Paris in 96 Hours

Paying our respects to Papa Hemingway who lives on in Harry’s Bar - and beyond

On The Town | Ardalan Maher | October 2008

Hemingway lives at Harry’s Bar (Photo: Laetitia Devillars)

I rolled my suitcase out of my door and took a deep breath, slowly putting my hand on my wallet and passport, a last second check. It was 6:00 a.m, and I was about to head to Paris. Landstrasse is quiet and deserted in the morning; a few bums stood across the station and were busy sleeping in their self made cocoons. I decided to walk across the U-Bahn station and buy myself a mozzarella sandwich, walking quietly, trying to avoid any trouble with the winos. I bought myself a one-way ticket for 8 euros, placed my bag on the CAT train and turned on the music. Johnny cash was explaining why he wore black…

Sixteen minutes later I was at the airport. I checked in and tried to find a café. Unfortunately the coffee machine in the store wasn’t working, so the waiter brought me a tea instead. I felt ripped off but what can you do. I watched other passengers in amusement as they each, one by one, tried and order a coffee. I’m not a person that enjoys watching people suffer, but this was quite amusing: Austrians without coffee. It was amazing they didn’t start a revolution.

The flight was smooth, no turbulence. My killer headache however wasn’t helping things. I get nervous before I fly; all kinds of things run through my mind before the actual takeoff. The wheels role in as the takes off and somewhere in the back of my mind John Denver starts singing "leaving on a Jet plane", too bad his plane left and never landed. I had been running on two hours of sleep, watching the 4 am shopping channel, admiring the useless inventions, the cheap laptops, the foreman grill, the beauty creams that make the ugliest people look hot. Probably the only time I thanked God for the fact I didn’t own a credit card.

I would have killed for a cigarette, I don’t understand why airlines still waste money installing the electric non smoking signs. I don’t know of a single airline that offers a smoker friendly flight. If you happen to know of one, by the way, let me know; I’d change airlines in a second. The last time I was on a smoking flight was on my way to Iran. I was 17 years and bummed a cigarette off a sweaty overweight German businessman who was enjoying his last beer before landing in the Mehrabad airport. The greatest buzz of my life; it’s the only way I can describe it.

It’s all changed now; you can’t even bring a toenail clipper without being cuffed and beaten. So I took out a piece of gum and started chewing until my jaw went numb. I took off the headphones, put my seat in its upright position and prepared myself for whatever was awaiting me.

The plane landed; some idiots clapped. I hate it when people do that. I got off and tried to find the bus. The first building I saw was a concrete martini glass shaped thing. Now that I think back. I laugh. Maybe God was giving me a sign. I paid the €8 fee and headed toward the Opera. The Industrial Tour is the only way I can describe the ride, Full of cheap airport hotels, all side-by-side, facing factories for this and that. The names seemed vaguely familiar; all I can say is thank god my girlfriend had warned me, or I would be staying at an airport hotel.

I arrived at the opera and opened the carton of cigarettes I had purchased at the Vienna duty free shop. I usually smoke Parisians, they’re quite smooth. But they didn’t have any, so I settled with a carton of Camels. I peeled the plastic off the carton and took out a fresh pack, pealed another layer and ripped off the aluminum, turned one cigarette around (an old custom) and took one out and lit it, inhaled. I was pleased with the flavor.

My friend showed up, collars up, Trummelhof style, you know in the 19th. He was obviously recovering from a hangover, his eyes hidden behind a dark pair of Prada shades. I laughed, inhaling a cigarette.  I have known him for a while, and it seems we can read each other’s minds. Let’s hit a Reeb ("beer" backwards) I said, he agreed, leading me towards the closest steak restaurant. I was rolling my luggage around, so the waiter asked me, in French, to place it by the door. I looked at him and laughed.  "No way man," and we took a small seat by the window. I ordered a medium rare steak and a beer, feeling a slight buzz. The next bar seemed like the most logical pit stop before retiring my suitcase at my friend’s place.

We then hit a joint called Harry’s, a small looking place from the outside. The address is 5 rue Daunou, 2nd Mº Opéra, and according to some brochures, its has been open since 1911. The bar is open Monday through Saturday 10.30-4.00 am, so it’s a good hangout for all you nighthawks. I love it when bars have the old fashioned waiter and the mahogany interior that reminds me of Harvard. Everything is made of wood over there; wood makes people feel smarter. I guess it also makes alcoholics feel more legitimate, depends how you look at it.

We ordered two Cuba Libras; we were paying our respects to Papa Hemingway, who seems to live on in this town. Well, at least if you’re drinking. I drank the cocktail and took a deep breath, still admiring the warm interior.

We entered the apartment, beautiful interior, a typical old fashioned Parisian home that was located by the le Pyramid. Grand fireplaces, large mirrors and mazelike rooms. I entered the guest room and changed into my street wear. The window of my room opened into a courtyard. I could see an office from across, people working, hustling, and tapping onto their keyboards.

I lit another cigarette and got lost staring at other people’s lives. They call it a vacation, but I feel overwhelmed, still in the battle zone, shuffling through books, preparing for the midterms, finals, quizzes, essays. I’m tired, exhausted, burned out, yet somehow, just like the other students am supposedly on vacation. Four days, 96 hours, that’s all I technically have left until it all starts again, like the eye of a tornado, the calm seconds before the storm. 96 hours of pairs, 96 hours of freedom.

We went to a bar called The Lip, an old Hemingway hangout, that’s what my friend said always. It’s €10 for a small beer; I’ll put up with it, I’m a tourist and feel entitled to keep the French economy running. Just kidding. We stared out the window; cars passed bye, my eyes wandered. We visited another bar, ordered some Heinekens. I was in Paris, but all I could think of was Kentucky Fried Chicken. Call me stupid, uncultured, whatever... I have been a good tourist so far, traveled, walked through museums, listened to tour guides, been ripped off by taxi drivers, paid my tourist dues.

This was my 96 hours, and I had decided to enjoy every second.

It’s not easy to remember addresses when you are in a foreign country and have taken the "Bad Tourist Oath of Allegiance". There is one called the "Fu Bar" and is located in 5 Rue St-Sulpice, in the 6th Arrondicement, the people there where friendly and spoke fluent English. The cocktails where lethal, I recommend staying away from the heavy drinks and putting a lock on your wallet, especially if you have a few pops in your system already. Then we hit another bar with a similar name: "Rhubarb" located in 18 rue Laplace -75005, an extremely chilled out atmosphere and waiters who also speak English. Lots of Americans hang out there, which is okay, I guess, as its gets quite cold downstairs in the cellar. But the lounge area downstairs is quite cozy. I recommend drinking a few imported beers; the prices where fairly reasonable.

"Birdland" is also a very chilled out cocktail bar. The place reminded me of the ONYX bar here in Vienna. Same mood. They don’t serve Red Bull, but have some other energy drink which I do not recommend mixing with vodka, the beverage nearly gave me a heart attack, and as a certified nighthawk I’m quite immune to Red Bull. So be warned. They also host some street parties; everyone basically gets beer in plastic cups and hangs out in the street. The cops tend to roll bye occasionally, but no need to worry; the police are quite friendly unless you’re involved in a street fight. The Latin Quartier altogether is full of small bars, so if you are not into clubs like me you will have no problem finding a bar in that area.

I don’t really remember when it all ended; all I remember is that my girlfriend was also in Paris at the same time, but I had only met up with her once during the whole visit. I missed her beyond anything, the "bad tourist" was ashamed, I’ll admit it. And to tell you the truth, I missed Vienna. It’s hard pretending to be a bachelor, when you’re actually taken. But it’s the whole nightlife routine, it just sucks you up inside its hollow abyss, no matter where you are. I needed to get out.

Paris is beautiful, but it lacks the coziness of Vienna. Although I could make a list of things I hate about Vienna as well, the trip made me realize that Vienna is my home.

Ninety-six hours later, the waiter at Harry’s Bar brought us complementary Singapore Slings. Viva Alka-Seltzer. My friend lit a cigarette, looked directly at me and said the following: "Is this what its all about?"  And in that very second, I realized he was right. The next day I would be in Vienna, sipping the same drink, chatting with the same people, the same friends, the same old grey buildings, over and over again until I get a job, meet a girl, get married, have kids and eventually, but hopefully not soon, perish.

Call me pessimistic, but is this what it’s all about? If so, waiter, pour me another drink.

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    the vienna review October 2008