According to Aurelien, Paris has a huge house party culture. That’s awesome, and a bit surprising as I was under the impression that house parties were a pretty distinctly American custom; they barely even exist in Japan, China, and Korea, and from what I understand are pretty rare in Norway and Israel as well. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve been anywhere where house parties were even close to as popular as bars or clubs. But apparently in Paris one’s social status can be pretty clearly gauged by how often they’re invited to parties, to the point that many expats tend not to like it here because it’s relatively tough to work your way in.
This information made me feel even luckier for having been invited to one within 20 minutes of entering the country 😀
Since I didn’t make it home from my little unplanned roundabout of the city until after 4am, I slept quite late the following day and got off to an unusually slow start. I delayed this even further by doing my first full load of laundry since leaving the US. Things like shirts and underwear can be easily washed by hand, but jeans and sweatshirts are a bit more of a hassle – and I didn’t exactly want to show up to a party alone in a stinky pair of backpacker jeans. So I took the opportunity to haul everything to a nearby laundromat where a sweet old lady – who didn’t understand a word of English – helped one clueless American operate a confusing coin-op French washing machine.
By the time I made it out into the city I had time for only two touristic stops: the first was Notre Dame. Again. Why? Because on the first Friday of the month, for just one hour, you can see the “crown of thorns” – supposedly the very one Jesus wore during his crucifixion, which somehow made it to Paris around the 13th century.
I’m not quite sure how those thorns avoided decomposition over the last 2 millennia, but real or not it certainly seemed worthy of a 10 minute ride on the metro.
Viewing the thorns up close involved sitting through a midday mass. Most of you have probably figured out by now that I’m not big on religion, but listening to that massive pipe organ echo through the huge vaulted ceilings of perhaps the most famous church in the world was still pretty powerful. I just wish it were a little shorter – man, I can’t imagine sitting through that each and every Sunday morning 😛
On the way back I stopped for a quick visit to Jim Morrison’s grave in what turned out to be both the largest and most spectacular graveyard I’ve ever seen – it almost felt more like a statue garden, as some of the graves were literally the size of small houses, and decorated in excruciating detail. Morrison’s grave was one of the simplest there.
Then at last it was time for my first Parisian house party.
It was great fun, and probably just what you’d expect – tons of wine to drink and cheese to munch on, groups of youngins hanging out the balcony and smoking cigarettes, chatting, etc. Because it was so busy the livingroom dancing didn’t really pick up until most of the people went home on the last train; I stayed the night and headed home around 11am.
The next day was a national holiday celebrating liberation from the Nazis in World War 2. Because it was a holiday weekend and the weather was absolutely perfect, I chose to return to Las Halles – I didn’t feel like I’d really gotten the “bustling weekend hangout” vibe described by my guidebook on the previous visit.
I was right. This time it was completely different – a taste of what Paris CAN be like. There was so much more energy than I’d seen, so much more fun!
I spent hours just roaming around, people watching, and listening to the huge variety of music performed by some truly talented musicians. Ponte des Artes, a bridge spanning the Seine and another popular weekend hang out, reminded me almost EXACTLY of Kamogawa in Kyoto (without question one of my favorite places on planet earth). Just a bunch of locals listening to music, relaxing, and having a drink or a picnic over the river.
It wasn’t until around 7pm that it again started to drizzle and all the street performers started packing up their gear and scurrying towards the metro. I too had somewhere to be, so I took the rain as a sign that it was time to head home and start getting ready…for another houseparty!
That’s right, someone I met the night before had invited me to another gathering the very next day.
Show up in Paris for one weekend not knowing a soul, and party away just like a local? What luck! 🙂
However, this time I didn’t make it there quite without incident. Whereas Alya, the birthday girl from the night before, provided me an exact address to her party – this time all I had were the names of a metro stop and of a supposedly nearby street. I was told to look for a house with a big red gate playing loud music, and that it would be easy to find.
It was however still drizzling, so almost no one was walking around the little residential area to give directions. All the shops were closed, and the few locals who I did manage to ask – though polite and trying to help – had never even heard of the road.
Wetter and wetter I became as I wandered nearly without purpose, beginning to consider giving up and conceding a Saturday without going out. But then at the last moment I caught a lucky break: a man walking home with his son. Although they didn’t know the road, his friend just happened to ride by on a scooter at the very instant I stopped them to ask. They waved him down, and not only did this man know the way, but he pulled a spare helmet out of the seat, invited me to hop on, and dropped me off right in front of the red gate with the loud music.
It was indeed obvious when I finally reached the necessary road. But not exactly right next to the metro 😛
This party was very different from the previous: whereas Alya’s was a smallish gathering of maybe 30 or so friends mostly chatting in an inner-city apartment, this truly was an all-out party: a 2-story house, including a full bar and professional DJ equipment. The theme was “Battle iPod,” where aspiring DJ’s would play their best mixes and the crowd voted on their favorites. People were dancing and doing shots and a bit of the hanky panky in every nook and cranny of this surprisingly big residence in the outer suburbs of Paris. It truly reminded me of a big American frat party.
Except I was the only American there…and everyone knew it.
Literally within minutes of my arrival I had people coming up and saying “So you’re the American? Cheers!!”, or when someone new would walk up and overhear me chatting in English their eyes would bug out of their head in surprise. At one point the host came over to say “I heard there was an American at my party, what a success!”
Apparently they don’t get many non-French at their little ragers 😉
I ended up spending most of the night with the host himself, and a particularly cool guy named Julien. When the party started dying down just before 2 (again, because of the last metro) Julien, myself, and two of his other friends hopped in their car and headed downtown to continue the night at a Brazilian club named “Favela” before they drove me home somewhere around 5.
Pretty good for my first weekend in France 🙂