I resolved to stand in front of Camille’s apartment until she came home. I wanted zero more surprises that day. Somehow, I’d managed to be lucky enough to have all the things I really are about on my person. I still had my wallet, a copy of my passport, my iPad, and my phone. It wasn’t the end of the world… Yet.
Whatever kind of psychological mechanism I’ve developed to handle stress has undergone so much training and exercise it must resemble some sort of indestructible beast. Immediately I started planning; buy another backpack, get clothes, go to the embassy, fix everything. You don’t really need a tent, you’ve got emergency money, and you have a place to stay. Got it? Now go do it.
Camille walked down the street as it was starting to get dark and I felt so relieved I had to tear up a little.
“Brandon, hello! How are you!?”
“I’m great! Someone stole my backpack and passport!”
She laughed for a second before she realized I wasn’t kidding. We went inside and long story short, I set up, we got food, and she made me an amazing dinner.
Meals in France are peculiar. You MUST follow a strict order if you’re to eat the correct French way. First, you eat salad and the raw vegetables. Next, you get bread and the main course which is usually cooked and includes meat. Third comes the cheese, which you can eat by itself or with bread. Last, you have a small dessert, which for the entirety of my time in France has been pudding. Wine is okay to drink throughout the meal. Canard (duck) is a popular dish here and to my palate tastes like chicken with steak. Also, the dijon mustard (or simply, le moutard) here is to die for.
Camille provided me with a map of Paris and introduced me to some of the places I absolutely had to visit. I decided the next day I would spend my time reporting the theft to the police (which I somehow managed to do without any English), going to the embassy, and seeing the sites of Paris in the time I had left over.
Reporting the theft was actually a fun experience. After the theft, I had run back to the Macdo to ask for help and they told me to call the police (telephone: 17) and I got their address. I walked into the building at the address they gave me, but it was empty, old, and wooden. There was a large door to the right that I timidly opened and walked through. It was a brightly lit, pure white hall with two service windows. Behind the service window there was a couple of older guys laughing.
“Excusez-moi, est-ce que vous êtes la police?”
They laughed heartily at me.
“No no no, they’re in the red building down the street.”
So down the street I found the ominous looking gendarmerie (French police station). Inside, I saw for the first time how French people greet each other. Everyone and their mothers were coming in and out of the building and kissing several people each time on either cheek (except the lips only touch the air and you make a kissing noise… It’s strange). There’s even a set speed between the kisses (you can’t kiss too fast, you’ll kill them! Too slow and your head explodes!). Anyway, I filled out some paperwork at the desk and then they ushered me into the office when it was my turn.
There were several people lined up in little booths, paired off with different officers. My officer was a middle aged blonde woman who didn’t speak any English but by this point I was used to it. Everything we did had to be filled out on paper and then duplicated on an electronic record using a windows 98 computer. Windows 98. It froze up several times so I was there for an hour before she instructed me where to go to get to the consulate and to take a photo for the application. The photo obviously took priority so I headed down the street to the building she described and asked the woman inside where I could take a picture.
“French French escaliers (stairs) French French a droite (to the right).”
I walked up the stairs even though they were roped off (I thought maybe they were there by accident) and totally snuck around and explored a closed-off art exhibit and accidentally walked into someone’s office before I decided she had told me to go PAST the stairs and turn right.
It’s roped off but I did it anyway.
So I did, and the machine was broken. Oh we’ll, consulate time. Maybe they’ll have a photo thing there. I took the metro like a pro (this must be what it feels like to be a god) and ended up seeing some sights on my way to the consulate, running across large highways when I wasn’t supposed to and yelling “Bon courage!” at all the tourists.
And oh, the sites…
Identical buildings as far as you can see.
You’re trying too hard, Paris. Stop it.
When I made it to the embassy they told me I’d have to come back the next day before 11am when the passport services close. Thanks, US embassy, for being so useless. Instead, I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, so I started walking that direction. By this point I was pretty hungry so I went into a local supermarket and bought my staples: a couple apples, a baguette, and a box of cookies.
There are a lot of people who are either homeless or seemingly homeless in Paris, an many more who just want money who are neither homeless nor needy and will try to scam you by asking for donations for a good cause. It’s really easy to say no when try don’t speak English since they can’t make that immediate personal connection with you. My strategy is just to imagine that they’re calling me an asshole repeatedly in as many ways as they know, making it easy to keep walking. Except this one homeless guy not far from the supermarket on my way to the Eiffel Tower. All he said was “Bonjour” and I was feeling really happy about being in Paris and not giving a crap about my stolen stuff so I plopped down next to him and handed him one of my apples and we shared my box of cookies. The unfortunate thing was I couldn’t understand his French in the slightest. I almost couldn’t even identified iit as French. But I understood enough to know he said thanks, so when we were done I shook his hand and kept walking toward the tower (which is blocked out by the tall buildings everywhere, so you gotta remember where you’re going).
Paris is unbelievably full of shops. It’s actually funny how much stuff they cram into the space they have. I must have passed at least 300 different boutiques, shops, restaurants, and parlors between the embassy and the tower. I would hate to own a business in Paris that’s just beginning; it must be impossible to build clientele from nothing here. Nonetheless, the city itself, where its taken care of, is old, beautiful, and intricate. But of course every city, including Paris, has its underbelly that could use remodeling, scrubbing, and a bit of sunlight. If I could change one thing about this enormous pile of concrete and people, it would be the roads. It’s such an old city that directions like north and west mean nothing. If you look at a map of Paris, it looks like a spider did sixteen lines of cocaine and a bag of twinkles and let loose. But for real.
Fortunately, the metro and public transportation system is easy to figure out and makes traversing Paris much easier. Thanks to the map Camille gave me and my necessity for traveling to various sections of Paris, I’ve become a master in no time at all.
Before the day was out I managed to find an electronics store called Darty that had chargers for all my devices (albeit they were a bit expensive) and a beard trimmer (I needed a haircut badly). Okay! Chargers: check. I forgot to mention Camille helped me find some cheap underwear and socks. Everything a boy needs, right?
That night (Thursday the 19th) Camille’s friend Audrey came over and we had a nice meal that went mostly in order, with potatoes, salad, Oreos, and roast chicken. Mmmm. I also managed to find another backpack mostly identical to my old one on Amazon and also ordered a new towel. You know, the only thing a good traveler needs!
So now it’s Friday and lots of things have happened. I got up early (8:30) to head to the embassy. Before I left I made sure to look up the addresses of some thrift stores and an H&M in Paris. I’ve literally been wearing the same tank top since my last day in Nice, and it does not smell so great.
Camille made sure to remind me I needed a photo, a special €22 envelope, my police report and some other stuff. With a heavy heart I walked out the door, not entirely prepared to spend another €200 total for an envelope, emergency passport, and service fees. La Poste was first, and by this point I’d been there three times and asked the same person different things, like, “I’m lost, where is la place d’Italie? Someone stole my passeport, do you know where the police area?” And now, “I need the special envelope for passports. It’s big and blue and plastic.” Aw yeah… expert French speaker right here. It was €22.50. Yikes!
Not much later I made it to the consulate. I had to go through what is essentially customs, and then fill out a form for a new passport and sit in the waiting area. It was entirely full, at least 80 or 90 people, all sad looking and quiet, many hoping for a visa, but only four with stolen or missing passports (the ticket numbering system made that clear enough). The wait was about half an hour before a man was able to help me at his window.
“Okay, let me just report your passport as stolen, if you could fill out this paperwork, and then we can issue you an emergency passport for a nominal fee of more money than you want to spend ever.”
As I was filling out the stolen passport paperwork, he said something that surprised me.
“Actually sir, it looks like the police have found your passport.”