The ground is cold underneath me. My pristine white peplum top that I took such care not to spill red wine on a few hours ago, is pressed firmly against the grass. In my exhaustion it doesn’t occur to me to try and protect it. My head is resting on the deflated inner tube I’ve been carrying around for the last two hours. I roll to one side and see my companions. No one has spoken for a while, we must have dozed off after we laid down. Small wonder, as its 5 AM. Less than 50 yards away Palais de Louvre stands, gloriously looming over us.
Why did I end up sleeping in a park on a deflated inner tube outside the Palais de Louvre at 5 AM you ask? Because Paris. And weight restrictions for luggage. I’ll explain.
The night started out beautifully. I finished babysitting, said goodnight to my host family and rushed to meet up with my one girlfriend in Paris. She’s a midwestern girl who has been Au Pair-ing here since last year. We met through Facebook, had one lunch and now I was on my way to meet her and some friends in front of Notre Dame. After two weeks of getting adjusted and settling in, I was excited to spend time with people my own age. Most of all I hoped I was about to make some friends.
I find my new friend sitting on the base of the Charlemagne statue in front of Notre Dame. She is in the midst of about seven or eight young women. I learn that the group is comprised of Au Pairs, mostly British. Each of the women have their own bottles of wine, and are taking slugs straight from the bottle. Au Pairs don’t have much spending money, so luxuries like plastic glasses are done without. We are getting to know one another, comparing host-families and accommodations, and absolutely gushing over Paris. Though we all come from different places, we share a collective obsession with Paris. We discuss the things we’ve seen so far, the trips we plan to take, and our favorite parts of the city. My friend graciously offers me a few sips from her bottle, as I have not brought one of my own. The sense of adventure and excitement is palpable as we sit, drink wine and laugh.
The bar we go to next is the kind of place that you have to be in the right mood for, and I am in exactly the right mood. The music is loud, the bar is packed shoulder to shoulder, and everyone is dancing. Cheap palm trees and dozens of inflatables hang as decoration for tonights “Beach Party” theme. As I sip my beer and dance with my group, I can’t stop smiling. I’ve only had a few sips of wine and a pint of beer, but I feel as light as a hot air balloon. I leave the group to take a trip to the bathroom and buy another pint. When I return, I check my pockets and realize my wallet is missing.
Systematically I retrace my steps to see if its fallen. The bar is so crowded it would be easy to take it from my pocket. I curse myself for not bringing my purse, then curse myself for being such an idiot about packing when I flew over two weeks ago. You see after bragging that I was moving to Paris with just one suitcase and a backpack, I had to repack my overweight suitcase at the airport. At the last minute I had to remove ten lb. to make weight, so some special books and all of my purses stayed behind in Chicago. As a result, I’ve been using one large black purse since I arrived. Not wanting to tote the bulky bag all night, I slipped my key into my wallet, and kept them in my pants pocket.
After searching for about a half hour, asking two bartenders, a bouncer and the coat room attendant, I give up. My wallet, with debit card, metro pass, drivers license and the key to my apartment is nowhere to be found. The group is extremely sympathetic. My friend gets me another pint and we come up with a plan. Most of the girls present live in suburbs outside of Paris. Their plan is to stay out until the first trains start running around 6 AM. Thats only a few hours away, so I decide to stay with them until I can call my host family in the morning and use the spare key.
I take account of my situation and decide things could be much worse. If there was a theft, at least I have not been physically hurt or threatened. I still have my phone, I am not alone, and in the morning with only some minor personal inconvenience I can replace what I’ve lost. For now, I try to laugh it off and continue bonding with my new friends. I’ve been joking all night about taking one of the inflatables as a souvenir. One of the girls manages to get an inner tube off of the wall and puts it on me. I deflate it to make it easier to smuggle out, and tuck it under my arm. I may not have my key or wallet, but gosh darn it I’ve got a floatie.
With a few more hours to kill before dawn, we leave the bar. For a while we sit in a cafe right on the Seine, and watch the late night crowd coming and going. After that we start walking down the left bank in the general direction of the Eiffel Tower, and eventually some of the girls have to use the bathroom. Something I’ve noticed about Paris, it either smells like flowers, fresh bread, cigarette smoke or piss. Though there are a few passable public toilettes, it seems that many people prefer to find a dark spot along the river or crouch in alleys. Before the night is over, I find myself joining their ranks.
Eventually we stumble across a bridge and onto the park behind the Grand Palais de Louvre. Here we rest on the soft grass and doze off for a few minutes. I consider re-inflating the innertube to rest my head on, but decide its not worth the effort. Its getting near dawn. I can see the giant clocks on the side of the Musée d’Orsay across the river. I know my way home from here.
Around six AM I am standing in front of my host-family’s building with no wallet or keys, grass stains on my shirt, still holding the stupid inner tube. I’ve been laughing it off but now I feel like a complete fool. The first night I go out I wind up loosing my key and sleeping in a park. I’ve texted Madame and Monsuier that I am locked out and know they will be up shortly. Instead of knocking on their door like a normal person, I hid the inntertube in a backyard closet and sit on the staircase inside their building. I tell myself I am sparing the family by waiting until they wake, but really I am just embarrassed and trying to delay the inevitable.
At some point I doze off on the stairs, and just after seven Madame calls me and brings me inside. The family could not be more sympathetic or considerate. “You should have knocked on the door! Its doesn’t matter!” Madame insists. They have given me every reason to believe the would be more than happy to help me no matter what time of day or night, so I feel doubly foolish for not contacting them sooner.
After collecting the spare key, I go back to my studio and collapse into bed. Around noon when I wake, I call the bar to ask if my wallet was found and voilà it was! It must have fallen out of my pocket and someone turned it in. The cash is gone but my cards are all there. I am so grateful to whoever turned it in (even if they took a little cash reward) and amazed at my luck.
My first night out on the town in Paris was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. As for loosing my wallet and everything that happened after, its embarrassing. Its a lesson I shouldn’t have had to relearn at age 26. On the upside, I recovered my wallet and did meet some potential new friends. And the kind of girls who will help you out of a tough spot, smuggle an inner tube and sleep in a park with you are exactly the kind of friends I want.