I met a boy in Paris, and he was gorgeous. He was the receptionist at the hostel I was staying at, and he was every bit my French fantasy. Tall, dark, and ridiculously handsome with an accent that can melt even the stoniest of hearts. His name was Gabriel, and he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He was not nice because he worked in the service/hospitality industry, he was a genuinely nice and kind hearted person. Gabriel asked me out for coffee as soon as we got my bags locked in the store room. Check in wasn’t officially until 3, and as it was only half past 10 in the morning, all I could do was go through the check-in formalities and chuck my backpack off for safekeeping until the time I can go to my room and get settled.
As he was locking the door of the store room, he quietly and discreetly leaned into me.
“Would you like to go out for coffee?” he says.
I look at him, unsure if it was some sort of prank or dare. No, he was quite serious.
“Go see Paris,” he says. “Then when you come back later, I can show you the real Paris.”
As the French, and particularly the Parisians, are notorious for being unwelcoming, I decided to accept his invitation. After all, how often does one get taken on a private tour of Paris by an actual Parisian, and a gorgeous sweet one at that.
I spent the next four hours wandering around the seventh and sixth arrondissement. I started in Champ de Mars and gaped in wonder at the Eiffel Tower, I slowly made my way to Bon Marche passing by L’Ecole Militaire on the way, before finally ending at the Jardin du Luxembourg, where I had a nice nap on one of the benches by the basin. It was quite a spectacular afternoon, and the best way to spend one’s first day in Paris, the city of lights, dreams, and love.
At around 4 o’clock, I walked in the hostel and saw Gabriel already waiting for me by the lounge area. I said a quick hello, grabbed my bags from storage, and went up to my room to finally see it and put my stuff away. When I came back down, he was already standing by the door ready to hustle me out into the busy streets of Montmartre.
The beautiful autumn afternoon was cold and crisp, and the golden light from the sun filtering through the trees lining the streets was a photographer’s dream. Gabriel first took me west to the Barbes area, where a huge community of African traders and immigrants live. The best coffee in Paris was apparently being served in one of the unmarked cafés owned and ran by Kenyans. We entered the dimly lit saloon and sat by the biggest window. He ordered two coffees for us, cafe au lait for me, espresso for him. Before the coffee even came, I already knew that I was in for a special treat. I can smell the heady aroma of beans being roasted and ground in the kitchen. It was a very intoxicating smell. When the coffee finally came, I swooned. The smell was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and by the time I had my first sip, I was about ready to move in there.
Gabriel smiled. He was happy that his choice of cafe made me so giddy and excited. He asked if the coffee in America was also that good. I laughed. “It tastes like crap!”, is what I told him.
We stayed in the cafe for a good hour, and we passed the time by alternating between sitting in comfortable silence, watching the world outside walk by us, and by leisurely getting to know each other. I told him I was a wandering nomad in search of life’s great experiences. He told me he was a dreamer who refused to settle for anything less than perfection.
A little while later, we said goodbye to the kindly matron who ran the place and thanked her for the wonderful coffee. Having divulged my love of photography to him, he decides that we should wait another hour before going to the Basilica de Sacre Couer. Dusk is when I should be taking photos, when the church’s lights illuminate it’s facade from within. We took the long way up the hill, going through the side streets instead of going straight up the stairs or taking the furnicular.
“Up here is the real Montmartre” he says. “Below is where people think Montmartre is.”
We walked around the steep and twisting cobblestone streets, pausing occasionally so I can take photos. On our way back to the Basilica, he pointed towards an unassuming storefront. If I wanted pizza while I was in Paris, this was the only place worth going to.
As we turned around the corner, the Basilica’s blinding white facade welcomed us. The gardens in front of the church was packed with equal parts vendors, tourists, and pilgrims. We made our way inside the church, and Gabriel, ever the gracious host, pointed out all the items of value or historical interest. To be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to him anymore. I was too busy staring a the stained glass windows. I was standing with my mouth agape, mesmerized by the sheer magnificence and beauty of it all. When he realized that he’s lost me to the windows, he sidled up next to me, and for the next twenty minutes, we stood there side by side without saying a word, just admiring the artwork.
Eventually he grabbed my hand and broke the spell. Time to see the rest of the village he says, then he drops my hand, and tells me to meet him outside when I’m ready to leave. But I wasn’t ready to leave, far from it, I wanted to stay there forever.
A few minutes later, I acquiesced and left the Cathedral. Gabriel was waiting by the balustrades and was eager to point out the various Parisian landmarks we can see from up there. It’s a shame the Eiffel Tower was too far west from where we were to see it. “We can go later”, he says, “if you’re interested.” I told him I was hungry and all I can think of at that point was food.
He laughed and offered me his hand again, and led me down the stairs to the Carousel at the foot of the hill. Under the orange halogen lamps and under the clear night sky, the garish flashing lights looked melancholic and inviting instead. I leaned on him, enjoyed the feeling of his hand holding mine, and savored every second of that magical moment.
“Still hungry?” he asks, as he put his arms around me trying to keep me warm when he noticed I was shivering in the cold. “There are several shops by Pigalle that we can get food from.”
I nodded and asked him if there was any chance I can get sushi or anything with rice. Three weeks of living off baguettes and paninis was starting to get to me. He laughed. Yes, there is sushi, and there’s even Chinese and Vietnamese and all the rice I can eat if that’s what I fancy for dinner.
We walked towards Pigalle passing by countless charming bistros on the way. He pointed out to me the famous La Bateau-Lavoir, and regaled me with the list of artists and intellectuals who once called it home.
We walked east towards Rue Lepic and walked all the way down heading towards the (in)famous Moulin Rouge. On the way down, we passed by an entire block full of restaurants ranging from classic Parisian brasseries to dim sum shops. The amount and variety of food in display was dizzying and overwhelming. I made quick mental notes of the shops I saw selling sushi. Gabriel noticed this and laughed. He steered me across the street and led me to a small patisserie shop that was about to close.
“Get the raspberry tarts,” he said. “They’ll go well with the champagne I picked up earlier for you.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What else do you have planned?”
He simply smiled and said, “You’ll have to wait until we get back to the hostel.”
After we picked up half a dozen of assorted little tarts, and another half dozen of the raspberry ones, we continued on to Boulevard Clichy, where outside the Moulin Rouge, I struck my best can-can dancer pose. Gabriel even got in the spirit of things and did his best cabaret pose. Romain Duris had nothing on him.
After we’ve sufficiently embarrassed ourselves in front of a gaggle of tourists, we doubled back up Rue Lepic and bought enough sushi and fried rice to feed the entire hostel. There was a fromagerie next door, and as special treat for me, Gabriel bought several varieties of Brie and Camembert and a pot of fig jam. When he noticed me eyeing the display of speculoos, he got a jar for me too.
Instead of walking back to the hostel, we hopped on the Metro at Blanche as it was getting late. We walked to the hostel hand in hand, and when we got in, he sent me to my room and told me to put on the warmest clothes I have. Puzzled, I asked him why. The man just told me to do as he says. Since everything he’s shown me the whole night has been quite wonderful and memorable, I decided to just heed his words and not argue.
When I came back down five minutes later, he had not only the two shopping bags we carried in but an extra three bags with him. Satisfied that I was wearing warm enough clothes, he led me outside the hostel building and we walked twenty feet to a hidden gate around the corner. He opened the door and led me up five flights of stairs, I realized we were still on hostel grounds, but were on the other side of the building. I could actually see my room by the time we got up to the third floor. When we got to the top, I understood his insistence on wearing warm clothes.
The rooftop was an herb garden, and in the middle of it was a table set for two, and just beyond it is an unobstructed view of the Sacre Couer bathed in the moonlight. I stared at it in awe. It was by far the most beautiful thing I have seen in a city full of beautiful things.
Gabriel came up next to me, placed his arms around my shoulder and flashed me a self satisfied smile. “I knew you’d like it,” he said before giving me a quick kiss on the cheek and walking back towards the table. He then started taking out the stuff that we bought earlier, as well as other things that I guessed he bought beforehand.
After I took a couple of photos of the Sacre Couer, I went over to where he was standing and was amazed by the sheer amount of food spread on the table. In addiction to the sushi and rice we picked up, there was also a plate of charcuterie, cheese, grapes, and crackers.
“This is too much!” I said shaking my head. “I didn’t think the French ate this much.”
He laughed and started putting stuff on my plate. “Sit,” he says, as he continues piling goodies on it. He handed me the plate and I sat down across from him. I took a bite of every single thing on my plate, and spent several seconds savoring each item. I looked at the stars above and at the Sacre Couer in front of us, and wandered how I got so lucky to spend such an amazing day with such an amazing person.
“Did you have fun?’ he asks.
“Yes, I did. Thank you so much for an amazing day.” I answered.
He moved his chair next to mine, and as he did, I rested my head on his shoulder. He grabbed my hand and held it for the next two hours we sat there, staring in silence at the grandeur of the Sacre Couer and enjoying the rest of that beautiful autumn night.