23 November, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Birthday

The night began with a great deal of deliberating.

Actually, I should start the story even earlier in the day when Greg and I picked up Stef on platform 5 at Gare du Nord. After saying how happy we were, hugged, got over how weird it was to see each other in Paris, and we were walking toward the metro, I told Stef, "You couldn't have timed your arrival in Paris any better; tonight we've been invited to an illegal party in the Parisian Catacombs."

But, when I told Stef that we had been invited to this party, what I really meant by that was my friend Emily had been invited to a party in the catacombs and that she had extended the invitation to us. So we (Stef, Greg, and Ciara) met up with Emily (and several more of our American friends, both mutual and otherwise) and her Frenchie friend outside a metro stop near a secret entrance into the catacombs. The Frenchie, who was familiar with these sorts of underground parties, told us to "Get ready to get wet." Surprisingly, only the people from Bellingham laughed at this unintentionally funny remark. Eventually we stopped laughing and began weighing the situation. The deal was that in order to get to the party inside the catacombs we had to trudge through small, cramped passageways that often had dirty water depths of around thigh high (a thigh for Ciara, a knee for me). None of us were dressed to get wet (maybe to party, but...), or were too enthusiastic about staying out past last metro, or hanging out in a cave with wet pants and socks. A few people from our group said that the night just wasn't for them and left. We said the same thing and began to leave. Fortunately my friend Andrew stopped us. He told us we were being [dumb] and what were we thinking, etc. So we decided to stick with it, and started walking toward the secret entrance.

About halfway there Ciara and Greg and Stef and I started being dumb again and decided to not go in. Let's just go drink in front of the Eiffel Tower, we said. That's a fun thing to do, we thought. You can only do it in Paris, justifying our cowardice. So we started walking back to the metro.

But then something changed. The crux of our argument was that even if it took 3 years for us to look back fondly on this adventure, it would still be worth it. Plus, even the idea that we were already regretting not going told us a great deal about the situation's potential. The four of us, even Scaredy-Cat Ciara, ran and caught up with our friends, had a sports ball roll up to our feet, stopped it with our foot, looked at our friends and said, "Let's do this thing," bought a bottle of whiskey, and fucking went for it.

First we had to walk through an abandoned train tunnel for nearly twenty minutes. It was dark. What made it especially creepy and like a scene from a nightmare was that it was pitch-black but also enclosed with a vanishing point; we had to keep walking further toward the darkness into a looming abyss.

Eventually our guide told us we had made it to the hole we were to climb into the earth from. This is when I stopped being nervous. All of a sudden there were several groups of young people, all smoking and drinking and laughing. Most important to me was their laughter. If they were having such a fantastic time before going inside the earth to get wet and cold, inside had to be a pretty special place.

Outside the Catacombs in The Cave of Darkness. Long legs = Birthday Boy.

We drank the whiskey. We did some other stuff. We climbed into the hole. Here are some pictures documenting the event:

Walking through the cavern.

Greg inside the Catacombs, taking a time out from the party.

This girl was explaining to me that it was also her birthday. Note even mid-conversation I'm n. 1.

This picture demonstrates the party's lighting well.

Other moments of note include:
  • A performance piece put on by three Frenchies. They tried to explain how we all have one foot in the grave even though we're indeed not dead. I think my favorite part about the performance was the part where I got to hang out with my friends in the Catacombs.
  • I was kissed by a very pretty Danish girl.
  • Ciara met a boy named Tank Top.
  • People loved us!
  • I turned 23 without noticing it right away (because we were using Stef's time judgement, and she was an hour behind on London time).
  • Some people sang me "Happy Birthday," but not everyone, which is how it should be. I don't care much for the idea of strangers telling me something they don't mean.
  • Greg talked to a lot of people and felt good about that.
  • The party was lit entirely by candles; the flash pictures from inside the catacombs make it look a lot different than it actually was.
  • No parents allowed.
  • People were dancing to a battery-powered boom box.
  • I've never seen Stef shine so brightly. At one point I questioned whether or not Jules Verne had written my birthday, and on cue Stef proclaimed, "Journey to the Center of the Birthday."

Stef, on fire.

We left wanting a little more (the only way to leave anywhere, really). Our coats were dirty. Our shoes would never be same. But then again, neither would our hearts. We walked back out of the Cave of Darkness just the four of us, no guide, no flashlight. We reached the city and were blown away by how sensitive our eyes were to light. Even our cornias had been transformed by the journey.

We got into a taxi cab and headed home, cementing my theory all perfect evenings in Paris end with a taxi ride.

The next morning, Greg and Stef and I brunched from 11-3 and my actual birthday began.

Ground Zero, best year of my life.


stefanie p. warmouth said...

only one thing could have made this birthday better... SKULL SHOTS! (aka: kiss of death)

next time, i guess.

katie said...

oh, man. OH, MAN.

i want to turn 23

Lara Schmidt said...

wow. i am just so speechless and jealous right now.

21 blows. people still say happy birthday to me when I buy liquor.