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June 2003

Dancing on Broken Glass

Let me start this one with a remark that I have learned a big lesson this very weekend. I will not go into details.

Let's start on a Friday afternoon in our Weybridge office in the UK. That start has lead to a funny story once, so why not use it again. It is about 4pm, and I am finishing up my to-do list because Monday will be my last work day before my vacation, or holyday as they say in England. I am thinking that it would be fun to go somewhere else this weekend because I have been using my friend's hospitality in London for way too long already. Not expecting a quick reply I send an email to my old friend Stéphane in Paris what he would think of me popping in for coffee.

A short while later my phone rings and I can see a French number on the caller ID. It is Stéphane. He would be happy to catch up with me. Well, the fantasy seems to have chance to become reality. I go to the Eurostar website and check fares. Booking one day in advance is definitely not the cheapest option, so I am not ready to make a decision yet. At that time it is past 5pm and my dear coworker is waiting to give me lift home.

Arrived in London I am still bugged by the Paris virus. I go to the local Internet café and check the fares again. This time I find a bit cheaper fare, 90 pounds, so I call Stéphane again and 5 minutes later I am printing my itinerary. Tomorrow morning I am off to Paris.

Back at Eric's I am enjoying yet another one of his too delicious barbeques. We have made plans to go out tonight, but Eric feels tired and will take a nap. He will call me later where to catch up if he feels like it. I will keep this part shorter because I want to concentrate on Paris and you know London from my last tale. I meet up with William and we have a fun night together at a party my Austrian friend has invited us to. After the party I end up at A.M. in Vauxhall.

At 7.30 in the morning it is time to head home because my train to Paris leaves at 10.18. Off into the train to Clapham Junction, the bags finished, and into another train back via Vauxhall to London Waterloo where the Eurostar departs. Taking the Eurostar is much more like flying than taking a train. You have to check in and go through security. Finally at 10am I am in the train and ready for some sleep. From "splendid" to "sacre bleu" in less than three hours - technology is amazing. The Eurostar is one of those TGV (train grand vitesse). On the English side it is more a TSV (train sans vitesse), but on the French side it flies through the "campagne" like an arrow. The train arrives at exactly 14.23 as scheduled at the Gare du Nord where Stéphane awaits me hoping he would still recognize me. With all the pictures on my web site it should not be a problem.

The weather is gorgeous as it has been the last weeks and will be during my whole time in Europe. We walk home to his place, an apartment in an old Parisian building. The apartment is nice and cool, even though the temperatures outside are more like I would expect them from Madrid than Paris. After a relaxed aperitif we head out for walk into the gay neighborhood to see what is going on.

In a little gay clothing store I inquire what the best place to go out would be, and end up not only getting a recommendation but also four free passes for "Les Bains" ( This is a club that I have wanted to go to for 13 years or so. I am filled with excitement.

After our walk Stéphane's crazy friend Gerben from the Netherlands arrives with the train. Try to have to have a clean throat before you pronounce this name because otherwise it will clean it for you. Stéphane's boyfriend Jean-Pierre brings over little bites for aperitif. We are testers for his creations as he is planning to serve them at a party in July.

At this time I find out what a special evening it is in Paris. It is the "Fête de la musique". The whole city has the traffic blocked off and there is live music on ever corner. We meet up with friends of Jean Pierre, and start our musical journey in the Cartier Latin. Every street, every corner provides different live music. We find everything from rock with head banging students in the Cartier Latin to a breathtaking cello solo in front of the Pantheon. It is the most beautiful warm summer evening you can imaging. Our musical journey ends at 1am in Le Marré, the gay neighborhood, with a street party where the best Paris house ( gets reflected by the "Pierre de Paris" walls of the beautiful old buildings. Spot lights are wandering up and down on the walls, fog is coming out of a window on the second floor, and now and then thousand little paper snippets fall down from the sky like snow. Suddenly a foam machine starts producing little foam flakes which get stuck in the funky hair cuts of the visitor from London. When the music stops at 2am, we quickly start our way over to Les Bains. Everybody else will do the same, so the lines will be outrageous.

At the door we get greeted like royalty with our free passes and waived into the basement of this old Parisian building. As I said earlier I have wanted to go to Les Bains or Les Bains Douches, as it was called back then, for many years. The place definitely shows some signs of age. Quickly it fills up. The music is great but people are generally not easily approachable. The drinks are outrageously expensive, and as the title of my story says, there is a more and more broken glass on the floor as the night proceeds. I am tired anyways, so by 4am I am home and enjoy some good sleep.

On Sunday Stéphane is heading out to look for old Eurovision song contest vinyls at street markets in Paris. Stéphane is the biggest Eurovision song contest fan ever. The funny thing is that the only other Eurovision song contest fan I know is my friend Stephan in Boston. Must be the name I suppose.

Gerben and I head towards the river to watch the French boys tanning on the sidewalk next to the Seine. It is called the "Tata beach". Tata means aunt in French but you can imagine that this is not the only meaning of that word. After having enjoyed enough sun ourselves we head into the Cartier Latin for a little delicious French dinner. When you go to a restaurant in France you do not order a starter, an entrée, and a desert. You choose a 'menu' which suits your price. They start from 12 to 15 euro dollars and go up. The affordable menus usually consist of three courses. You have a couple of choices of starters and main courses. Starters are called 'entrée' here which is the real meaning. I don't know how the Americans made a main course out of it. You usually leave the choice of dessert open until later. Anyways, we have our three course meal with a glass of red, and head back to meet up with Stéphane at home. Stéphane and I go for little beer and then to bed because we both have to work Monday. Gerben heads out again for a concert.

Monday is the day I would rather not talk about. Besides working on my laptop, it is the day I deal with the mess I have created in London. What can I say? We make mistakes, we hurt people. We can never undo what we have done but we can learn from it and hopefully not do it again. Whether we will be forgiven is out of our control.

End of day on Monday the long awaited has finally arrived…..the vacation. You might say it seems that I am always on vacation. Weekend extravaganzas are one thing, but putting work aside for ...oh my God…it is really two weeks….is something completely different. It does not seem that long because it split up into smaller trips, and three days out of the 10 are pure traveling.

Since it is my last evening, Stéphane and I go for dinner to a nice, not too expensive, restaurant close to Centre Pompidou. It is in the basement and has old gothic columns like a church.

After dinner I meet up with Gerben, my fellow tourist, to enjoy my last night France and my first night of vacation with a blast. Finally, after years of waiting, it is time for "Le Queen" on the Champs Elysées. We take the Metro to "George V" and find the one and only place within minutes. After a couple of seconds of being scanned up and down by the bouncer, he makes an approving little gesture with his head and we are in. After not having been too excited about Les Bains, I still give this city another chance. It is shortly after midnight on Monday and the place is rather empty. What do you expect? (just you wait)

The night is called "Disco Inferno". I will hear songs that I have not heard in eons. My life will pass by like story. The first surprise is that the whole thing does not look like a gay club at all. The boys are cute, but so are the girls …. and they seem to be interested in each other. What is going on here? Gerben says I should just wait. I don't care anyways. Girls are more fun to flirt with sometimes, and I am here to enjoy the night and try to find out how the all so famous Parisian night life works.

It gets fuller and fuller and hotter and hotter, but nobody is drinking. Well, some little groups have reserved tables with bottles of vodka on the tables. Since drinks are about 10 euros, the crowd tends to enjoy a rather dry night. It also does not look like the chemical kind of crowd if you know what I mean. So here we are. They do not drink much. They do not do anything else, and they are having a blast. Do they maybe know how to have fun? It must have been the bottles of vodka on the tables, but there were only a couple of tables…. I can't think about that because I am dehydrating from dancing like a fool to Boney M and Madonna. I need water. I am told to do it like the French and drink out of the tab in the bathroom. So I do. I do not see any French doing that but who cares.

The bathrooms are funny. There is only one unisex bathroom for boys and girls and you enter through a turnstile like they have for subways. You press the red button to enter, and then another gate and another button to exit the bathroom. Suddenly I see….you will not believe it……a girl with a bottle of water. I ask her whether she has brought it in, but "sacre bleu", she has bought it in here… just nobody buys them. I am immediately off to the bar to get one of those, and the dehydration problem is solved.

When the bottle is empty the big question arises. Will they shoot me with machine guns when I try to refill my bottle in the bathroom? There is only way to find out. You cannot imagine how full this place is. I wiggle myself with slow hip movements towards the other side of the dance floor where the unisex toilets are located, and refilled my bottle without any problems. I am sure the water has been recycled three times in the French sewage system. Who cares, the body needs hydration. The night is getting better and better. The music is fun. The water is flowing.

One thing is really annoying me. The broken glass again. The floor is covered with it. Is it a Greek party where they throw glasses around or what? I don't know. Listen! don't come here with flip flops or other open shoes. It would not be a good idea.

As the night proceeds it is getting a bit less crowed, and to my pleasure, the cute boys slowly seem to be interested in each other as well. So here we are. The first really mixed club I have ever seen. Gays and straights next to each other as if they would be all the same. Again, people are having fun without altering their consciousness, and gays and straights are dancing next each other in perfect harmony. Something is just not right here. The music blasts one disco hit after the next. It is so much fun. As they play this song … I think it is called Music…. "Music is the future…" .. the orchestra creates a climax. Suddenly out of the blue, this Greek god like creature lifts this gazelle of a girl up above his head into the most perfect ballet pose. Only in Paris you see this. Meanwhile I am doing the Fred Astaire choreography with this gorgeous Harry Bellafonte look-alike in his nice 234353 pants and his nice 234353 shirt all around the dance floor.

At 5.45 the dinner is definitely danced off, and we are ready to take the Metro home for some good rest. I am glad I went out. I think I have learned a lot from this night in Paris. They need to learn to drink more water. Maybe that is why they are so thin. Maybe a bit more deodorant when the night is long. But they know how to have fun.

On Tuesday I take all my time to pack my bags. I try to find a post office to mail a present to the US. Everybody is extremely helpful and friendly. What's wrong? Am I in Paris? Well, I speak French.

Now as I am typing I am sitting in the Eurostar back to London from where I will fly to Barcelona to continue my research.