Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Ramblings: Le Dirty Weekend

December 2001 saw mine and Rob's first anniversary arrive and we decided to go on a romantic but economically viable weekend in Paris. The travel agent assured us that the bargain priced 2 star hotel we'd booked was actually at least 3 star standard but had lost a star for not having a lift. We fell for it. He reassured us that the location in the Pigalle, red light district of Paris, was actually quite romantic and not at all seedy or rough. I quite liked the idea of staying in the red light district. Seedy is usually ok by me. It can be fun. I like the people watching in seedy areas. It's better quality. I like to call it local colour. I visualised glamorous French hookers parading by languidly in big hats and pencil skirts with well trimmed Poodles on leads. The sound of their heels as they passed would provide a dramatic punctuation to the atmosphere of Paris and they would nod aloofly, drawing deeply on their Gauloises as I passed. I got all this a little wrong.

The flight was amusing and we tried hard not to laugh too openly at the scarily stern Air France stewardesses. I particularly liked the look of disdain they gave to everyone as they slammed down coffees on the tray tables. The Metro amused me too and I was delighted to see accordion players banging out what sounded like the "'Allo 'Allo" theme tune as they strolled up and down the trains.

The hotel was a bit of a slap in the face. It was on a street lined with strip clubs and XXX cinemas. The neon signs flashed with boredom in the December drizzle. The men in the doorways looked haggard and menacing and the women were just heroin addled and dirty. The greasy little man on reception looked Simian with his walnut like face. We climbed an eternity of stairs to our room to greet the horror that awaited us.

The room was like a Jackson Pollack painting. This wasn't paint splashes though. It was a collage of stains and cigarette burns. The headboard and carpet were like poker work, swirls of circular burns marking a hideous pattern. The carpet wasn't much better. The grimed window looked out onto a small dank courtyard below and a wall opposite. I entered the bathroom and was astonished that so much black mould could grow in a room so small. I tried the shower and a weak trickle of rust came out. The tap was the same, as was the toilet.

Rob was looking sheepish and a bit anxious.

"It's only for 3 nights. It'll be fine." He began to unpack.

I rang reception and told the man, in the halting pidgin French I still recalled from my O levels, that there was no water at all.

"Wait one hour and there will be water." He said.

I looked over at Rob who had a look of horror on his face.

"You've not packed any underwear or KY jelly." He looked downcast. His dirty weekend plans now involved no sex and a lot of mould and dust.

"No underwear! My goodness!" I was going to have to find pants fast or face Paris commando.

"No KY!" He replied, more vigorously. His priorities were different from mine.

We decided to go for a short walk and anyone who has ever been on a short walk with me will know, this took about 3 hours. I get disorientated. I also emphatically claim to know where I'm going. We headed towards the Eiffel Tower. I forgot to factor in that the Eiffel Tower is actually quite large and looks a lot nearer than it is. We eventually ate in a small cafe and turned back after 90 minutes of walking when we were still no nearer.

We got back to the hotel and the room looked no better. Still no water, which the man from reception responded to by saying "Wait one hour and there will be water."

There was no water in one hour so we went to bed under the stained blanket feeling sweaty and grubby. We didn't sleep much. From midnight onwards there was an hourly ritual. On the hour, every hour, we would hear footsteps going up to the room above us and a knocking on the door. The door would open and shortly afterwards there would be the sound of muffled voices followed by the frantic squeaking of bed springs for a short period, followed by the sound of a set of feet going back down the stairs. This carried on hourly all night. We were staying in a brothel.

We woke the next day and the man from reception told me that there would be water in one hour. Oddly there was. We showered and went downstairs, clean but with trepidation, for breakfast. The restaurant wasn't welcoming and the motley collection of prostitutes sitting around weren't exactly warm and friendly. They were smoking, but there were no Poodles and pencil skirts. Just track marked arms and black ringed eyes set in pale greasy faces. I think they were about to clock off. It's hard to have an appetite for a stale croissant in this atmosphere.

We had breakfast in town and set off out, excited to be in Paris in spite of having no pants on and feeling rather weary. The first stop was at a small chemist shop nearby. My O level French didn't cover buying KY Jelly so a small anatomical mime was involved which worked a treat and Rob (who oddly made me go in the shop alone) was very pleased.

Paris was stunning. It was a crisp December day and it was everything I expected. I did complain about the prices of coffee near Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower was a bit, well, brown, but you can't have everything. We bought underwear and saw sights and I was happy. Sadly there was no water again in the hotel room (for at least the next hour according to reception) and we set out for a meal and sampled a few of the local bars before returning for another night listening to the squeaking bed springs of a girl who certainly had a good work ethic.

We were weary but delirious with joy the next day to discover we had 30 minutes of water. Another day of sightseeing, so we explored Monmartre. I loved the Sacre Coeur and the windy backstreets with their narrow stepped approaches. The drinks were hideously expensive though, but I didn't mind. Rob had a single whiskey which cost £12. We stood out as tourists and two men approached our cafe table and started to draw us which bemused me. We had no intention of buying anything. The first man turned to me smiling and showed me a very idealised picture of me which made me look like a much better looking Brad Pitt. I laughed. The second man turned to Rob and showed a picture of Rob which he had drawn. Rob didn't laugh. The picture looked like a cross between Bernard Breslaw, off the Carry On films, and Frankenstein's monster. Rob can't speak French but he puffed out his chest and said "Non!" in a voice so authoritative that the two (con) artists scuttled away.

We ate and later found a suitably dark and sleazy basement gay bar and settled in to have a drink or two. It was actually more than two. We were tempted by a cocktail called The Flaming Christobel. I liked the name. Wandering aimlessly along the Champ Elysees an hour later we were laughing hysterically but lost and bewildered. We kept walking. There were a lot of dubious women lining doorways and we laughed wildly as we spotted a few of them providing relief to assorted men in the alleys. Somehow we found the hotel and unsurprisingly the water was off for an hour. We settled in for our final night.

There had been a football match that evening between Paris and a team from Glasgow. I don't know enough about sport to name the teams. Sadly a horde of drunken Scottish football fans had taken over the hotel and were singing bawdy chants most of the night. At least it drowned out the noise of the hookers but I became alarmed when they smashed a window and started to systematically throw all the furniture out. I can't understand why the monkey faced man on reception was so reluctant to call the police, even after my third irate phone call. I'm sure he understood what I was saying.

On checking out the next day the wizened little man handed me a fax. It was dated 24 hours before. The fax was telling us that we had to stay another night as there was an airport strike (had a stewardess been made to smile? If so that was unfair). I was livid and let rip in bad French. I told the man there was no way I was staying in that place another minute and grabbed my case and stalked off. I do occasionally have a flare up of temper but it's rare. My dander was up for sure. Unluckily, at this moment a small dishevelled group of red haired men in Glasgow football shirts lurched into reception. The smell of stale alcohol was ripe. I saw white and decided it would be a good idea to tell them what I thought of them in a shouty tirade of swearing. Rob, very sensibly, moved away to leave me to it, anticipating phoning an ambulance at any moment, once they'd laid me out. In a rare stroke of luck they were so drunk still that they couldn't work out a word I was saying. I might as well have been talking French.

After a pleading call to the hotel company we finally arrived in a lush hotel in La Defense. We slept a little and then enjoyed the extra day in Paris for free before flying back home the next day. Actually the whole holiday was free. I wrote a letter and got a full refund. Result!

I love Paris.

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