Or: why sometimes, it’s worth saying ‘yes’ just for the experience. 

Four months on since I moved to Paris for my year abroad, I’ve had a few situations I’d describe as memorable. There was the time I accidentally inhaled the actual liquid inside poppers and spent the rest of the night feeling like a bull on heat, and the time I dialled the wrong number, accidentally asking an estate agent’s receptionist for the sexual health department. But this story still trumps them all.

It’s the evening of Sunday 15th November. Not long ago, people were taking cover under tables because a few idiots thought it sensible to light firecrackers two days after three groups of gunmen managed to kill 129 people. Even in Oxford, there are people who either know or know of people who were wounded or even killed. As a result, the nearby Marais district, usually one of the liveliest areas, is deserted – the City of Light as a whole is withdrawn in the darkness. Nearly all the bars and cafés, usually buzzing even on a Sunday evening, are shut.

But there are exceptions. Firstly, a few gay bars were still full (#resilientgays) and then there was the bar on the Rue Vieille du Temple, where I spent my evening among the exceptionally bourgeois clientele, many stacks of wine, and an equal amount of shelves crammed with books. The person I ended up spending the evening with put it very nicely:”Ça, c’est la cité en guerre“.

After an hour of standing quietly and two glasses of red wine, that someone walks in. If you could talk about modern Parisian stereotypes, this guy was it; grey hair and stubble, leather jacket, scarf, thick-rimmed glasses, talking about politics to his equally middle-aged friends – as bobo (bourgeois bohémien) as you can get. Being on my own, I had to eavesdrop about how he got the cut to his head from ducking down too quickly in the restaurant he was in, and about how France today was “un pays malade“. He soon notices and starts grinning like a Cheshire cat. Intrigued, he asks, “Comment vous vous appelez ?” He also tells me that he’s seen me before. You might think that’s weird but fair enough, I reasoned drunkenly. I live locally, Paris is stupidly small, he lived not too far either, and I’m stupidly tall.

The conversation lulls, but soon his friends head home, and it’s just me and him. Having told him I was an Erasmus student, the subject turned naturally to literature. He hated Gide, I loved him. We talked about a Mauritian writer I’d read about in the New Republic who had just written a book about the French approach to philosophy. We laughed about the English distrust of philosophers. This was it, I thought, talking about intellectuals in France in a place filled with my two greatest passions: I have reached Peak Paris. And then, at about half past eleven, he declares wearily, “Faut chercher quelque chose à manger, j’ai faim. Vous voulez venir ?” This rather naive Englishman abroad thinks that the only place open now would be that great culinary institution, McDo. The old man will balk, get tired and give up, I thought, but out of politeness, I nonetheless followed him.

But before I knew it, he’s hailed a taxi on the Rue de Rivoli, saying to the driver, “Peut-être qu’il y aura un restaurant au Montparnasse,” and we’re crossing the Seine, heading to the opposite side of town. And it’s nearly midnight. Just how exactly will my body be butchered? Obviously, I hadn’t taken into account that this one brasserie would be open and still serving on this Sunday night of all nights, while everywhere else was on lock down. Even the piano player was still on his shift. And as I’m trying to calm down by humming to a rendition of ‘Take the A-Train’, he’s recommending me the oeufs au mayonnaise and ordered a very good bottle of Chardonnay. I go for the foie gras instead, and some sort of pasta with squid.

Wrong type of Sugar Daddy...

Wrong type of Sugar Daddy…

By now, I was thinking that I knew exactly what was up. My drink wasn’t spiked or anything, but this was a fairly thorough albeit old-fashioned attempt to woo me. He kept insisting on filling my glass. He’d moved on from simply grinning to giggling like a 1950s schoolgirl getting her first glimpse of a boy with no shirt on – not quite the reaction brought on by explaining second conjugation neuter nouns in Latin. He couldn’t believe his luck. I wasn’t to be his first British conquest though; he had gone with someone from The Other Place; I imagined he wanted to know first-hand whether Oxford or Cambridge was better. But it also turned out that, as an eighteen year-old in 1974, he’d met Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault (together, of course) who had much fun explaining to him the mechanics of gay sex and their visits to Morocco, the Thailand of its day.

Frankly by this point, I was unopposed to the idea of having sex with someone who had met two of my favourite French writers in the hopes that some of their genius might rub off. And then came the bill: around a hundred euros for two people. No worries though, he paid – with a single 200-euro note. I don’t even have 200 euros in my French bank account. The waiter asks, “Vous avez deux euros trente centimes ?” “Oui, je pense,” he replies, getting out his coin purse. And the waiter came back with two 50-euro notes as change. Talk about intimidating.

We walk up the boulevard du Montparnasse to Raspail. I keep expecting him to make his move, a quick slight around my behind, even my balls if he had them. But to my surprise, there was nothing. He still asked for my number, which for some reason I gave to him. We got in a taxi back home. It was 2 o’clock now, no chance of getting the metro. Again, no groping, not in the slightest. He drops me home at my flat, I get out, he says “A bientôt“, the taxi pulls away into the night, perhaps along with my chance of having a Parisian sugar daddy, and the life of luxurious debauchery I could have had.

But I’m pretty sure he gave me one of the most interesting encounters I’ve had to date.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Optionally add an image (JPEG only)