(Inspired to write this by Michael Kazepis’ Facebook cover art photo.)
I get dropped off on the outskirts of the city by a young trendy. It’s early afternoon and I have twenty more kilometers to cover before I reach the city center. Hitchhiking is out of the question. It’s too residential, and there’s public transportation and police on the roads. I don’t have any money to spare for a bus ride so I’m walking to Paris.
I take frequent breaks-the backpack is feeling heavier than usual today. I tried my hardest to bring only what I thought were the bare essentials to survive for a few months in Europe and I still have thirty pounds on my back.
I make it to the commercial district of Paris, the west side of the Seine, as evening falls. The buildings here are some of the tallest I’ve seen this trip, actual skyscrapers reminding me of NYC. Most European cities have buildings built ages ago that are no more than three or four stories tall. It takes me a bit of navigating to find a bridge across the river into the city center.
Darkness permeates and the shadows become blankets for the scenery. I approach what appears to be a small, single block park. Rabbits go scattering for their burrows. Drunk teenagers giggle at me from under the trees as I take my steps across the park carefully, watching for burrow entrances, and keep moving toward the city lights.
Charles De Gaulle Avenue would have been impressive enough by itself, but the fucker has the Arc de Triomphe marking one of its edges in the city center.
It’s a multi-lane avenue with wide sidewalks on each side. Restaurants, gift shops, clothing stores, etc. You name it, it’s on this street. Though it’s already 22:00, there are still many people out and about.
The energy of entering a new metropolis always has the same effects on me. I want to street perform. So I do.
I’m still setting up when a pair of crust punk travelers from Poland happen by and chat me up. They listen to a story and decide I need to drink whiskey with them. We drink straight from the bottle, and as a suddenly as they arrived in my world, they were gone.
So now I’m telling stories with a buzzing head. The smiles coming from my face are involuntary. I am swaying and trying to read my words, but really I just want to sit down and smoke a cigarette.
I’m barreling through another story, three people are passing by and one stops in front of me. I look up and find myself staring at a gorgeous woman. Dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes. My heart flutters. Leyla is her name. She’s from Rome and she’s been drinking wine.
“You are a beautiful man,” Leyla tells me before hugging me.
She invites me to come with her to drink, but her friends put a stop to that idea immediately. They are unsure of this drifter-type and don’t feel comfortable bringing a stranger to their hotel room.
Acting rather brazen, I make a counteroffer and suggest we go buy our own libations and drink on the street. Leyla is torn. I can see the thoughts in her head, trying to decide whether to stay or go.
At her friends urging, she goes with them, but not before grabbing me and giving me the most sensual kiss of that summer. We wave farewell to each other and I am left to laugh at life once more.
The sidewalk traffic is beginning to thin out so I start hunting for a place to sleep. I find a small park on the avenue and bed down in some bushes.
At some point overnight a group of young adults sit and converse near the bushes. One of them goes into the bushes to, I assume, urinate and discovers me. They leave me be and continue speaking, but in whispered French, and I drift back into slumberland.
My first night in Paris was a trumpet blast of magic that carried me through the next few days.
I stand on a sidewalk populated with Balkan state refugee women and their children begging English tourists for money. They don’t take kindly to me invading their territory at first, but I give them a donated box of cookies as a peace offering and they accept me. They even begin warning me whenever bicycle police are riding by so I won’t be ticketed or arrested.
I share a red Paris sunset with a man who speaks enough English to explain to me he is still grieving over the loss of his father the year before. In return, I relate to him the loss of a friend over 8 years ago that is still painful.
“We think we are gods and forget we are only men,” he says. “Cherish every moment of your life.”
I smile at him, “That’s why I’m here.”
I sleep in parks, on sidewalks, wherever. No one seems to mind.
I eat so much baguette and Camembert. So much baguette and Camembert.
I perform at the Eiffel Tower, in front of the Louvre, across from Notre Dame, and near Moulin Rouge in the Red Light District. I come up with this great idea to attract new audiences. Instead of standing and telling stories constantly until my voice runs out, I hold a sign that says, “GIVE ME 1 EURO AND I’LL TELL YOU A STORY”. When someone walks up with a Euro coin in their hand, I reveal a hidden flap on the bottom of my sign indicating they may choose “COMEDY”, “DRAMA”, or “POEM”. I then recite something from memory and the people get a kick out of it.
I make mad money in a couple days and when it’s time to move on, I have enough to afford a hostel bed and shower, and a train ride to Versaille.
I leave the city with new found knowledge. I know that no matter where I go, how I get there, who lives there and what language they speak, I can make it. I leave feeling like a true Urban Survivalist.
J.W. Wargo is a Nomadic Bizarro Storyteller originally from Boise, Idaho. His travels have taken him from Budapest to Honolulu and all points in between. He has a Bizarro fiction novella out called Avoiding Mortimer.