To be fair, the Nord Hotel in Paris isn’t so bad during the day. That’s it in the picture. Possibly even the same room I stayed in. When you turn the light on and open the window, the yellow shade of the walls looks almost sunny and inviting. There are little individually-wrapped mints on the pillows and a sign instructing you to drop any towels you want washed on the floor so that the cleaning service doesn’t go to the trouble of washing the clean ones, too. A TV mounted in the corner of the room, near the ceiling. Sure, it’s a little shabby, but no worse than a hostel, and fuck it, you just got into Paris and lucked into a cheap hotel right across the street from the train station.
I didn’t think anything of it when I dropped my bags off in the afternoon. I am also in the complicated groove of traveling by myself, a state in which everything is experienced acutely and then hovers around in a space of its own, completely independent from the sort of value judgments I’d be making if I had the resources for comparison. It’s all new, and therefore all the same to me in this regard: the photos of women having sex with animals in the Sex Museum in Amsterdam, the insectlike curve of a door handle in the Art Nouveau district in Brussels, the beer coasters lined decoratively around the bars that never seem to be used for their intended purposes, the muscular and omnipresent tongue of the Italian guy I kissed after going out for Chinese food, the awkward but euphoric conversations held between people who can’t really speak each other’s languages well enough to do much except express happiness at meeting… all of it has been definitively foreign, and I’ve gotten used to my independent opinions pretty much stopping at that. I do not feel any added anxiety bringing a small supply of hash with me on the train out of Amsterdam because I am anxious enough about making the train in the first place. I am far more worried about radiation poison from accidentally passing my hand through the baggage X-ray machine than I am about going into a bar by myself and picking up a strange man. Nothing makes any sense; it’s all just a heady rush of information and adrenaline. I can’t yet tell what I will remember and what I will forget, and this doesn’t bother me yet. It feels pleasantly weightless to focus on small, sensory details as they’re happening.
“I am more than happy to have you make all the decisions for awhile,” is what I told Aaron when I met him in the lobby of the Nord Hotel in Paris, upon seeing him for the first time in almost two years. I mean this. My jeans are already hanging off me from the stress of doing everything for myself. I am exhilarated, sure, but my hands are also shaking and I’ve spent so much time alone that I’m not far from a point where conversations with myself will start to happen out loud. Furthermore, Aaron is the kind of person who likes to take care of things. He’s good at it. If I characteristically never quite know what to do, he always does. Even when he’s stoned.
When we got back to the Nord Hotel that first night, I washed my face in the bathroom while he sat at the tiny desk next to it, rolling a joint with the hash I brought from Amsterdam. I came out of the bathroom and pulled down the bedspread, revealing a velour blanket and scratchy grayish sheets. I didn’t want to get into it but I did, pulling the blanket up tightly over my knees and staring at the blinking red light on the TV set in the corner. Earlier, Aaron discovered that the door didn’t really lock. An old-building thing; the parts of the lock just weren’t in close enough alignment to work. When he was finished rolling the joint, he dragged the desk chair over and propped it up in front of the door. It wasn’t tall enough to jam it, but at least there would be something in the way if someone tried to come in. The carpets looked like they’d been subjected to repeated flooding. So did the walls, actually: the textured burgundy wallpaper was pulling up in some sections as though the entire room had been full of murky brown water at some point. Maybe with some bodies floating in it. The parts that weren’t covered with this wallpaper were painted a malignant egg-yolk yellow. Plus, it just felt empty. It wasn’t hard to imagine being shut up inside this hotel and forgotten. It was the kind of place someone might go to arrange a drug deal, seduce a teenager, or hole up for an anonymous, long-term bender.
Aaron takes his clothes off and gets into bed in his shorts, the joint he’s just rolled perched on the rim of the ashtray he has brought over from the desk. There’s another ashtray next to the bed on my side. He lights the joint and we smoke it. I’m having a hard time knowing what to say to him. I’ve known Aaron since I was thirteen, but the boxer shorts, the hash, and the general trend of multi-layered confusion I’ve experienced in Europe all conspire to make me feel like he is part of the scenery instead of an ally against it. It’s the blinking light on the TV that finally snaps me out of it: “This is so fucking creepy!” I say before launching myself across the bed toward his hopefully familiar armpit, my old favorite hideout. He puts his arms around me and I’m still half-hoping he’s going to tell me I’m being ignorant of European customs or something and that this is all perfectly normal. But: “I know,” he says. “It’s the TV. That’s the worst part.”
“It’s like those stories about the KGB putting cameras in everything.”
“They’re sitting downstairs watching us freak out.” He holds the joint up to my lips and I inhale, knocking ash onto his bare chest. I rub it into his skin with my free hand. I’d envisioned this as more of a bottle-of-wine-and-silk-negligee kind of scene, but we might as well sleaze it up. When at the Nord Hotel…
I wake up at five in the morning to the sounds of a running vacuum and a woman’s ecstatic moans coming from a room that could be down the hall or on another floor entirely. My T-shirt is clammy with sweat, the kind of sweat that makes you cold even while you’re overheating. I’m sort of in disbelief that I’d managed to fall asleep at all. I remember kissing Aaron last night, his feet covering mine under the blankets as we sought to press as much of ourselves up against each other as possible. I remember how he stopped in the middle of it, stopped without pulling away or saying anything, just stopped. “What?” I’d whispered in the dark.
It had been a good thirty seconds before I understood what he meant. And even longer before I realized that this was one of the parts I would remember.
1 Comment so far
Leave a comment