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E-Mailing Through Europe >> Amsterdam and Paris August 12, 1998


2 South Africans, 3 Ducks and Lots of Gay People

Date: Date: Wed, 12 Aug 1998 03:48:24 -0700 (PDT)
From: k p ken@kpny.com
Subject: Re: maintenant' je vas a paris

3ducks 
Hangin' with three ducks  

Dear all, I don't want to be picky and correct Linda's memory of her youngest son, but he prefers to spell his name with only one "e". You can view the correct spelling yourself at the bottom of my new note, in which I write:

`ken'

(The reason that the quotation marks look funny is the french apparently don't use them, and instead of the quotes key they've put the accent agu and the number sign. (The British Pound sign is on number 3, and OH! Voila, there is the quotation mark above number 2.)

Anyway, I'm happily ensconced in the Three Ducks Hostel about 15 minute walk southwest of Le Tour Eiffel until friday. (Ph 01 48 42 04 05 www.3ducks.fr) It's a charming little hostel, with about 25 rooms in a U-shape around a courtyard of tables and chairs and young early 20s people from all over the world. I've met people from South Africa, lots of Australians--who must suffer from a severe beer shortage Down Under, as they seem only be interested in drinking beer in each country I've met them--Canada (the 51st state, I remind them if I've been drinking with the Aussies), and a few other of the nations in this world that are too unimportant for me to remember right now.

So here's how the trip has been so far:

Landed in Amsterdam in the middle of the Gay Games, and found all the hostels and hotels booked with gay people. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but let's face it, I'd much have preferred the Swedish Pornography Games. So I found a hotel and took the day to acquaint myself with the city and overcome jet lag. I was staying south of Vondel Park--the Central Park of Amsterdam, except you can't buy pot in Vondel Park. The neighborhood, to keep the NYC references up, had a very Upper West Side feel--lots of yuppies and cafes and thin brownstones. (Did I mention the Dutch women? Oh La La! Or in a loose translation to dutch: Oh Leindladensplein LaooochGachenshgooot!)

The next morning refreshed with something deep fried--everything in Amsterdam is deep fried, apparently--it was up to the tourist office at Centraal Station, where I tried to find a hostel. The nice dutch lady who had been telling everyone for two days that all the hostels--and in fact all the hotels--in Amsterdam are booked by Gay people from all over the world today, told me the same thing, with eyes that said "And I hope it takes them a long time to find a cure for AIDS." The best she could do for me was a hotel across the main canal, about a five minute bus ride, for $120 US. So much for Amsterdam on $100/day.

Fortunately for me, a South African chap named Wayne cut in line and asked me "are all the hostels bloody booked?" I said yes, then proceeded to negotiate with him to pay hostel rates to sleep on my floor. (Though a little concerned about the situation, he assured me that this is a crime in Amsterdam roughly equivalent to riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. And it happens with the same frequency.) Oh, by the way, his friend Brinn was also traveling with him and would also like to rent space on my floor. "Smashing," I replied. So my generosity to these two downtrodden Afrikaners saved me about $40 on my room, and I made my first international friends.

After relaxing in the hotel for a couple hours, we decided to go out on the town. And in Amsterdam, of course, that means only one thing.

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So finished with Amsterdam, I decided to go in search of some real food. I was also missing the hot and stinky subway stations of New York. That meant only one thing. Next Stop: Paris!

During one of Wayne's coherent moments, he suggested the Three Ducks youth hostel, where I'm currently staying. After arriving by TGV high speed train--note to Mom: the conductor informed me that according to french custom, I was required to smoke on the train, especially when people were eating in close proximity--at Paris Nord at approximately 17:05, I took the subway (Ah, the smells!) to the hostel and placed my backpack on my bed. I turned around, walked directly to the supermarche and picked up a bit of brie and some red wine. Then it was off to la patisserie (sp?) to stick une baguette under my arm. (Again, in the french custom, I had been sweating all day so the bread tasted authentic.) Back to the hostel, where I bought a bottle of red wine, sat in the courtyard and exhaled. Parfait!

Shortly after feeling civilized again, I began talking to my new friends scattered around me for a couple hours. Later, a group of us went to the lawn at the base of La Tour Eiffel with more wine, some cheese and found lots of quietly drunk frenchmen. We thought it was public space, but apparently every frenchperson there thought it was a soccer field, and we must have been sitting on the goal line. So we protected our beer from les futbols, and got back at the french with our secret weapon: two loud americains singing the national anthem and other american songs off key and way too loudly. It was embarrassing, of course, but the wine made things less stressful and I took solace that our group was actually less noisy than a group of drunk Italians a few meters away. It was a true international scene, not dissimilar to the general assembly of the United Nations.

One funny incident happened on the way back from the Eiffel Tower grounds:

I split a bottle of red wine with a young asian-american woman who I had met approximately 30 minutes before we went to the Eiffel Tower. I drank what I thought was quite a bit of the bottle to protect her from overconsuming. (She was 19 and maybe 120 lbs.) However, she managed to drink too much. When a few of us decided to leave to make the 2:00 a.m. hostel curfew, we noticed she had been throwing up for an hour or so and could barely walk.

I can't imagine doing that to yourself in a strange city where you don't know anyone, but maybe that's why I'm still alive. I decided to help her out, along with another good Samaritan, Nicole from Calgary, Canada.

We tried walking for about 3 minutes with her arms wrapped around our shoulders. The escargot's pace would not get us back in the 15 minutes before curfew, so we hailed a cab and threw her into one driven by a surly Parisian cabbie. He was not happy with her volatile state and didn't speak English. I explained in slightly tipsy and very bad French where the hostel was. The cabbie proceeded to take us there as fast as possible to prevent his cab from being soiled by the gurgling young American. Fortunately for all of us she managed to keep it down.

As we were approaching the hostel, I needed to tell the driver to make a right, but I couldn't remember the French word. So I said "Si c'est-nest-pas gauche, c'est quoi?" My french was good enough for him to respond "Droit" just as we approached the turn at a high rate of speed. I said very loudly, "Maitenant! Droit! Droit! Droit!"

He grabbed the wheel and made a very fast, hard right turn. As the tires squealed, the g-forces of the turn caused the drunken girl next to me to fall over and bang her head rather hard on the window. As I was chuckling and thinking about how she'll wonder how she got that bruise tomorrow, the cabbie pulled up in front of the hostel. It was 1:58 and we made it in as they were closing the doors.

Nobody knew her name, and nobody knew what room she was in. As we were asking at the front desk, I heard her whisper something. I leaned down, putting my ear to her mouth and she gasped "seven. seven. seven."

"You're in room seven?" I asked.

"seven" she replied quietly.

I took her to room seven and threw her down on the first available bed.

The next morning she thanked me profusely and paid me for the cab and the wine.

Okay, this is getting expensive (60F so far), so I'm signing off for now.

Tomorrow's installment: "Notre Dame, Le Louvre, Le Musee D'Orsay, and Where the Hell are all the Beautiful Parisian women?"

--Ken

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