July was a strange month for me! I found myself feeling more comfortable in many aspects of my life than I have been in a very long time. It marked the first time in over 20 years that I didn’t go to Barbados for Crop Over and surprisingly I didn’t land in the hospital with carnival withdrawal symptoms. It was also the first time I went to Paris in the summer and the first time I left the country specifically for a concert.
Back in March Beyonce and Jay-Z announced the On The Run II tour. I am a reluctant member of the Beyhive (I love Queen Bey’s music, her style and her marriage to another black superstar but I am not going to die defending her or go on suspected Becky with the Good Hair pages and leave a trillion bee emojis 🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝 when I am supposed to be doing my work. I don’t ride that hard for anyone other than my family!) Anyway, back to this post. When they announced the tour dates and I saw Paris included, I purchased a VIP ticket without hesitation (I abhor lines so if a VIP or priority option is available for anything, I usually select it). At the time of purchase, jetting off seemed so glamorous an idea – wearing a beret, sipping wine at some cafe and eating cheese while people watching before the concert.
Now time for the reality.
I flew to Paris on Friday and the concert was on Saturday 14th of July, Bastille Day. Prior to my flight from Manchester, I had what can only be described as one of the worst anxiety attacks I’d had in recent times – crying, sweating and getting ready to cancel the trip minutes before the taxi arrived. As much as a I fly, I get anxiety frequently before trips and it scares me! My mum and friend talked me off the edge.
When I arrived at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, the weather can only be described as “as hot as the inside of the devil’s mouth”. No, I have no idea how hot the devil’s oral cavity is but I imagine its hot AF. I had no makeup on but my face was melting off. It would have been nice if someone would have advised this English girl of this very regular occurrence in Paris.
Saturday was Bastille Day – or Fete nationale or le 14 Juilet. It is with some regard, the French equivalent of Independence Day in the US. That meant there were long queues of traffic, street closures and diversions. My taxi fare was definitely higher than what I have paid in the past to get to central Paris. In addition to the traffic this also meant the city was teeming with tourists (I don’t consider myself one, by the way), typical English and American tourists who flock to McDonald’s, refuse to speak any French and are generally a fucking nuisance to me and others.
Bastille Day celebrates the day the Bastille was stormed in 1790. The celebrations seem to take place all weekend long but one of the most frequented and celebrated events is the military parade on Champs-Elysees. I do like to stay in hotels and enjoy all the perks of my Marriott Rewards Platinum membership but I also like to take in new experiences. So on Saturday morning I set out to see the French military, in particular the flyover by the air force.
Well. I was again on a European walk fest only this time by myself and carrying a new diagnosis of Psoriatic Arthritis. Which meant I was in pain and had no one to talk to. After simply following the crowds on the eerily peaceful Parisian streets, I got as far as my overweight body and the French police would allow me, one block away from the Champs-Elysees. What struck me was in spite of the huge crowds, everyone was so kind and accommodating (very much the opposite to large crowds in the UK and US). I caught peaks of the French Prime Minister pass by and saw horsemen of the Republican Guard.
I couldn’t stand up for much longer though so I disappointingly tramped to the nearest cafe and guzzled a large cold bottle of Evian (which tastes so much better in France than elsewhere. hmmm). As I sat there, I heard this thunderous commotion in the sky. I looked up and saw several fighter jets leaving a trail of red, white and blue in the air. It was glorious and reminded me of how fortunate I am to live in a country not savaged by or under the threat of war. The noise was so loud but it was inspiring and heart warming to see the pride on the faces of the Parisians looking on. I tried to capture some images as the jets whizzed by but it was difficult given their speed.
After this spectacle, I rushed back to my hotel to rest for the OTR II show. (I have to get a lot of rest before and during activities that require a large energy investment.) My hotel for this stay is on my top 5 hotels now. It is located a ten minute walk from the Louvre but is on a side road, eliminating the risk of being disturbed by outside noise. The hotel restaurant, Balagan, is amongst the highest rated in Paris with a three week waiting list. I had the pleasure of enjoying the breakfast and a cocktail there. The food is ACE! If you are in Paris, I highly recommend you get reservations here.
On the Run
After the morning’s unplanned Bastille Day tour on foot, my body pretty much gave me advanced notice that I needed to take a taxi to the concert. In addition, I was wearing a leather dress which meant that my sweat levels were at an all time high (I know what you are thinking and to answer your outraged question – it was a summer dress of white leather! Yeah, that is my defence)
I sat in the taxi for about an hour to Stade de France, 35 of those minutes were with the stadium in sight but in stand-still traffic. Eventually, the driver put me out the car in the middle of the motorway causing a few stares from other drivers. He wanted to continue back to Paris without being stuck in additional traffic so my safety wasn’t really a consideration of his.
I entered the show one shade of caramel and left more like burnt toffee. The Carters were one hour late and there was no opening act so I sat there in my leather dress with the sun beating down on me while I spoke to the strangers. When they did finally make an entrance, I can only describe the reaction from the audience as one I have only ever seen on tele when cameras would pan to hysterical Asians at Michael Jackson concerts. For those of you who don’t know me, I am not one want who feels comfortable sharing her excitement outside of a room full of 2-3 people. I felt very out of place.
The show was good. The art and creativity were highlights for me but will I ever go see Beyonce or Jay-Z in Europe? Absolutely NOT! Not one song was sung from the newly released Everything is Love album making me feel like I was in a bit of a time machine. I was especially infuriated by footage from the second show in Paris when the couple performed Ape Shit – I am sorry but I felt gipped. If I ever see them again, it will be in the US.
Getting home took the patience of the saints and God above for me to remain calm. I took the RER train service , the Paris underground. And the amount of people waiting for and smushing onto the train reignited my anxiety, which occasionally manifests as anger. There were armpits in my face, people on my booty and smells that I don’t have the adjectives to articulate but I received sensory confirmation that many attended that concert without the proper amount of deodorant or having skipped bathing all together. Listen people, if you are going out for a special occasion but please provision enough time for basic hygiene.
On Sunday I decided to attend Afropunk Festival, the Parisian installation. Afropunk is a festival that showcases and celebrates culture: arts, music and food amongst other things belonging to the African diaspora. It’s origins are in Brooklyn but in recent years, the festival has been staged in Johannesburg, London and other international hotspots. My friend described the event as the black Burning Man with many attendees opting to wear ankara-based post-apocalyptic outfits (white contact lens, black lipstick, leather in summer, etc). I probably looked out of place when I rocked up at the event on Sunday to see Davido, Damian Marley and Maxwell. It felt alien but refreshing to see so many people expressing themselves creatively and being embraced rather than stared at. It was also exciting to see Haitian food being served because I haven’t had any of this cuisine since moving back to the UK. I didn’t get any though – that line was just disrespectful. I left before Junior Gong and Maxwell came out because my not treated arthritis and general fatigue got the best of me.
On Sunday 15th of July, if you weren’t living under a rock you would know that France won the World Cup. On my way back from Afropunk on the RER again, I forgot about my pain while taking in the electric atmosphere from grannies to toddlers, everyone was celebrating! There people everywhere, singing, smiling, hugging, blowing their phones. My hotel ran out of food when I rang for room service because of the amount of celebration by guests so I went to bed extremely hungry, but happy.
On my last day there, Monday, I took in the Louvre. I have never toured the museum in depth. And I chose the wrong time of year to do so. My plan was always to go to the Louvre the weekend I was there. And one night, the day before buying my Louvre ticket, the Carters dropped Everything is Love including the Apeshit video filmed in the Louvre. Within an hour of that video dropping, museum tickets were sold out for my intended date to visit – Bastille Day.
The Louvre is a museum that other museums envy. It was once a palace that was once a castle, the royal residence of monarchs such as Louis XV before moving to Versailles. There is art everywhere. The building itself is art! The architecture, fixtures. Before you even enter, the statues that adorn the gardens and the famous pyramid have given background to many a holiday flick.
What I didn’t calculate was the amount of people that were going to flock to this place, especially after the Apeshit video. If you go to the Louvre, which is busy all year round, buy skip the line tickets if you don’t want to be exposed to the elements while in a longgggggggggggggg ass line that bends and circles the grounds.
Once inside, I can say with great confidence and discomfort, this was the hottest museum I had ever been in. The art temporarily distracts from the heat but the hordes of people that are desperately looking for the Mona Lisa is at times, very unnerving and certainly uncomfortable. From what I observed, very few were interested in the art but capturing selfies in front of the art. Why even come?! As much as I love technology and it has enabled easier communication for me, I have such disdain for the way it is used by many in society. I got to the famed Mona Lisa, a modest painting in size and subject, and the room housing her was a gallery full of paparazzi.
People were turning their backs to all of the breathtaking works in the room to fight (I saw some shoving) for a selfie with Mona Lisa. This left me repulsed and determined not to return to the museum in the future. It felt so soul-sucking. I will say, that I took a picture of her and with her but I stuck around to examine her with my eyes, not my phone, to think about what da Vinci was thinking when he painted it, what Lisa del Giocondo was thinking when she sat for the portrait and whether her bloodline continues to this day.
I love Paris, not the Eiffel Tower and normal tourist traps of the city of lights. I love walking slowly down the streets and along the banks of the Seine, looking a beauty that is timeless (at least at the time of me writing this long piece). The cuisine is amongst the best I’ve tasted. And let’s not forget its distinction as the fashion capital of the world with boutiques around every corner.
Here are some rambling tips:
- Learn some or brush up on French – many Parisians speak English but would appreciate you trying French Parlez Vous Anglais? – Do you speak English?
- Tu parle Anglais? – Do you speak English?
- Ca va? – How are you?
- Bien – Well (an acceptable response to Ca va?)
- Je m’apelle – My name is…..
- Merci – Thank you
- Bon or c’est bon – (that’s) good
- Je suit malade – I am sick (this is important if you get sick while in France)
- Pomme frites – fries
- Non – no
- Ensure that you don’t fall prey to some of the scams that are run on tourist. Such as a gold ring suddenly landing on the ground near your feed (spoiler – DON’T pick it up!). Your local government websites will have details of these scams. Someone actually tried it on me and got upset that I wouldn’t pick the ring up.
- Take a trip to Versailles, the town where Versailles palace is located – its about 45 minutes by train from central Paris.
- If you go to any museums, please! take the time to experience the art – also note that many French museums ban the use of selfie sticks.
- If you are going to an event at Stade de France, consider staying in St. Denis or be prepared to get on very crowded trains.
- The Metro is extremely inexpensive, when compared with London tube fares. If you can’t walk there, take the Metro.
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