i spent the majority of my first day in paris trying to find a place to sleep that night.
when i left shakespeare and company, i walked around the corner to a hotel and asked if they had availability. the man said they were all full, and that ALL OF PARIS WAS FULL THAT WEEK... WHAT? is that even possible? he kindly pointed me in the direction of some hotels and hostels in the area anyway, so i could try asking for a room.
after an hour or so of no luck, i retreated to the corner of a cafe across from notre dame. it's one that i've been to a couple times before. the familiarity of it was so comforting in that moment of not knowing what the hell to do with myself and my bags and my life... so comforting that i stayed and sipped at coffee there for hours.
i sat silent, staring out at the massive crowds crossing the intersection in front of me. there was this perpetual crossing, and i felt like i was right in the middle of it, suspended in an in between. a significant intersection, one you don't just run across blindly. i wanted to sit and breath light and just soak up the feeling of being in between two significant spaces--the space between the beautiful place i came from and the unknown place i'd wind up.
i wasn't particularly worrying about where i would stay as i sat there, although i knew it was my main concern. instead, i kind of reveled in the intensity of being without a place. not because i'm a masochist or a complete idiot, but because not having something secure meant that anything could happen. everything would be a surprise. there's romance in that.
i was at the cafe for so long that i made friends with the waiters. the waiter that talked to me the most tried so hard to be helpful when he knew i didn't have a place to stay. he wrote down a hostel name for me, along with detailed directions. and he said that if i had no luck, to come back and he'd talk to his friends about me staying with them.
i decided to look it up online before hoofing it across paris with my bags. so i went back to the man i talked to at the first hotel and asked if i could use the wifi there to look up hostels. in my search, i found that literally only ONE hostel in the paris city limits showed available beds. it was called the Peace and Love hostel... perfect. peace and love came to my rescue.
so i started making my way to a part of paris i had never been to before---somewhere between montmarte and pere lechaise, which, if you know anything about paris, is pretty far from anything worth seeing. i was appreciative of this fact because after hanging out around notre dame all day, i was tired of the bustle and noise of tourists.
the area was surprisingly cool. there was artsy graffiti on the walls. eccentric parisians walking around. hoodlooms hanging out on the river bank. it felt really raw and real. and of course i didn't take a single picture because i was toting around a backpack, a suitcase, and a heavy gypsy coat all the way to this unknown place.
i finally found "peace and love" illuminated above what appeared to just be a bar. i soon learned that the bar was the "reception area" for the hostel. so i walked up to the bartender and asked for a bed. almost immediately, she said, "oh no... we're all full. we don't have any beds available."
i told her that i had checked online a few hours prior and that it showed availability. so she called the employee from the shift before hers to see if there had been a mistake. i set my things down on the bar stool next to me, because if she was right, i'd be in serious need of a drink. and if she was wrong, i'd be staying there anyway and i'd want a couple drinks.
i nervously thumbed at the condensation on my beer as she talked in hushed tones on the phone. i was so tired that i truly felt like giving up. where would i get the energy to keep looking for a place? the sun had already started to set, which meant it was about 9 pm.
she hung up the phone and smiled. "you're in luck!"
i literally got THE LAST BED IN ALL OF PARIS. i went upstairs and relieved my shoulders of the weight of my belongings, which seemed to grow heavier on me throughout the day.
honestly, it was the worst hostel i've ever been to, but it was better than sleeping in a park. SO, i went in and twirled around the small 14-bed hostel room like it was the damn palace of versailles. in it, there were four 3-bunk beds and one 2-bunk bed. the third bunk of the 3-bunk beds was just about touching the old, god-knows-what stained ceiling. but those were the only spots that looked unclaimed. so i found one with the least gook on the ceiling above it, set my things on top, and went back down to the bar for more drinks.
i found my new bartender friend smoking a cigarette on the terrace with a group of swiss guests, so i joined them. the bartender was a young australian woman who moved to paris to study french. she seemed relieved to share the same first language as me, so she opened up about her life there for the past 6 months.
a drink later, i party tornadoed (yeah, it's a verb now) an american girl and another australian girl, each of whom were previously sitting alone. the swiss people pulled up more chairs and bought us all drinks. they told us all about the different dialects that exist just in their tiny country. i sat, fascinated that these people could travel a couple hours in one direction (in their own country!) and not be able to understand what people are saying. i told them i sometimes can't understand the different native-english accents in america... :)
after a few drinks, exhaustion set in. after all, i didn't sleep a wink the night before and flew in from barcelona that morning. my new australian friend/roommate flew in from even further (vietnam!!) that day. so once things in the bar took a turn for wild (the parisian hostel owner picked me up into the air when he heard i was born in vegas, and a texan guy fell out of his chair mid-conversation with me), we decided it was time to go to bed...
when we went back into the room, there were about 7 or 8 people in there. i turned to the 3rd story bed that i put my stuff on earlier in the day. when i got high enough up on the ladder to see the bed, i noticed a black pleather purse had been placed right on top of my mountain of things. interesting... was someone claiming my already claimed bed by putting their purse on my bags, as if whoever's stuff was highest won? i picked up the purse and brought it back down to earth, where i then politely asked everyone if they knew who it belonged to. all the english speakers in the room said no and went back to their books, so i placed the purse on the last open bed in the room (another 3rd bunk).
that's about when a spanish girl peaked her head out of a bottom bunk and spewed something in catalan at me. i just said, "i... i'm so sorry, can you say that slower?" then a canadian guy chimed in, said he knew a bit of a italian (which is sometimes closer to catalan than spanish), and interpreted that the spanish girl's sister was in the bathroom and it was her purse.
my australian friend and i looked at each other, puzzled. i put the purse back on my things on my bed and figured i'd wait to maybe talk to this sister when she got out of the bathroom. but when this girl came out, there was no discussion. she said a couple words to her sister, didn't even glance at me, but went straight up to my bed, and just immediately started handing my things down... i started laughing. "oh..." my australian friend huffed, "so that's how it is, then..."
"alright, cool!" i laughed. because what else could i do? i didn't care which gross hostel bed i'd be sleeping in that night anyway, so if this spanish girl was insistent on that one, WHY NOT let her have it. i submitted to miscommunication with a smile.
by the time i showered and climbed up to the very last available bed in paris, i was so incredibly tired that i didn't care that it was maybe the most uncomfortable bed i've ever laid on. i didn't care that the pillow was flat and lifeless and that the sheets felt like they'd been bleached a trillion times. i didn't care that i was in a room with 13 strangers who would most likely snore or sleep talk or fidget in unison throughout the night. i didn't care that there were wining sirens driving by our open window every 15 minutes or so. because the moment i turned over, i fell into such a deep and paralyzing sleep that i didn't hear or see or sense anything. i didn't even dream--as if my brain was like nah, we'll give this poor girl a complete mental break tonight. she needs it.
when i woke up the next morning, i felt fucking fantastic. i somehow felt that no time had passed, but that i'd been completely rejuvenated. i laid there and felt all my limbs at complete rest. i glanced around the room at those 13 peaceful, sleeping faces from around the world. and i felt so lucky to be there.
and then i looked some more and realized that my bed, 3 bunks high, was the only bed in the entire room that for some reason did not have a side rail on it . there was nothing between my shoulder and the ground 8 or 9 feet below... and i thought wow, so THAT'S WHY the spanish girl didn't want this bed! good thing i was dead tired, because i almost always roll around in my sleep...
a fall out of the last bed in paris would have put a reaaal damper on the rest of my travels.