How Did We Get Here?
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.
The trees were dappled with coins of sunlight, their Autumnal, rust-coloured leaves lilting in the breeze. The Seine snaking its way through the city, its banks lapping in gentle ripples as barges and house boats bobbed lazily in rhythmic unison. With each step we walked, I saw the city as if for the first time. The eyes of my guests shedding new light on old things. And I wondered, how did we get here?
Paris is called many things, The City of Light, The City of Romance, and The City of Love. One thing it certainly isn't is dull. I have visited and lived in many capital cites all over the world and can attest that there is no city I know that has more history or more spellbinding—obscene, almost—architecture to savour than gay Paree. It is not only a feast for the eyes—each twist and turn of its streets draws you deeper into its mystery—but also a feast for the stomach with restaurants and cafes lining the cobbled streets. Their atmospheres crackling with chatter, their enticing aromas drawing in passersby to sample the gustatory delights on offer. Every aspect of the city's modern culture and storied past are melded together to create an experience that transcends perception.
Eleven years here and it is still as captivating as ever.
Over the years I have spent much time in exploration either by taking people around to visit monuments, going out to dinner, running along the Seine, or just walking with my family or by myself. In my journeying, I carry my thoughts and dreams and usually revert to wishing that certain people were with me to see what my own eyes were seeing. The person that has inhabited that space the most in recent years has been my brother Séan. While he has travelled much, he has never been to Paris. Sacré bleu indeed! There have been countless times the Eiffel Tower has come into view and a pang of desire to share the moment with him has overwhelmed me. I have longed for him to visit and have his senses nourished by the sights, smells, and tastes of my stomping ground.
Little did I know that his first trip to Paris would be to headline his own comedy show at the fabled Trianon venue at the foot of Montmarte. His success over the years has been a source of immense pride for me. He has continually proven that he is an individual of humble character with a deep desire to lift up the marginalised. Seeing him grow as a person is also a great privilege for me. We talk a lot and last year started hatching plans for an idea he had about taking his life story and YouTube exploits on the road. We jotted notes, exchanged texts, and had Skype calls in a bid to craft a truly individual and lasting body of work. After much tweaking and some input from friends in L.A., the How Did We Get Here tour was born. He has toured it all over the United Sates but I had yet to actually see the finished product. The anticipation was high. Meeting old friends and new on a cloudy Monday morning in northern Paris, I was keen to see the show. But first Séan, Tucker, and I had to explore the fog-filled avenues in search of foie gras and cuisses de grenouilles (frogs legs). We found a quaint restaurant off the beaten track and settled in to catch up. After lining our stomachs to stave off the cold, we headed up to the basilica of Sacré-Cœur. It's located on a hill that overlooks the city and offers a broad view of the many buildings that give Paris a unique aerial profile. We took many photos before descending fairytale-esque courts and lanes back to the venue.
Tour life is basically mundanity interspersed with a lot of jokes and intense but short flurries of activity. Merch booths and equipment need to be set up, posters signed, emails and business attended to, guest lists and ticket numbers to be verified and so on. The atmosphere intensifies as show time draws closer, each member of the touring team ensuring they are locked and loaded for when Séan hits the stage. And when he did hit the stage I was astonished at just how good he was. Gone was the shy, awkward kid who was all "aw shucks" at conventions. In his place stood a comedian who has honed his craft and delivery through relentless touring. I couldn't keep the smile from my face as he delivered nuggets of comedic gold with precision and ease. My son and my wife laughing along with me. I remember thinking, if this guy wasn't my brother I would still pay good money to see him perform. I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it but I will say it's a journey that is full of laughs and wisdom.
Fortunately, the crew had a day off after it so I decided that a Paris tour was in order. We ate a hearty breakfast near the Arc de Triomphe before our feet hit the streets. The Arc itself is in the centre of a six-lane roundabout that has no discerning markers for drivers and is basically only for those with a temperament of steel or those who have attended the Mad Max school of motoring. We nearly got run over vying for the best photo op but managed to all escape intact. Formidable! Next stop was the Eiffel Tower. I took them down an avenue on the Trocadero side of the tower in order to maximise the impact of their first sight of it. Walking up towards Trocadero—a raised expanse to the north of the tower—reveals its stature and grandiosity in an instant. One minute you are walking down a Parisian street, the next minute—boom!—the most iconic structure in the world is right in front of you. Seeing the reaction of Séan, JP, Stella, Justin, Vernon, and Tucker was magical. I saw the tower as they saw it and suddenly I had goosebumps and the tower looked bigger than it normally does. It wasn't just another day of sightseeing but the realisation of the deeply held dream and desire to have my beloved brother alongside me so we could marvel together. Gone was the yearning to take him on an adventure with me, replaced by a new reality that would be indelibly seared into both our minds for the rest of our lives. As we walked along the Seine in unseasonably warm weather, it felt as if the story of the day was writing itself. We drank coffees on the terrace of a bistro mere yards from the bridge used in the movie Inception. Its zinc bar, outside heating, and woven chairs très typique of this staple in everyday French life. We paused by the Seine to rest our weary legs before a full-on assault of Notre Dame Cathedral. By the time we had walked sixteen km (ten miles), the general consensus was that beverages and seats were called for and we hit another bistro. As some talked culture and conversed with locals, Tucker filmed a re-enactment of the last scene of The Dark Night Rises with Stella and Justin standing in for Anne Hathaway and Christian Bale while Vernon stood in for, ahem, Michael Caine. The true professionalism of one and all displayed by the fact that it only took three takes for this cinematic masterpiece to be fully realised.
Last stop for the day was at one of my favourite restaurants, Le Coupe Chou. Situated in a building that dates back to 1185, this hidden gem with it's authentic cavern-like feel, serves some of the best food in Paris. Our rambunctious table of eleven people sampled the finest terrine and foie gras, groaned with satisfaction over boeuf bourguignon and magret de canard, topping it all off with—mais bien sûr—crème brûlée and fromage. Magnifique!
The goodbyes were hard. For one day it felt as if time had stood still. As if we we would be forever young and things past had only existed to bring us all to this moment. In the walking and the laughter, the resting and the contemplation, we had forged a bond between us that time will not dim. A final, lasting hug with my beloved brother and this crew I have come to know, love and respect and they were gone. Their Uber's tail lights fading in the distance on a cold October night. Stepping into the street, I pulled up the collar of my hoodie, took my wife's arm and walked home through the enchanting Parisian night.