Well, that went as well as could be expected
Note: Forgive me if this post is a little too… detailed. Let’s just say that there’s a lot of vomit in this post, and not all of it’s mine, so you might want to skip this one and come back when I type up something more esoteric and bouncy. It’s been such a bad weekend so far I had to share the smelly little details with you…
I think I realised my trip to Paris was going to come to an early end at around three o’clock this morning. Picture the scene if you will… room 17 on the seventh floor of a crowded hostel with no lift and one narrow, twisting staircase. The room has three bunks, and I’m lying on the bottom bed: writhing in pain from a day spent vomiting in every available recepticle, with aching muscles and a throbbing headache. A bout of food poisoing or a gastric infection probably caught in the hours before I left Strasbourg left me incapacitated and unable to move without feeling the urge to wretch.
Having collapsed into my bed in the late afternoon, I had managed to catch a few brief hours of rest. The room had been empty until very late, when two British backpackers showed up to drop off their bags. They quickly disappeared, apparently to go back to the bar on the ground floor. I fell into a shallow sleep once more, and didn’t hear from them again until about three in the morning. Around about then I woke up to the familiar sound of somone battling with an uncontrollable urge to empty his stomach. There were coughs, splutters and grunts. And then there was a brief moment silence.
And then there was a god-almighty wretching sound, followed by the splatter of a drunken British man’s vomit landing on the floor beside me, and on the egde of my bed.
It was time to go.
Less than twenty-four hours earlier, I had woken up before the sparrow had even farted to hurl down some breakfast and catch the 05h29 TGV to Paris. I’d found some cheap first class tickets that would give me in a weekend in Paris to see two of my tutors, a couple of museums and to be the genteel flâneur to which I aspire.
This did not happen.
I arrived at the Gare de l’est at the end of a very rainy rush hour, feeling mildly woozy. I dismissed this as the result of a short night’s sleep and a rather unpleasant coffee bought from the TGV’s buffet car. Finding my hostel near Jaurès métro station a little north of the Gare de l’est, I dumped my bags and headed towards Montmartre to find a comic book store that had been recommended to me. It was still rainy heavily, and the steep cobbled streets at the base of Montmatre were being washed clean by fast flowing rivulets of rainwater. I remember the growing pain in my stomach being so noticeable that by the time I got to the bookshop, I was actively looking for a chair on which to sit down. Finding one in the little upstairs room, I bent double and tried to fix my eyes on the hessian carpet, thinking of anything I could that would prevent me from emptying the inside of my digestive system in this neat little BD-store.
I tried to remember the sage advice of those who live more healthily than me. The words ‘green tea’ flashed before my dizzy eyes, and I stumbled out of the shop without even being able to look at a single comic book (you will appreciate that this shows how unwell I was). I ran down the street, trying to breathe normally. The stretch of Rue Lepic that I was covering is lined with little food stores and cafés, some of which extend out onto the pavement during the day time by means of large glass counters that slide on tracks to occupy part of the pavement. Trying to avoid any scent or smell of food that could have initiated a rapid expulsion of my insides, I had to dodge glass refrigerated cabinets of meats and fish. I made it as far as an attractive little corner café, shrouded in a plastic canopy that kept the pavement tables dry. I headed straight to the toilet, slumped and failed to encourage anything out of me.
Feeling sheepish, I found a table close to the WC, and ordered a green tea. I detest green tea, and that is not an understatement. I’m a red blooded Englishman who was raised to drink his tea with lots of milk and lots of sugar, not with mint leaves. I calmed myself by holding the hot cup between my hands, and trying to focus on immobile objects in the café. Outside the rain was still falling heavily, and the waitresses were shivering. I finished my second large mug of tea, and congratulated myself on my effort.
Within twenty seconds, I was vomiting. That old “green tea’ll calm your stomach trick” didn’t work. I collapsed on the floor of the tiny toilet, and interspersed the sound of retching with the sound of pitiful groaning. I admit that I can be such a drama queen in situations like this. The second half of the pot of the green tea was consumed more easily, and by the time I left the café I had begun to feel better. In fact the only thing bothering me was that a pot of green tea costs €5 in Paris. Yikes. I can think of cheaper ways to induce vomiting.
Under solidly grey skies I walked a bit around the neighbouring streets. After a few moments, I realised that I had found myself right beside the distinctive movie-fuelled tourist trap of the Moulin Rouge Theatre. Long lines of giggling tourists were lined up in their plastic body wraps for the matinee performance. Tour buses with registration plates from Poland, Italy and Wales rolled up and disgorged their passengers.
After a while feeling mildly better in the fresh air, I found a café and tried to find the most suitable-upset-stomach dish. Hmm. Soup. The gratinated onion soup seemed to do the trick, going down easily, warming my insides on this shivvering day and killing the time until I had to leave for an afternoon appointment with one of my tutors. I wish it could have been that simple. One hour later, while changing trains at the heaving République métro station, the delicate aroma of freshly baked bread wafted out of an underground kiosk and served notice on my body that it was time to return that onion soup to the outside world. Bent double over a wall mounted waste bin, I joined the sophisticated ranks of those who have been violently ill in public places. For a good five or ten minutes, I filled the echoing white tiled tunnels with the sound of my miserable groans.
I returned to the hostel, and only attempted to move later that evening when I went to find a pharamcy for over-the-counter drugs to cleanse my stomach and bash the nausea. That little sortie across the street was enough to set everything up in the air again, and without seconds of getting back to the hostel, my head was three inches above a toilet seat again. I diluted one tablet in water and drank it in one gulp, and placed the other beneath my tongue. The long and painful process of starving my stomach began, and I collapsed into my bed seven storeys above Paris. If nothing else, I was able to congratulate myself on having managed to direct all my bodily expulsions into waste recepticles.
But then a mystery British backpacker failed to manage even that. After emptying his guts onto my bed and the floor, he just rolled over and fell asleep. I though of all my friends who are so much more stronger than I, and imagined all the things that a stronger more aggresive me would say to this drunken wanker if I had the energy. After ten minutes of futile nothingness, the sound of his snoring and the smell of his vomit got too much. I packed my bags, and began to long trudge down the seven storeys of the hostel’s only staircase.
I was due to stay in Paris until Monday, moving to the sofa of a friend-of-a-friend late on Saturday night. But I couldn’t face it. The suppositories and painkillers were kicking in, but I had no energy to keep myself occupied in Paris for two and a half days. The next morning I went straight back to the Gare de l’est, bought another train ticket, and came home. Sometimes it’s all a little too much for my delicate system.