A Night in Paris

In the back of the Parisian pharmacist I am struck by how much it looks like the cluttered back of a pharmacist. The somehow gritty beauty of Paris has been left on the street and replaced with stacks of nasal decongestants and a computer. The Parisians and their disaffected cool have been replaced by two guys in white coats.  

One of the guys calls my sister’s name and then jabs a long stick into her nose. I feel as though we are in a movie being worked over by the cronies of some guy he double-crossed. His name would be The Gouche, le Prick, or Ted. Something in me wants to scream out “get your hands off my sister!” as a joke, but as we need these men to administer and relay the results of our COVID tests, I decide that messing with them and then not being able to explain it in their language isn’t my best interests. I keep quiet. When she’s done, he gestures to me. He is well dressed beneath his short white coat. The stick goes up my nose and stays for a time just long enough to feel medical. He tells us we will get an email in 5 minutes.

That damn le Prick.

One of the major benefits to living in Central Europe is the ease with which I can visit another country. Paris is less than a 90 minute flight. My sister has been on a holiday in Provence and will finish out her trip with two days in Paris and I can meet her on Friday afternoon and be back in Prague Sunday morning. I told Burke, “I will get croissants for Sunday breakfast,” which may be the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to say and mean.   

I reaped these benefits as my bus from the airport came into the center. Heading up the streets of Paris’ city center was a treat after two years of lockdown. Walking to the hotel at lunchtime was more so. The people crowded the tightly-packed street tables at cafes and they chatted and smoked and wore scarves and didn’t wear bras and argued and gestured and somehow managed to look cool eating quiche. It was glorious.

But anyone traveling these days knows that there are now extra steps and headaches with traveling. You need new documents and tests. You pay for men in white coats in the backs of pharmacies to put sticks up your nose and you await results.

We do our waiting at the pub next door, at which we enjoy two very non-Parisian things – cheeseburgers and craft beer. My sister has been eating French cuisine for a week and decides a cheeseburger is just the thing to reacclimate her to American dining habits. The man checks our vaccine cards and we are off to the races. We nervously check our phones on occasion, both fully vaccinated, but what if? Another headache. We get our emails and they are both negative. We celebrate with another beer before going to the pharmacy to pick up our negative COVID test documents.

I don’t have a problem with travel documents and I don’t have a problem with showing documentation to get into a café. As a matter of fact, it’s the safest I have felt in a drinking establishment since 2019.

We head back to the pharmacy, where the place has been handed over to a man who is undoubtedly drunk. He trips over a trashcan and then spells my first name with an L and a Q. I show him my passport. This would be more problematic were he the one tasked with poking the stick up my nose, but I guess they got their sober guys to do that. We get our tests and then head out for the night. The night is tipsy, but Paris is too expensive to go all out. Drinking stays to beer and a wine, there are no shots, because I don’t have collateral like a house or a car or a clean kidney to put down for some bourbon. We go to four places and they vary in friendliness and snootiness. The barman who handed us our burgers was cheery and pleasant. The man who let us in the café in the Jardin des Tuilerieswas fine, but we evidently made the very last cut before they shut for the afternoon (before night) and he gave us a carafe and then stared at us hard over his mask until we chugged it and left. I am used to this as it’s a Czech standard tactic to get people away, but the carafe of wine cost more than my first car, so I wasn’t leaving easily. The Algerian woman whose name I can’t remember and who ran the little red café was the best. She loved us and it was mutual. We discussed how we could smuggle her back to our countries, Julia would get her for 6 months and I would get her for 6 months. She was into it, but there’s a chance she thought we were just joking and neither of us felt like spending our 6 allotted months in a French prison.

The last place had a waitress who didn’t seem to care for us or anything or life too much and she gave us our 12 euro glasses of wine with nothing like pleasure. The manager caught me looking at the bottles of whiskey and insisted on giving me a tour of them, but I got white faced and chills when I thought about how much a shot of Bushmills would be in a café where a glass of white wine was 12 euros. We left without incident.

Nevertheless, it was a lovely night. A way to put COVID in its place for a day. Each café or restaurant asked for our vaccine cards and I felt a little bit carefree after 19 months of stress and worry. It was of course only a matter of time before the real world began to poke its head back in, but we decided to celebrate the remainder of the dwindling night with a kebab. After an unsuccessful search, we went home and watched Columbo in French while munching on cookies.

In the morning, amid cookie crumbs and suffering a headache made of white wine, rose, and tall beers, we realized that the pharmacy had forgotten to sign and stamp our COVID tests. But it was OK, they were on the way and with any luck and everything I know about the French attitude towards working on weekends out the window, there was a chance we’d be able to make that happen too. In any event, we had no goals, no destination, vaccine cards, and another to spend looking for cafes before we went back to the real world.   

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