after a taxing first day in paris, i got up and had to start all over again. because, although i got lucky with Peace and Love one night, they had no room for me for the rest of the week. along with every other hostel in the city.
so once again, my whole objective that day was to somehow find a place to stay. i set out from jaurés station with all of my belongings and wished for something convenient and constant and cheap.
the afternoon consisted of cafe hopping, with hours and euros spent in each. café americano and pages of orwell in one. an omelette and a bit of writing in another. water and an attempt at wifi in a third--but the connection in all of paris so far was weak. so i trekked up and down st michel searching for the one place i can always count on for solid internet...
i walked into starbucks, ordered a hot chai tea, and got upstairs just in time to watch the sky open up and dump warm summer rain on the tourists in the street. i found a prime people-watching spot and perched myself there for the rest of the gloomy daylight hours.
and the stormy skies matched the anxiety in my mind as scouring the internet for options made me more hopeless by the minute.
i searched every individual hostel site i could find, to make sure there really were no openings. annnd, the rumors were true. my mom, who was also searching in a worried frenzy in ohio, suggested that i just give in and get a hotel. i thought about it... but just for a moment. because if i were to submit to the lame luxuries of a real hotel room, i'd burn through my traveling money too quickly and be forced back to the confines of the states in no time.
even so, every standby flight home was full for the foreseeable future, so bailing wouldn't be an option even if i needed it to be. i was stuck in paris for a reason, so i needed to stay positive and find a reasonable solution. that's when i turned to couchsurfing.
normally couchsurfers look for a host way in advance, so i didn't know if i'd have any luck. i went to the paris page anyway and sent out a desperate request for help.
...over the period of a couple hours after i sent out that general request, i got OVER 30 private invitations from men all over paris saying they'd be GLAD to host me... ha! and when i say "men" i mean that they were mostly very french, trying-too-hard-to-be-charming, middle-aged MEN.
i wasn't super keen on the idea of staying at a last-minute stranger's house by myself to begin with, so i knew i needed to be smart about who i picked. and a few of those invitations made sleeping in a park seem like a safer option... so i politely declined and stayed patient, keeping faith that something perfect would soon pop up.
then, on the very same page where i posted my plea, i found an open event for a picnic on the seine, scheduled for 8 pm that evening. the event had tons of enthusiastic parisian couchsurfers commenting and confirming with each other that they'd be there. sooo, i'm online waiting for a nice couchsurfing host to appear, buuut there's about to be a whole group of them partying right down the street?! JACKPOT!
i started mentally preparing myself for the fact that showing up at a couchsurfing party and begging for shelter might be my best option. that's when i FINALLY got a really down to earth message from a 22-year-old guy named francois, near rue de l'Odeon. it was the first invite of the day that seemed totally sincere and safe. also, i've stayed near the Odeon before and adore the whole surrounding neighborhood, so i was down to accept. because as fun as the picnic on the seine scenario sounded, there was no certainty i'd find someone there who'd be able to host me.
BUT, right when francois and i started deciding on where to meet up, i was kicked out of starbucks because for some ungodly reason, parisian starbucks close at 9 pm?!?! i had no phone, no internet, and no way of contacting this guy. so without thinking twice about it, i put on my gypsy coat, gathered my bags and made my way toward the seine.
i realized that the rain stopped just before i left starbucks. people on the streets were still shaking water out of their umbrellas and tucking them away. as i walked north, clouds were shifting overhead, making way for some final fragments of blue sky.
by the time i reached the river, the heavens had cleared and a colorful sunset was on full display behind notre dame. for the very first time since i got to paris, i looked up and stopped moving and marveled at the scenery. then i laughed to myself about my incredible luck---for completely missing the rain and for having the perfect opportunity to do something a little courageous in such a beautiful place.
i walked along the river bank, nervously scanning for a group of people that maybe looked like they've slept on strangers' couches around the world. i started worrying i wouldn't find them, that i wouldn't be able to distinguish the couchsurfing picnic from all the other little picnics on the seine. and then i saw it.
beyond the bridge of locks near notre dame, a group of about 40 people were mingling and drinking and echoing laughter across the water. i paused mid-step and tried to compose myself. but i felt immediate heart palpitations at the thought of walking up to this huge group of strangers, holding everything that's currently dear to me, and hoping they accept me.
then i thought this is exactly what i signed up for. this is the type of adventure i've been craving. this is going out of my comfort zone, and THIS is what travel is all about---trusting and immersing.
so i silenced my mind and just started walking toward them, all fears aside. and as i got closer, people within the group turned to face me, one by one. by the time i got within a few feet, there were about 7 people looking right at me, so i smiled and said, "couchsurfing?"
loudly, and all at once, all seven said, "hiiiii, yes, welcome!" or some other sort of warm greeting, and gestured for me join them. then before i knew it, i was sitting in between new french friends, bags off my shoulders, wine in my hand, answering questions about where i came from. they opened their arms to me immediately.
the obvious question i was asked first is, "do you not have a place to stay tonight?!" i said no and explained that i sort of found a host, but had no way to contact him about meeting up. i was offered to use the internet on an iphone, so i started to message francois again.
then, just as the sun was really setting into a deep purple, it started lightly raining again. everyone ran toward the nearest bridge for shelter. when we got there, a band was playing, fire dancers were performing in the corners, and other parisians (maybe previous picnickers) were dancing throughout the tunnel.
so the rain made this already surreal party on the seine morph into a vibrant, buzzing, echoing tunnel of elated intoxication.
but i couldn't exactly enjoy this epic party going on around me when i had very heavy, valuable bags weighing me down. so i kept trying to message francois to secure a place to stay.
i was finally able to tell him i'd meet him at the odeon theater. so i picked up my bags, said goodbye to these perfect strangers who were so willing to help me, and started to walk away---back into the unknown.
as i was walking away from the light of the tunnel, back toward the darkening city, i thought, am i going to regret turning my back on this incredible atmosphere? is there any way i could stay? maybe my host would want to come back with me after i drop off my bags?
my thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a man's voice saying, "ooh la la, gypsy girl." clearly directed at me and the absurd coat i was wearing.
two young french guys were leaning against the slanted wall, not far outside the tunnel. they asked why i was leaving the party already. i told them i had no place to stay and that i was on my way to meet a couchsurfing host at the Odeon.
"really?? you're at a couchsurfing party with tons of people who sign up to host people like you... and they're all right here! why would you leave this great party to walk 30 minutes through the dark streets of paris to stay with someone you've never seen? someone here will surely host you. you can stay with me! or my friend here! we both have space. or any of these other people, if you like them better... but why would you leave this beauty? look at all the people dancing, and the musicians, and the river, and the sunset, and notre dame! this never happens in paris. even WE are lucky to experience it and we live here. you should stay."
........yeahhhhh. i hope you read all of that in a french accent... if you didn't, read it again. if you did, please tell me... HOW COULD I POSSIBLY SAY NO?!
i brought up the issue of my heavy bags. without hesitating, this guy pointed at the other end of the tunnel, beyond the fire dancers, and said, "see that leettle car there? that's my car. you can put your bags in my car, if you want. they'll be safe there. we can stay here and party. i'll introduce you to all of my friends. and you can decide who you feel comfortable to stay with."
what were the chances of this young parisian man owning a car? how many people in paris honestly own a car? especially someone right here, right now, right when i needed it??
i looked into his face as he was talking, trying to get a read on this unusually kind stranger's character. i quickly studied the creases at the corners of his eyes, judged the sincerity of his smile, felt the tone of his voice, and decided... yes.
a sarcastic female friend of his came up and laughed something half-french about him helping me. he replied something to the effect of, "yeah, i know what it's like to be in a foreign country without a place to stay. i've been in this situation many times. of course i'm going to help her."
...so yes. i said yes. of course, i said yes.
i put my bags in his car and i felt light. he gave me something to drink and i felt happy. he introduced me to all of his wonderful friends and i felt whole. they all told me how great of a guy he was and i felt safe. i messaged francois to say i found another place. and i stayed.
and i stayed. and i stayed. and i stayed.
i stayed with Emilien for 10 days.
and it was one of the best spontaneous decisions i've ever made.