last night in London and there is 6 years to discover and nothing has changed, and nothing was lost, and our lives, our distant lives which crossed so many times with no result, until on a magical night in London, Mistress Fate opens the door again, and dares us to step through.
I have forgotten, but not forgotten.
I have remembered,
all this time,
As has she. And her subtle smile as she opens her door brings us closer than ever before as I stand shivering in the snow outside her house.
"Watch your step," I say, "it's slippery out here..."
We climb into the back of the taxi and laugh, but it's not a madness this laugh. It's a softness. A wonder. And it's not until we are hidden in the dark corner of the bar that we truly shake our heads at all that had conspired to birth this moment. She talks of her year and I talk of mine and the patterns and the dates and the Hopes and the fantasies all fit like the clasped hands of old lovers as we sip our gingerbread drinks, completely unaware of the festive drunks around us. And I won't lie, I drink in every moment with her, and I'd close my eyes just to hear her voice, but I can not for fear of her not being there when I open them again. And I never thought I'd actually live the sentence that she says, "of all the people, in all the places, it had to be You that came into my Life tonight..."
I fall in Love. I do. I am not ashamed, here in Hell, to admit it. I fall deeply, madly, passionately in Love with this person who I have known for ten years, and who has never completely disappeared, though we have never been together. Hours fly by, firstly sharing secrets of the past, before moving on to Dreams of Tomorrow TM. It's Us, it's really Us, on the other side of the World, in exactly the same place, leading completely different lives.
What a fucking Head Fuck.
Some friends of hers are close by and we join them, just to find more time in this limited night. We are whisked away to Shoreditch, a Member's Only club, where Rockstars rub shoulders with Media Gurus and the Class System is in Full Effect. A heated pool on the roof top, surrounded by snow and glamour and martinis and cigarettes, whilst downstairs lavish restaurants and velvet cushions sate every desire of those who desire this. But we don't. We simply laugh at it all, and our every word hangs upon the wire which delicately binds us together until we can take no more of this foolish facade, this Tight Knit London which is worn by only the priveleged few. So we run for it, out the door and into the night, into a taxi, and into the Light.
And some things never leave. And I learn of Truth and Tenderness, Fate, Love and Patience, on a dark and frozen morning, in My London.
I leave the next morning. We look at each other in our silly thermals and giggle self conciously but there is no hiding the comfort we feel in front of each other. And there is a moment, My Moment, when I descend the stairs and she doesn't see me, and I stand quietly watching her as she stares out the back window, leaning gently on the wall and I don't wonder what she is thinking, I wonder that she exists at all. This...this Her. Wrapped in English wool and blowing softly on the cup she nestles absent mindedly.
We have breakfast, slowly, and she escorts me to my train without a word of hesitation and neither of us can leave the other, or bear to end this This.
I kiss her as I climb aboard the train, and she says, "Au Revoir, my Pop Up Boy."
And later that day as the White Cliffs of Dover fade into the the sunset, I hide in my iPod and listen to Songs Ohia as my heart tries to drag England with me to France.
We get no second chance in this life.
You won't have to think twice, if it's Love you will know.
You can find Heaven in the strangest of places. In this case, Heaven was in Columbia Road, Hackney. Or Shoreditch. Staring at a gorgeous bar girl while she worked, my oldest and dearest friend beside me, two pints of Guiness and a tonne of snow falling outside. A White Christmas for all, and for all The Mood to match. Then came the Sunday Roast, with Yorkshire Pudding the size of a hat and a gravy you can not imagine, and as we ate, the music sat happily between the joyful yuultide banter of the crowd and the cries of the flower market vendors outside, layer after layer of Right Now, and all of this had me spinning and I could feel the laughter just tumbling out of me, great waves of happy tears crashing against all that angst which had built up over the year, and my friend laughed and I laughed and the bar girl leaned over her side of the bar and raised her eyebrows at me and started laughing too, and man, this Royal Oak, this Piece of Peace, this Moment, this now, My London, not London, but My London. What a Happy London it was.
I'm shy of this Wave of Euphoria which has hurried me on towards The End. Or more to the point - The Beginning. But if I can remain humble, I feel as though it has a chance. Though Happy and Humble are two pieces of a different quiche, when you can't help but be wary of Feeling Good TM. Anyways, I do believe That Time has passed, enough for me to remember back perhaps seven years, when I last felt the World At My Feet, and a blissful and pure freedom whereby every dream was simply a wish away. What a wonderful feeling that is. Avoid the negativity which plagues so many and simply put the faith back where it belongs, in your heart, on your sleeve. That's what got me through this year. That and the friends I'd made, simply by being open about just how much it all hurt my soul.
And now, Fancy Pants, now I plan to Smile For Real, to Open Up For Real, to not be ashamed of my Outlaw Heart and Country Home Soul. They can live together, I have always had them, living together. And it is only when I do not listen, that things begin to turn.
And now, behind the Wayfarers, I'm dreaming. I won't lie. It's a dream of such Pure Madness, that to even admit it to myself is a reason to bow my head and blush. Kick the dirt and mumble an exit. Raise one arm behind the neck and excuse myself, I've got to go. Where? Just, away. I've got to be alone with my dream, my insane notions and Fairy Tales, because Alone, they can bloom, they can Grow a Garden such as you've never seen. And maybe that's okay, to live alone in a Garden of Dreams. At least for a little while. And who knows, these days of impossible possibilities, that garden may just break the walls that confine it in phantasm, and outward, upward, it may even...it may even...
Well, maybe you get it, and maybe you don't. I'm kind of guessing you do.
That's why we all like each other, no?