Ah, France! And its capital, gay Paree! The pop-culture land of padlocked loves and blue cheese, of glorious baguettes and poetry, of passion and art and magic in the streets.
This is the story (sort-of) of how I found myself (sort-of) homeless and stranded in the land of love for (about) two weeks:
1. Going there:
I went to Melun, France on a business trip. I took the Eurostar train through the Channel tunnel with two colleagues. The seats were comfortable and the sights were glorious, when we did see them. Especially the icy hills and fields of the countryside in winter. Stark and striking and lovely.
2. Benign Arrivals:
Arriving in Paris, we took a taxi and headed to Melun which was about an hour or so away. The first thing I noticed about Paris were the balconies. So many balconies on every building. There was also a lot of graffiti in the urban area, sprawling works of street art which I quite like. Our taxi driver was hilarious (I’m not sure why I remember this of him, he didn’t speak any English)
3. Official Business:
Once we arrived in Melun, we checked into the hotel, met the rest of our colleagues who were also there for the trip and had dinner. Over the next few weeks, we attended lectures and training courses, nothing terribly fancy. Everyone was waiting for the end, when we would get the chance to go where everyone really wanted to be – Paris. [We did have one official dinner with management in Paris during the training but that doesn’t really count, does it?]
4. Let The Fun Begin:
About halfway through the course, I realized that I had lost my UK residence permit. What that meant was, I didn’t have any documents to show the people that would let me back into the UK that they actually needed to let me back into the UK. So I quickly reported it as missing in a nearby police station. [I remember the police station being quite homely and friendly, that’s not how police stations are meant to be is it? Definitely not in Nigeria. Weird.] Anyway, I reported it missing and quickly applied for a temporary visa to enable me get back to the UK. It would take two weeks. What that meant was, I was stranded in France for two weeks while my temporary visa was being processed. This doesn’t seem so terrible does it? Being stranded in Paris, no need to go to work, it was basically a free holiday, right? Wrong. See, once the course ended, so did my company sponsored stay in the hotel. And then I was be homeless and stranded in France.
5. Friends in Foreign Lands:
Luckily, I remembered that I had a friend whom I’d known from university studying in Paris. Let’s call him ‘W’. Great guy. I called and asked if I could stay at his place until the whole mess was sorted out and he agreed. Saved from homelessness by a friend in a foreign land.
6. Meeting Mona, Darth Vader and Hello Kitty:
Of course, being stuck in Paris, I did the only sensible thing – spend my days working (or trying to), navigating the Louvre, climbing the Eiffel tower, eating the food and generally being as much of a tourist caricature as I possibly could. It was grand. Just grand. I saw the Mona Lisa finally and she was much smaller than I imagined. I climbed the Eiffel tower (on foot naturally – elevators are for the weak) and saw the sun set from the top where I met two chaps cosplaying as Darth Vader and Hello Kitty. Odd couple but they were fun to hang out with. A few days after my Eiffel adventure, I got my temporary visa and made plans to exit the city.
7. Lines Fallen in Pleasant Places:
The thing I remember most about Paris though, are its lines. Everything seemed so… geometrically precise. The streets were straight lines, each building was a geometrical shape rendered accurately and if you stand in the middle of le grande arc at sunrise to watch the sun rise, you will realize it is perfectly aligned with the arc du triomphe, miles away. Call me crazy but this is what I will always remember about Paris, not the lost residence permit or the Mona Lisa, but the lines of the city which seem to have all fallen in pleasant places.