I think they call this kind of thing paying it forward… My first full day in Paris – a pit stop pre-Istanbul – began very uneventfully. I made it to Le Bon Marchè without a map and spent the day meandering some of my favourite streets and making notes on things I might buy on my return – as I didn’t know what I might find in Istanbul and didn’t want to carry my purchases all over Europe.
I decided to try a different restaurant this time. I’d had a little nap to deal with my jet lag so the place was booming by the time I arrived. It was a big operation, combining a fish market, restaurant and oyster bar so they found me a chair at the bar.
When you are travelling alone, the bar is a more fun place to sit anyway. Normally in Paris everyone speaks French and I don’t meet anyone. But not this time 🙂 It all started over a bottle of water. In Europe you always have to order bottles of water. There is no free flowing tap water. I asked if there were any smaller sizes available as I wasn’t sure I wanted to drink 750 litres of water all by myself. There weren’t. But the lady sitting beside me said I could have some of theirs.
It was a lovely gesture and she was very chic and lively and I just enjoyed watching her talking with her companion. But she was also very friendly so before long I was part of their conversation. According to Hans (her third husband, a keeper apparently :)), Daniele loves independent women. Hans is from Hamburg and works for an American company so his English is excellent and he could play translator as required.
When dinner was over, they invited me to accompany them to a Cuban bar as long as I didn’t mind smoke. Anti-smoking laws have come to France but it is very painful to the national culture. What’s a little lung cancer for a memorable cultural experience? 🙂
Interestingly there weren’t very many people in the smoking room of the packed bar so we got a seat easily. Hans had to fly to Moscow the next day so it was supposed to be an early night. But just as we were finishing our first round of Mojitos, they saw some friends walking by on the street outside. So they joined us and another round of Mojitos arrived!
I had a 6am wakeup call for my flight to Istanbul so by the time I got back to the hotel, I was ready for bed. I had met Gino the night before and he is one of the warmest people you will ever meet. Saying ‘no” to Gino is practically impossible and he seemed rather insistent that I should sit down and have a drink with him and the other guest sitting at the bar. Sleeping on one’s vacation is really a waste of time, n’est-ce pas? 😉
At first it was just good scotch and friendly conversation and I thought I would get a few hours of sleep. But as time progressed, it became more evident why Gino had wanted me to sit down.
Grace was staying in the hotel and had had a big fight with her boyfriend. And it wasn’t just any situation. She had met him in Iraq and given birth the day the American forces officially pulled out. She spoke fluent Arabic and it was clear the experience had been traumatic for her.
I didn’t know much about the boyfriend and or the fight – but I knew what it was like to be in Europe in your mid-twenties with some dude who keeps picking fights with you and acts like a class A jerk a lot of the time. Scott was definitely the worst boyfriend choice of my life but he was also the reason I first came to Europe. Hans officially declared me a European rather than a North American so I felt very honoured. So the jerks in our lives serve their purposes. But it can take some time and life experience to fit all the puzzle pieces together.
I knew I had to have Grace’s back. She needed someone to care – at least that night. She was really lucky to have had the good fortune to have Gino working. But she didn’t want to go back to her room – and her dude. And I could see Gino didn’t normally have to stay awake ALL night entertaining guests and he was exhausted. So I told Grace she could stay in my room.
I think I had booked the best room in the hotel. When she got there, she was in love with the room. She seemed really distraught and I was pretty sure she was going to wake up with a killer hangover so I went down to see if the room was free for the next night. It was. So I told Gino I would pay for three nights so Grace would have some space to make decisions about her life and not feel pressured by the boyfriend or her anticipated hangover.
It was a really tranquil room with a view of the rooftops of Paris and a chromotherapy tub that was a highlight of my entire trip. So I put her to bed, packed for Istanbul and left her a note telling her to enjoy the room. It was hers until Tuesday afternoon.
I then tried to catnap on planes and arrived in Istanbul a bit exhausted. But Hans and Daniele had been so kind to me. Gino had been so friendly and welcoming. It was an evening where humanity seemed to be firing on all its best cylinders – and Grace just got the benefit of that wonderful joie de vivre.
When I came back to Paris, I checked in with Gino to see if he knew what happened to Grace. Apparently they checked out separately so I told him I thought my money had been well spent. He hadn’t been working so neither of us know any details but we hope she is OK. She seemed the kind of girl who deserved a really great guy.
She was definitely a catalyst that created a bond between Gino and I that took our relationship to a whole new level. If you are in Paris and not on a really tight budget, I would highly recommend L’Apostrophe Hotel. Ask for Gino. And say “hi”from me 🙂
My Thursday night back in Paris was spent with Hans and Daniele. They love Istanbul and have been four times so we traded travel stories. And Hans was impressed I met yet another man from Hamburg! Based on my sample of two, ladies, men from Hamburg are sympathique!
It is pretty cool to know a city so well that it feels like home when you come from other, more foreign cities. It’s only when I can’t speak French that I remember… oh yes, I don’t LIVE here. It’s so familiar and now I am even accumulating some Paris friends.
Here people say “enchantée” when they meet you. It’s impossible to not be seduced by a city with a culture like that. And Daniele says “oo la la”. She says it with such enthusiasm in this great French accent of course and you are just swept away… enchanted indeed…