By the way, do not believe when some travel blogs write not to bring shorts and flipflops to Europe because that'd be a tell that you're a tourist. One, it's a total lie. #DOH (American tourists wearing cargo shorts are like Asians with cameras; a honky shame) Two, they can tell. You cannot fake it. Also, what if you look like a tourist? Why fake who you are? There's no insider deal you get because you dress differently from the guided tour group.
Just be respectful of where you visit to the best of your abilities; be aware of your surroundings (Do not stand in the aisle in public trans, let the people behind you walk through), maybe learn a little bit of their language (but don't bother with a chit chat cause you're just wasting their time, which they hate to do) or, simply, don't bother to visit. They don't want you and they don't like you. Just because the EU considers tourism an important and essential economic growth area, doesn't mean that locals are gonna welcome you with arms wide open. They'll instead raise a price of your beer, croissant and the entrance to the Musee de l'Orangerie. They will kick über out and shut down Airbnb, and charge for wifi spots to leave you more disoriented than ever. And just when you find yourelf clueless in the corner that looks exactly like the hundreds that you have passed in the last hour drenched in sweat, they will pass you by knocking down a camera from your hand and mutter to themselves "Go home."
All this is to say that, I wouldn't wanna come back here as a visitor but I could totally LIVE here. Just as I could in Berlin or Tokyo.
I'm sure Parisians would take offense when I say Paris is the French-speaking New York City, so I'll limit it to the neighborhood of Belleville. By far the most amount of African and Asian population I've seen than any of the cities I visited. Take Berlin or Ams for instance, they would have "Asian-in-a-box" type places almost every other block as opposed to here, the joints look like they're catering to the crowd that knows the authentic. THIS, is absolutely my kind of hood. Banh Mi I had was legit though not spicy, probably because I spoke English to the lady of the house, who immediately showed her disdain. More on their English skill later.
Down by the metro station, I stumble onto a sizeable farmers market. Clothing, produce, meat product, lots of seafood. Super crowded. Again, THIS is my kind of hood. I keep waking against the current like a salmon on the egg-laying journey, pick up a small bite called brick, essentially a handmade hot pocket with potato, cheese, onions and some meat inside, fresh off the hot plate. I also grab a quesadilla-like cousin of brick (the name of which escapes me) that has shrimp inside, another delight. Both runs you about 2 euros each, can't be beat.
A sweaty excursion continues into the 9th (nearby Moulin Rouge), a row of independent music stores where Danimal and I failed to catch them open a day before. Soon I learn that they all close their storefront at 2pm for lunch. One merchant; "We're French. We like to take lunch. LONG lunch." 👏 The same guy also tells me that almost everyone on the street knows each other and likes to lunch together, keeping all the store hours in line. An attitude like this might be keeping retails in this part of the world healthy; music retails in Europe in general seem much healthier than US, so do their stock. Along with behemoths like Gibson, Fender and Roland etc, smaller European boutique brands like Waldorf, Doepfer, Duesenberg etc have a decent presence, which might be a change in a few years, but I'm crossing fingers.
What time is it? Laundry time. Walk downhill a block to a laundromat, throw my load in and hit up a café on the corner for a 2.20 glass of cold one. Back to the laundromat, a few pieces are still wet so a few extra minutes of dry, back to the said café for another glass. A gentleman who sits at a bar chuckles at the sight of me coming back, and this is how I meet Sam; a Lebanese-native who commutes to Paris from Grenoble weekly, a newly-wed. He gives me some insights on Paris, including how expensive his tiny pad is (which sounds comparable to LA price) a brief French lesson and a meat-and-cheese plate consist of ham, salami, a small salad and Gouda, fromage and fois-gras of cheese, camanbeart. As you go up the ladder of cheese intensity, more beers start to flow. Barkeeps that seemed initially standoff-ish loosen up and start asking questions; how old are you? Is Los Angeles an exciting place as it is in films? Are you Japanese or American? Neither, I answer. Now that I've spent almost half my life in California, I don't know if either of my countries would accept me as their own.
Regarding their English skill; it's true that they understand but do not speak back, but I doubt that it always comes from their arrogance. There seems to be this resentment that their mother tongue is not the international language anymore, but also the lack of needs for English skill is playing a big part; speaking from my own experience, comprehension comes much easier than communication. They understand your tourist needs perfectly, but you're at their mercy to get what you need, and it's not their loss if you don't understand what they tell you in reply. There are thousands of others they can take money from, those who try to understand French much harder than French try English, or any language for that matter.
None of these conversations and encounters would've happened had I not come down for Laundry by myself. Sam also told me that the park nearby, Buttes Chaumont which is within minutes walk from me is def worth a visit, so I go next morning. Built in Napoleon III era on the land where they used to hang bodies of executed criminals then horse carcasses and a depository for sewage, it now is filled with green hills, waterfalls and an Italian-themed temple that towers over the 19th arrondissement.
Also, Asian kids speaking French = ADORBS
So I come around a corner just about to get home, and I hear crowd chatters and possibly some stringed instruments coming through from a gorgeous garden;
It's six o'clock. It has begun. Fete de la Musique. THE PARTY TIME. and one hell of a party it is. The performances are everywhere; the official website has a map view that is filled with pins that indicate the registered events, even within walking distance from where I am there are half a dozen. I'm already ecstatic to just randomly walk into this unplugged jam, then I walk away I am approached by a group of youngsters, maybe about age 6 or 7, with some flyers in hands who realize I don't speak French, so with shy chuckles tells me "It is a concert, here in Belleville! We're gonna play too!" then run away. #STUPIDADORBS #CANTEVEN
For the rest of the evening I basically walk around Paris rather aimlessly and see the streets of Paris filled with music of every kind; a mediocre Pixies cover band set up in front of Saint-Jacques Tower, some Reggae coming through the spealkers that is violating the ears of every passer-by, a local Kenny G (only in a Jheri-Curls-sporting sense) doing some French sing-along at a packed cafe with a local Vinnie Colaiuta mixing up a few few odd time signature fills, a guitar duo in front of a tiny wine bar hidden in an alley way later joined by a female singer on All of Me, an African drum circle providing groove to a handful of volunteering dancers led by a pre-teen girl...you get the picture. It is chaotic, overwhelming and fun as hell. There is (seemingly) no elitist condescension of any screening process or audition, just direct communication between performers and their audience. As a working musician I always hold a certain standard to what I do and what I deem to be "good," but on the flip side I cherish the sense of liberation to let all of that go and just fucking enjoy whatever. Because at the end of the day, that's what you oughta be doing if you plan to do this for life. Bill Withers taught me that.
Also, what a great way to explore Paris; I wouldn't dare stand in a selfie-stick-ridden line to get into The Lourve but I gladly stand in the crowd to watch a beat boxer and a pop-and-locker in front of Notre-Dame. With that thought in mind I happen to walk by a tiny creperie in the aisle, a perfect timing. Realizing that I've been walking non-stop for hours and starved, I just order one with Nutella without really taking in all the options they offer; a few more people walk in while I stuff my face with this sweet delight, and they go for Nutella with coconut powder, cheese with tuna, cheese + chicken + eggs...remember dumbfuck? FINE PRINTS. PAY ATTENTION. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the shit out of my Nutella, but cmon. Might need to come back tomorrow, oh wait, I leave tomorrow. FUCK. Not even 48 hours ago I was hating this place and now I don't wanna leave. I don't wanna leave. There's just too much to explore in merely days. I'm standing in an uncomfortably tiny hole in the wall watching an old French dude having his apprentice redo a chicken crepe, appreciating the fact they care enough about making these simple snacks or just an old dude fucking with a young one. and of course the flavor. The texture for days.
With the knowledge that this could continue till next morning (they offer special Metro pass valid 5 pm~6am) and that I'll be Zurich-bound, I decide to head back to Belleville and check this one place out; a run-down cafe with on the corner that I had took notice of earlier in during the day. I just had the feeling. A place this grungy should not stand on this street for however long if it didn't have much to offer. This is past-midnight and my dear readers, I was right. Crowd is pouring out of the joint into the street, clapping and dancing to a self-looping guitarist and a drummer awkwardly jamming to a pre-recorded beat. There are other places open but THIS is the joint of the hood. I KNEW IT. I walk in and grab a beer, they tell me it's almost the last call which is a surprise, especially with the size of the crowd they've got going. Soon I realize the band is finishing up, while people are asking for more. I'm content, proving that my instinct did not betray me, and proceed to down my 1664. Then they come.
From the streets a guy walks up while the other band wraps up their rigs, a megaphone hanging from his shoulder, followed by a saxophonist, a snare drummer, a bass drummer, a French horn, another saxophone. The megaphone man talks to the barkeep, who in reply waves his band signaling "just go ahead." Or so I assume. Because the band proceeds to count themselves in, and jubilation ensues. Music-hungry crowd ecstatic, including me. Dancers twirling on the road where cars driving by alarmingly close, none of which stops music lovers from living in this moment, fully engaged. The brass band continues with a fierce rendition of Hava Nagila, then peaks with their version of I Feel Good to which the megaphone man sings ferociously and unintelligibly. Probably my favorite version of it ever.
Am I not welcome here? Who cares.
Hot and humid, crowded and expensive, then there was a terrorist attack; you get the idea.
Danimal and I arrive at Gare de l'Est in the afternoon, immediately greeted with muggy air and a blazing sun. Figure out how to get to our Airbnb alright but once again, my o2 sim does not work. (Eventually I get myself a local sim a few days after, people tell me that they changed the regulations and do not allow roaming as of last week. Lovely timing.) So we get to the front of the building after a healthy walk from the station, but no way to get in touch with the host. Try to look for her in the list of residence but no luck. Tension amounts as we stand helpless, drenched in sweat. Quiet of the neighborhood contrasts the inner frustrations. After walking around for about an hour I finally see a vaguely familiar face coming out of the building, looking rather concerned. Ines, our lovely host was patient enough to wait for my dumbass before heading out for the Father's Day. I feel deeply ashamed.
Once we make our way to her flat, the mood turns 180. Her two big windows open above almost every building in sight, and right in the middle stands the Eiffel, telling us without words "Guess you two assholes made it, eh?" Of course in my head she's speaking French. With our empty bellies we go down to Ménlimontant, but all the cafes have closed their lunch shift by then, so we pick up a whole rotisserie chicken, some fruits, veggies and baguette nearby, plus a bottle of Bordeaux and set up our late lunch with the aforementioned view. Throw on some Edith Piaf, take a deep breath and think; I don't wanna go anywhere. Why don't we just hang here, write, woodshed and later we hit bars? No harm in that.
Upon taking advantage of wifi while Danimal snores, I find out about Fete de la Musique, the international day of music which is a day after we leave Paris. Now my plan to go back to Ams seems less attractive; if I stayed here till the day the streets fill with guerilla performances of all kind, I can head straight to Switzerland in 4 hours instead of 8. As much as I would love to reunite with some faces in Ams, I have to do this - make a Skype call to NS Intl. This comes back to haunt me later.
The D'Animal awakens and we head to Le Seine, the most romantic places on earth, or so been told. With the blood orange sky and the centuries-old buildings standing along, a glass of Champagne at a riverside cafe goes down like a life potion. Countless youths sitting along the river, drinking, dancing to some French hiphop on a Bluetooth speaker, laughing, making out. Sure looks more interesting than my youth; Paris young adult love random picnics on any lawn, as we see at Champ de Mars looking up the Eiffel's light show that occurs at the top of the clock. Upon initially catching from the distance, I laugh at the irony of how we in Cali joke about the tackiness of the Eiffel in Vegas and how dumb of a tourist trap it is, then see the real thing, trying hard to be this sort of a Disneyland trick, not even with the synchronized music like Bellagio does. Once closer, seeing its magnificent scale and the joy in Parisians' faces - No, it still looks dumb. Cool I've seen it. The most fun we had was trying to negotiate beer price with the middle eastern youths asking 5 euros for 2 bottles. They come down to 5 for 4, but I insist on 5 for 5. Almost had him I swear.
15min later we pay 5 for 2. It's too goddamn hot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Next day we hit Montmartre. Another mega tourist spot, so we skip the line and snap a few promotinal shots for D'Animal. I'm happy to see most buskers seemingly making their wages, but I just cannot allow myself to hear any more note of Richard Clayderman coming out of a harp, I just can't. Walking away, I see a string duo playing Saint-Saëns Dance Macabre and I'm in love right away. Not with two lovely ladies, but this moment; on the side of Sacré-Cœur, surrendering to the sweet, seductive tritone under flaming Parisian sun. Moments like this make every negative aspect of travel worthwhile. And the list mounts high at the moment.
Then comes the chaos. As we walk by Champs-Élysèes, we see and hear a few dozen police cars flying through pedestrians and taxis, sirens blazing. After about 20min of constant siren we start to get concerned. We're still offline and there's no way of telling what it's about, so we keep walking. When we meet with Ben, a Lyon native and Dan's in-law who's been residing in Paris for years, we become aware of the terrorist attack. Speechless. Not so much about the timing, rather the frequency of it. They just had one in the same place. London just had one. Terrorist attacks in Europe has become the new sad norm as mass shootings in the US. Speechless, the reality we live in. Ben acknowledges, but says what else do we do other than to live on? We raise our glasses somberly.
Ben, who wears a blazer as a motorcycle jacket on a hot day, gets us a bottle of chilled Rose, a drink I wouldn't usually go for but it cools you down, then orders a round of pastis; 40~45% ABV anise-flavored spirit you dilute to taste, another perfect summer drink. Now, I ate 2 different edibles and truffles in Amsterdam and felt rather normal, but this, gets me high. Almost like cocaine high. No wonder this replaced Absynthe. Even Ben is starting to feel the mind-numbing effect. We say farewell to our handsome host and hit the street, but the rest is kind of a blur. The walk that Ben suggest we'd take is certainly scenic, but a jazz bar that we try to locate is closing in a few minutes, so we find an Irish bar with reasonable price tag and shoot a round of Jameson. The rest, needles to say, is even more blurry.
We wake next morning miraculously on time (alcoholic level = Bavarian) to pack and clean Ines' place, give ourselves enough time to secure Danimal's return ride to Amsterdam at Gare du Nord. I'm pretty confident that Danimal's reservation is intact but I don't wanna risk it. Also, not so sure about my updated itinerary to Zürich, sice the E-ticket says it's for 20/7/2017. We wander around a bit to find a window with a SNCF representative, needless to say that proves to be the least of our worries. I show him the confirmation email, but he doesn't see our reservation in the system. #facepalm. But here's the confirmation email! Do we have tickets or not? Do you recognize, and/or accept tickets you yourself sell online?
I try my hardest to be patient, then a guy I assume to be a supervisor stands inappropriately close to my face and starts yelling to our guy behind the window, like a bully ordering a skinny kid to go fetch him lunch. The breath, the smell, the heat. A true test of my patience. Remember to pack a sweatband next time. I'll be rocking it like Dirk Diggler circa You've Got the Touch session. Or C. Riley. Eventually this Bully with bad breath takes us both to the platform, and talks to a dreadlocked black guy standing by TGVs who says "No, Thalys does not deal with E-tickets. You just have to show us your email." I show him the email and he goes, "Yes, he's good to go." Then the TGV points at me and goes "YOU, I have a big problem, but him we have no problem with." Relieved, Danimal almost goes for a hug, me not so much. Well at least one guy who travels today gets on a train. Guess I'll have to spend another hour or two on a phone with NS Intl.
I turn to my D'Animal and say farewell as this is the end of #danimalandshinja - I regret that I feel annoyed and frustrated but it does not concern him. Thanks to him, we explored the borders that I hadn't planned to, ate and drank more than ever in quality and quantity, met people that taught me the true meaning of #zerofucksgiven. I will cherish the night spent air guitaring to Rust In Peace in our boat after the bar hop in Amsterdam, re-establishing that it is THE BEST METAL ALBUM EVER. It's been a true adventure, my friend. See you back in beautiful South Bay.
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. Currently travelblogging at #beatvagabond and working on new material.