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January 1, 2002
I'm Not Gay!...but...
The Way I See It

(click on photos with pink borders to link to full resolution photo)

...but after pondering what to do all week, I came to one conclusion--if I could be anywhere in the world for this New Year, it would be Paris. I'd tried to solidify a plan to go with Chris from work, but after having some doubts as to whether he was 100% dedicated to the plan, I decided to put on my brave face and go it alone.

December 31, 2001 - Paris: The weather was cold, and I hurt as I stood outside the Kaiserslautern train station awaiting my noon train. I found a pair of thick wool socks in the trunk of my Mercedes, and tossed them in my padlocked backpack as a precaution--a very smart move. The train to Paris was smooth, but there was a draft that made my feet cold. Once I hit the border the roads became straight and the mountains disappeared. It’s rather boring to watch village upon village float by but I had camera in hand for most of the trip, watching for a good photo. It made me seasick.

There was no dramatic entry into Paris--nothing of interest visible from the train. I arrived at the huge, (unheated) Paris Est station and noticed it was only 5pm, so I drifted around gift shops and absorbed the atmosphere. I had time to kill. The Paris subway ran through the train station but I’d never used a subway solo in my life. I was sure I'd figure it out. I loitered for an hour trying to see if the solution would come to me--it didn’t. I bought a sub sandwich and then, the second smartest thing I did--I bought a black hat. It was so narrow, as if it were designed for a Conehead. I tore a few stitches and made it fit.

I was frustrated, tired, cold, still hungry, didn’t know the language, was confused by the currency, had no maps of the city and knew I had to stay awake and walk around for over 15 hours. There was no lodging available in Paris.

The station was buzzing with busy French rushing about, and they didn’t like me getting in their way. Most of the public restrooms were pay-toilets, so I held back on drinking to avoid that need. I found a help station and got a subway map but was still too embarrassed to ask how to use it (the names on the map were in French). I wandered around the street by the station and considered taking a bus or taxi but didn’t know how to buy a bus or subway ticket. I even considered just staying in the station--I was, after all, already in Paris--wasn’t that my goal?

After two hours of this I prayed a little and found a very cooperative person at the help station who showed me how to get to the Champs Elysees and also told me that the subways were free for the New Year celebration. Bathrooms--still not free. I could go anywhere I wanted for free, as long as it wasn't a bathroom. On the subway map the Paris Est station was listed as Gare de l’Est--now how was I supposed to know that? I followed directions and once past the first two stops on the subway it was as if a switch clicked in my head and I instantly understood the subway! I was so excited…I was empowered! I was worldly! I even changed my mind about the Champs Elysees. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower first, just in case the lift was still open, and then go to the Champs Elysees later to ring in 2002. I made it to the Eiffel Tower with one mistake.

I jumped off the subway and when I looked up I saw the reflection of the Eiffel Tower on a building, but couldn’t find the tower. That was strange. I walked five minutes before I could see the source of the reflection--the Eiffel Tower!

And hovering over it were the Moon and Jupiter looking down on me. The tower was completely lit up and I just walked over to it. It was so beautiful and massive--this was another one of those unforgettable moments that only comes once every few years and I'd had three of them in 2001 (the other two were reaching the Mt. Evans summit and singing Silent Night in Dörrenbach the week before). The bases of three of the legs were restaurants, but I didn't go there, unable to shake the idea that I would be eating from someone's foot.

Paris reminded me of Tokyo, with sidewalk vendors of hot foods and a variety of nationalities, and I'd used the subway in Tokyo quite often. However Paris wasn’t as clean, with more litter and garbage. People smoked cigarettes in the train stations (clearly marked no smoking areas), dropped cigarettes inside the station and walked away. I was kicking butt all night.

First Eifel Tower vision

Eiffel Tower

View from train on arrival at East Paris Train StationEast Paris Train StationEiffel Tower ButtEcole de Militare (Napoleon's Military Academy)Pont de Bir Hakeim Bridge underneath Jupiter

Eifel Tower Post Card

River Seine
A Burglar in Paris

Ferris Wheel and Obelisque on Champs Elysees

Champs Elysees

Arc de Triomphe Front

Arc de Triomphe Side

Guillaume and Nachida and Algerian Parisian

There were no lifts going up the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve, so I explored the area. When I walked under the Eiffel Tower, on the other side, across a half-mile stretch of gravel (the Champs de Mars) was the E’cole Militaire, once a military academy attended by Napoleon. As I was walking to it I started laughing to myself--I couldn’t believe I was actually kicking rocks in Paris! It was so surreal. Rather than take another subway, I walked to the Champs Elysees from the Eiffel Tower. It took well over an hour. On the opposite side of the River Seine (which was breath-taking in the night--see photo) was the Palais de Chaillot, a palace, and from the elevated stairway entrance was a postcard perfect view of Paris, the Eiffel, the Trocadero’ Fountains, the E’cole de Militare (look between the legs and you'll see it), and the Sacre Coeur Basilica.

I spoke to couples from Belfast, Ireland, Frankfurt, Germany, two couples from New York City, and a lady from Hong Kong. From the Palais I continued my walk to the Champs Elysees. There was a large presence of French police, and they had all monuments and landmarks closed and closely guarded in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The Champs Elysees was closed to traffic, so I walked the entire cobblestone avenue I’d seen so many times on Tour de France videos, now bathed in Christmas lights. There were no loose cobblestones to take home--darn. This is where everyone wanted to be. It was packed.

By the time I reach the Arc de Triomphe at the far end, it was 10:30 pm and I’d been on my feet for five hours. I was cold, hungry, my feet hurt, and I was weakening fast. My system was crashing. I ducked into the nearest subway to find a warm place to sit and re-energize. I rode the subway for 20 minutes (now that I was worldly it was easy) just to get warm. Then I got sick of the smell.
At 11:45pm I worked my way back to the Avenue de Champs Elysees for the New Year. I figured that with Lance Armstrong, three-time Tour de France champion and testicular cancer survivor being so popular in France at the time, they might want to put him in a slowly descending elevator on the Eiffel Tower, and as midnight approaches, watch the ball drop. Again--didn't happen.

I was so cold that every moment was painful. I worked my way around the circle of the Arc de Triomphe and just before midnight, the crowds pressed in on me. There were thousands of persons doing the same thing as I, and at midnight we were almost crushed and trampled. I was being pressed on all sides and literally could not move. I hate crowds, and the rude pushing and shoving was scaring me and pissing me off, but the anger helped keep me warm. People were tossing firecrackers into the crowds, spraying champagne and screaming at the top of their lungs, but I couldn't move an inch as I felt a few explode on my back. Then, with my feet barely touching the ground I swayed back and forth at the whim of the collective drunken mob.

Like the Pillsbury Doughboy surrounded by French rolling pins, I panicked. Once I was able to move, I quickly squeezed out of the crowd, disgusted at the situation, threw a few elbows to clear a path, and got as far away from that street as possible. My exhaustion was making me irritable and depressed. I sat in the subway station for 30 minutes watching partygoers in their altercations with police and drunken fights, some just urinating right there on the floor in the station (Hey, now there's a money-saving tip!). I returned to the Paris Est train station by subway. My train didn’t leave for eight more hours and I was freezing. Fog rolled in on Paris and the damp air was going through me. At 1am I was kicked out of the subway and onto the street.

I skipped around restaurants and cafés trying to warm up and when one closed I’d find another. I stayed at the Brasserie de L’Est for two hours, eating delicious meal of Herring which should have only taken 30 minutes to eat. A nice lady sat next to me but neither of us said more than two sentences for two hours. We were too busy shivering in the drafty restaurant to socialize. I think, in hindsight, neither of us would have minded cuddling. They closed and kicked me out, but I asked if I could use the restroom first. They obliged and after taking care of business I stood in front of a hand blower for ten minutes warming up. I used to hate those things!

Once I returned to the streets, I was shaking so badly I accidentally followed a couple through a security door at a hotel lobby. It was warm, that’s all I knew. The gentleman at the desk was kind enough not to scream, ”Terrorist!” and let me sit for ten minutes with a coffee, but then made me leave.

People on the streets, who two hours earlier were celebrating, had a blank look of despair on their faces. They were freezing their ears off. Many, like myself, thought we could wander around and explore Paris all night because we didn’t expect the cold to be so severe. Just two days before the high was 45 F degrees but that night it was 22 F degrees and I was weak, making me even colder. I wanted warmth more than anything. I didn’t care about Paris anymore. And I was feeling lonely. I really needed a warm body.

Guillame, Me, and Nachida
I found a Breakfast Café and kept ordering Espresso so they wouldn’t make me leave. There was a large dog that kept sneaking in too. Poor thing. I sang funny songs to myself to keep warm ('Let’s Eat the Dog for Christmas' was my favorite) and by 4am, though half asleep, I was feeling warmer. Could I walk to the Saint Michel or Notre Dame Cathedral? I walked for five minutes and had to come back to the café to warm up. This time three Parisian men tried to speak to me, asking me if I was okay. I had my black hat and coat on, unshaven for days, dressed like a slob (intentionally) with a blank look on my face, and I tried not to speak unless I had something to say. I used grunts and gestures whenever possible--I didn’t want anyone to know I was American unless I wanted to befriend them. I have to keep a low profile. I was alone--an easy target. But I looked disturbed (I wasn’t singing anymore). We tried talking but I knew no French and they knew almost no English. They told me they were sorry about the September 11th tragedy.

Then Guillaume and Nachida entered the café. Guillaume, 25 years old, was raised in Dijon but lived in Paris and Nachida, his woman, was Algerian born but lived in Paris. They asked if I was okay. I replied, ”Yes but I’m very cold and tired”. The three of us talked for three hours.

Guillaume kept buying me beer and the other three Parisian men joined in. We had a wonderful time. Guillaume and Nachida were in love…awww. Guillaume and I were so involved in our conversation that we ignored Nachida. She began speaking to one of the Parisians and found he was actually from Algeria, and they were from the same town--they had the same doctor. Guillaume was interesting, intelligent, open minded, and friendly. He studied philosophy, so we discussed everything in depth. He said I spoke with wisdom, so I liked him of course. Nachida smiled often and looked like Cher. We had a lot of discussions about why the French and Americans don't like each other. I tried not to use the word "Frog" and he tried not to say "Yankee Bastard". It was really fun, and we were both just enjoying the open conversation. He asked me why Americans don't like French--although I never thought I didn't like French, I told him some think French are arrogant. And it was no surprise that some think the U.S. thinks it owns the world. By the time I left, the entire café of drunken Frenchmen wanted to say goodbye and kiss me like Europeans do. I was a little timid--I didn’t kiss back. I smelled of stale champagne and there were cameras present. Guillaume and I exchanged email addresses and said goodbye. I jumped on the train at 8:54 and am now warm in my room.

Happy 2002…I’m going to bed.