Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Short Story: Paris and the Garden Gnomes

A story I wrote based on a trip to Paris back in the 90's...

"En attendant mieux vaut se consacrer aux autres qu'à un nain de jardin" – Amélie Poulain

Neuilly, sometime in the late 90’s. 

Neuilly is in a posh part of Paris. I don’t think we can really call it a suburb, more like a posh area, stuck on to the rest of Paris. You take the ligne jaune, 1, Métro towards La Défense, and get out in a place that is obviously still a city but that also feels quiet and rich and old moneyish. Not the type of area that I was brought up in or lived, or even a place I really feel comfortable in. But it’s pretty, and M. had friends who lived there, and they let us stay during our first trip to Paris together. It’s not like we could ever have afforded to actually stay in a hotel or a hostel – the TGV ticket and some spending money were about all we could muster together. But it was worth it. Five days in the most beautiful, magical city in the world, roaming the streets of Paris, sitting by the Seine and contemplating life, drinking wine on the quai, watching all of the people walk by,  busy with their lives, while we had the time to sit and watch and wonder.
We learnt little tricks to save money: grab your coffee “au comptoir” to pay a “regular” price; get cappuccinos at McDo so you could take one along with you on your way. Eat a brie sandwich from the boulangerie and then go to Le Chat Noir in Pigalle to share a dessert and drink more coffee at a table. Cheap wine is easy to come by; we were never looking to savour it, just to get drunk and happy. That floating feeling of peace is something that only wine and youth can bring, sometimes I try to find it again and nearly always miss it in my rush to get there. Sipping wine straight from the bottle, waiting for that slow but steady rise of ivresse that starts in your stomach and ends in your head: warmth, serenity and bubbles of happiness and laughter. Red, white or rose, it really depended on my mood. Red was for those winter days, when I needed something warmer and stronger, white for the spring and summer, lighter and easier to drink, and rose for those days when I couldn’t stomach red or white. Probably after long week of drinking really cheap wine (as opposed to just cheap wine). The quality of cheap wine in France is what you would probably see as medium quality anywhere else… Very cheap wine is what you could equal to vinegar anywhere. Assume about 10 to 15 francs would get you a bottle of drinkable wine from an epicerie arabe. Wine and Gauloises Blondes (no way I could afford my favourites, Marlboro Lights, in my years of being a poor student), and the evening was all set to be a success.
On our last evening in Paris we decided not to sleep. We had to catch an early morning train and why would we waste our last hours in Paris sleeping when we could enjoy the magical air for a few more hours? We had dinner in a brasserie, drank some wine and walked around the Seine for a few hours before the last métro back to Neuilly. We had already planned our evening in advance and had bought some bottles of wine to drink through-out the night, with the plan of falling asleep on the TGV on the way home to ease the sadness of leaving Paris behind, for boring old Grenoble (Grenorrible). I find it difficult to drink in a contained space. I need to run, to sing, to jump, to create silly plans of action and play pranks on people. I need to jump in streams, pick city flowers and hug statues of great musicians of times gone by. I find it difficult to sit in one bar all night without running around in the streets, moving to other places and seeing different people. I like to feel free.
Neuilly was so quiet after midnight. As the lights went out one by one in the different apartments and houses around us, calm seemed to descend on the neighbourhood. Too calm. Meaning that the neighbourhood was in dire need of some decadence as Melusine and I would affectionately call our nights out. Decadence was whatever the night would bring, no one could determine it, but it would usually mean some kind of act that would make us laugh for days and days. Neuilly was too quiet for us, so all that could mean was that we were going to leave Paris with a bang.
Walking through the empty streets, singing Mylène Farmer songs, talking about boys and men and Romantic poets dead and gone from this earth (but not from our hearts), about how we want to move to Paris and live there, amongst the old buildings and the anonymity. One day, maybe one day. The grass may not be greener in Paris, but it sure is more appetizing…
“I can’t believe we didn’t find the exact place were Nerval killed himself. We had the map and the exact location!”. M. was peeved about this, as we wanted to see the area.
“I think we got it right”, I said, knowing that we had found the right alley, just that it had been closed off and added to a building over the course of the years. “In any case, we were right there, right where he took his life, right there were he gasped his final breath.”
M. contemplated this and nodded in agreement. We walked along, in silence, for a few minutes.
“J… Look at that garden!!”
“It’s full of garden gnomes! They are all looking at us! I think they need to go on a trip. Are you thinking what I am thinking?!”
“I think they need to go on a trip to see the Coureurs de Jupons in Grenorrible!”.
That was it; the idea had formed simultaneously in our minds, now it was just time for us to hatch out a plan. Three nains de jardin to be removed from a garden in peaceful Neuilly. Easy work, as long as we were discreet and quiet. M. tried the gate first but it was too noisy so she hopped over the fence and helped me over. Once in the garden we tiptoed over to the gnomes, picked one each, and a third one for good measure, tiptoed back to the fence, climbed back over, looked at each other and legged it down the street to the nearest corner, M. with a gnome under each arm, me holding it close to my chest while I ran. Breathless but hysterically laughing at this point we couldn’t believe that we had pulled it off. The ultimate prank, better than letters of disgust written on toilet paper and stuck to their front door. Better than locking ourselves in their bathroom during parties and taking baths for hours on end when people were waiting to pee. Better than switching their doormats with everyone else’s in the building. Better than playing knock a door run every night of the week. Even better than finding a shopping trolley in the street and carrying it up three flights of stairs and leaving it in front of their door. This was going to be the epic prank. A stunt no one else would have thought to play, except for two slightly crazy girls from Grenorrible.
The gnomes were wrapped in sweaters and placed on the overhead luggage racks in the TGV. Not even 7 o’clock in the morning, and it was time for us to say our last goodbye to Paris, coffee and croissants in our hands. It was impossible to cover the gnomes completely (they weren’t the smallest you could find; we are talking nice big smiling garden gnomes. The ones that stand out in your garden amidst the flowers and trees). Even wrapped up in sweaters their bright red hats were poking out of the top, and every time either of us looked up at the luggage racks we burst into laughter. Nothing remotely abnormal about two girls jumping on a train on a Monday morning amongst all of the business travelers in their suits, plonking three barely concealed garden gnomes above their heads and proceeding to sleep through the three hour journey back home.
Once at Gare Europole we walked to Boulevard Gambetta to make the first stop before going home, the final part of the prank. The building door was open as usual (although we would have had no qualms about ringing on all of the buzzers until someone opened it, our usual technique).
“Shhh! We need to be really quiet. They can’t catch us, because if they do it will all be ruined!” I was beginning to be a little paranoid and was worried the whole trick would be discovered before we could finish it.
“Ne t’inquiètes pas! It’s too early for any of them to be up, and if they are they are already in class. Let’s just try not to laugh while we get this done!”
For once M. seemed less worried than me, an unusual occurrence seeing as I was normally the more reckless of the two of us. Or maybe the one with the more reckless ideas, but more responsible in the way that I always knew exactly what I was doing and why. M. would follow along, sometimes with even more grandiose and evil ideas, but mainly not as aware of the consequences if we were caught. Of course I don’t mean real crime, but we were always up to no good, running around the streets drinking wine from the bottle, singing at the tops of our voices, crashing random parties we would find along the way, taking any alcohol we could find and running away. Sitting on statues and talking crap to random passers-by. Once we even made some poor guy kneel in front of the Berlioz statue and recite the Lord’s Prayer from beginning to end. Memories…
Once we got to the third floor we arranged the gnomes in a semi-circle in front of the door, so that they all looked towards the door. We didn’t even bother to leave a note, because who else would have thought of doing this? We then rang the bell and pounded on the door a few times and ran as fast as we could down the steps, racing out of the front door, grabbing our own luggage along the way, hoping that we would make it out of the building before anyone saw us. I think we did. Ultimate prank pulled off to perfection.
I only wish that I had been a little fly on the wall when one of the guys opened the door. Happy Monday from three Parisian garden gnomes! 

Slut angel selling acid punch
Dominatrix with a submissive glance
Botticelli with a tattooed bust – Fluffy, Crossdresser

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