Trips abroad as a performer can vary hugely when it comes to having spare time and opportunities for tourism. Sometimes you might travel for two days to a country far across the globe, only to play a short gig in a conference centre and be transported straight from airport to venue and then back to airport again for the return flight. It can even leave you wondering whether you were ever really in Istanbul or just in Swindon. Other times you play numerous gigs over a few days in one location, allowing time to meander in the mornings, or even a whole extra day for tourism before a late-night flight home.
Our most recent trip to Paris fell somewhere in between: two nights in town, one day of gigs, allowing precisely one afternoon/evening and one morning of sightseeing for us keen explorers. Despite its vast size, it turns out that, with accommodation situated in the central district of Le Marais, one can see a lot of the city in one evening, entirely on foot.
Starting around 5pm, and with two Paris-virgins in our group, we set out to squeeze in everything we possibly could, starting with a picturesque walk to Notre Dame to take obligatory photos amongst the other thousand tourists. Then it was time for a café stop, as it always is, and where better to have a tasty snack and a coffee than by the river Seine on a sunny day in Paris? It seemed like everyone else had had the same idea, so we joined the masses and, with our chairs facing out towards the street like everyone else’s, we watched the world (including mad traffic) go by, coffee in hand and crepe all over face.
Then it was on to the Louvre, which we embarrassingly pointed at for a while, loudly pondering what ‘that massive building’ might be, having forgotten from the last time any of us were in Paris, about a decade ago. The glass roof that everyone immediately recognises was, to be fair, on the other side. And when we eventually walked through to the other side we found the city’s largest area of absolute tranquillity. Even outside the gallery, wandering through the courtyard were people in ‘museum mode’ – respectfully spread out, quiet, lost in a moment of awe and contemplation – a breath of fresh air from the bustling street café moments before. Gradually, moving on and away from the museum, there appeared groups of street vendors selling miniature Eiffel Towers. It seemed like we didn’t stop seeing those men for the rest of the trip – in every tourist area were people selling Eiffel Towers: some sparkled, some lit up, some did absolutely nothing. Even hours later, having been to the top of the actual Eiffel Tower and back down again, we still didn’t feel the urge to buy one. But somewhere, there must be someone who does.
Ascending the Eiffel Tower at dusk, going up in daylight and coming back down in absolute darkness, was a highlight of all of the trips so far. We watched from the top level, where the cold wind chilled our bones, as Paris began to go dark and simultaneously lit up, bulb by bulb, ready for the night ahead. Two different worlds, night and day, and it felt like we were caught right on the frontier between the two. Of course, this was prime time for Hen Do’s, but even the crowd of twenty American women taking selfies and proclaiming ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M ON THE EIFFEL TOWER. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?’ weren’t so bad.
Our late dinner, sometime after 10pm, was provided by a quaint and friendly Italian restaurant in Le Marais, on a street recommended by our taxi driver, who responded particularly well to our bandmate’s French conversation skills, which we would no doubt be lost/embarrassed/disliked without.
The day’s most unexpected mishap took shape in the form of a public toilet incident not far from the Louvre. Never before had I been afraid to enter public toilets on a main street, but this was the stuff phobias are made of. Having waited a number of minutes outside an occupied single cubicle, I made a leap through the sleek, silver, electronic door the moment the previous user left. This was my first mistake. I pressed a button to allow the toilet door to close, sealing up the open view between myself and the main road outside. It closed, and stayed closed. I felt I was in safe hands. Second mistake. Then, just seconds before I proceeded to undo my trousers, the toilet bowl flipped up and disappeared into the wall behind. I laughed. ‘Close call,’ I thought. But then, all of a sudden, just as I began to hear my friends outside question my current well-being, water and disinfectant flooded the whole cubicle, and I quickly realised I was trapped in what is essentially a human-sized washing machine, filled with shit. I panicked and, wading through foamy water (though at the time I did wonder if it wasn’t something else entirely) I frantically punched the button to open the door to the street, half screaming, half laughing a hysterical laugh, and dragged my wet legs out with me. I walked for the rest of the evening with sodden shoes and wet, stained-white tights, still in desperate need of the loo.
Naturally, after escaping the self-cleaning cabinet of doom, this became hilarious in every way, and putting up with wet feet didn’t seem so bad as we wandered the leafy avenues by the river, surrounded by stunning historical architecture from every angle. I jokingly suggested I’d find a toilet at the top of the Eiffel Tower, which of course I then did, and felt all the more glorious for having relieved myself so high up in the sky, in a globally iconic structure.
The following morning, we had a couple of hours to ourselves before heading to the dressing room to start preparing for the day’s shows, and so we took the metro to Sacré-Cœur, where we explored the stunning basilica and looked out over Paris in the morning sun. There are some moments where you feel very lucky to be on this planet doing what you do. This was one of those. It’s not every day you get a free morning when you just happen to be in one of the most striking cities in the world.
The gigs themselves were an absolute blast. Situated just around the corner from our hotel in Le Marais, we found ourselves outside a shop window playing to intrigued passers-by and increasingly merry sales assistants and customers. In the preparation stage, we enjoyed the rare luxury of having our make-up done by glamorous Parisian make-up artists (we usually do our own), while observing French models being dressed up in the most outrageous costumes. Le Marais in general was flooded with unstoppably stylish and sophisticated people, passing shops that sell beautiful flowing clothes that would only flatter impossibly thin model-like beauties. Our shows went on throughout the afternoon and evening, playing one twenty-minute slot every hour – an exhausting but increasingly entertaining feat. They began with fairly quiet and conservative reactions from a small crowd, but by the final show we were rocking out to drag queens and dancing fashionistas who’d quaffed enough champagne to create a wild party. The film Paris is Burning came strongly to mind (despite it actually being set in New York, yes, yes).
After so much fun dancing, drumming and being equally entertained by a lively crowd, I think it’s safe to say we were in exceptionally high spirits. Good work, Paris, good work.
The evening came to its full conclusion with us enjoying a bottle of vin rouge and a dinner of salads, meats and bread outside one of Paris’ many bistros. There we sat, engulfed in cigarette smoke coming from every direction, jazz pumping out the speakers, being served by incredibly hospitable, charismatic waiters, drinking in the Parisian night air. Not a bad way to end a day’s work. I feel I could do this as a regular thing…