Thursday, November 8

Hop, Skip and a Bunk


As a legionnaire, weekends are a tricky lot. Kind of like the United States’ political landscape, there are only really two choices. Stay in or go out. The former boasts economic advantages on the scale of avoiding train fare (even with our military discount it costs a healthy €55 for a return ticket to Paris), hotels and a Friday and Saturday night of booze-fuelled mayhem. It also offers the nerdier (pardon, “more dedicated”) of our brethren to prepare for an approaching week of regimental service by cleaning and ironing their uniforms to meticulous, irreproachable standards. One might even squeeze in the odd run or trip to the gym. Of course, the flip side to that argument is that you avoid all that boring nonsense and go party like it’s the last 48 hours of your life, before waking up on Monday morning really wishing it had have been.

Hmm, tough call.


Expat Blogs

So a recent predicament scattered before my seemingly endless traipse towards freedom presented itself in the form of the closure of my long-frequented hotel in Paris’s trendy, canal-decorated 10th arrondissement. An absolute fluke within the Parisian metropolis, I negotiated a rather profound perplexity to discover, at its end, a double bed and an en suite bathroom for the gobsmacking price of €35 per night. Now, there’s a fine line (at least, in my opinion) between horribly dirty and uninhabitable and just good old “rustic”. I choose to consider my little hidden gem of a hotel as well within the “rustic” category, and while some winter nights without functioning heat may have posed a problem, I considered it merely a challenge for a resourceful legionnaire like myself to go out and find another party to help raise the temperature. Ah, one in every port, and all that…..

So the hunt began in earnest (for the hotel room, not the heat-providing other party!!) back in Guiana as I set to making advanced plans for my first weekend back in the first world. As the ringing tone buzzed on to infinity my expression turned from one of anticipated joyous relief to on of increasing realization at the immediate need to uncover a new AFFORDABLE digs before the inaugural post-Guiana weekend arrived. Not an easy feat, well certainly not at €35 per night. Cue the downloading of several long-considered unnecessary iPhone apps – hotels.com, booking.com, etc, etc.

To say the gauntlet of testing new, affordable hotels in Paris city center is a colorfully challenging one would be a grave understatement. On the bright side, legionnaires are one of the lesser-known entities up here in the northern hemisphere of La France. Unlike the southern sprawls of Marseille, Toulouse, Montpellier and Avignon where our reputation precedes us and service may undertake a more “reduced capacity”. A skin-head and a dodgy French accent can get you blacklisted quicker than executing a toiletry act in public along the Mediterranean coast. C’est la vie, quoi.

Hotel No. 1 (I shan’t be naming the hotels here for fear of making future Paris hotel-hunting for my readers all too easy) was a rather expensive affair, but the only viable option at such short notice. Retailing at €115 per night, it certainly hit the pocket hard but such was the relative luxury, modernity and cleanliness of the room that the pinching price soon faded to obscurity. Another potential glitch of Parisian hotels that was welcome in its absence was the supplement for a second guest sharing the room (normally between €10 and €15). Not so much a financial hazard as an ambience-killing headache as money needs to exchange hands before one can retreat to one’s room with a guest. It’s the little things that glue together to form a semblance of dignity, you see.

Having had slightly more time to prepare for my future Parisian weekends during my three-week holiday after the South American mission, I decided to really hunt far and wide and deep within the underbelly of cheap hotels in the greater Paris area. My next port of call made a point of referring to themselves as a “residence” and not a hotel. You see, a residence boasts of a mini kitchenette to fully cook one’s own food within the same room – certainly a handy addition for a penny-pinching legionnaires of a certain Putin-esque persuasion. A reasonable €70 per night in a decent part of town, I decided to give it a try. Quickly was I to learn just how non-existent certain rules (and rather, dimensions) regarding privacy were. Let’s just say that thin walls combined with two grumpy old grannies in the adjacent room meant that supplement or not, my position (behave!!!) in this establishment became rather untenable rather quickly.

“Oh I’m zorry, I tot zis us France!!!??”

They say that the third time’s a charm. And so it proved with the “final” (?) hotel encountered on my long and arduous search for weekend accommodation. Located (perhaps somewhat ominously for an aspiring writer) right by the entrance to Père Lachaise Cemetery, the staff proved most welcoming and any notion of a problem inviting guests back for the night was dismissed with a….. er….. dismissive hand gesture indicating the redundancy of the enquiry. At a not-too-shabby €65 per night, I can enjoy free WiFi, a brand-spanking new bathroom and a TRUE 24-hour reception where one doesn’t need to hammer on a glass door and wait 15 minutes for the kid asleep on the floor behind the counter to get up and open the door, unleashing a violent wave of sweat-drenched air. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be complaining. That was, after all, the €35 per night joint.

At the end of the day, all a transient weekend warrior like me really wants is somewhere to throw his bags down, grab the odd shower and (if not spending it elsewhere) crash for the night on something resembling a mattress. Anything beyond that would be immediately deemed superfluous. Once it’s close to myfavorite bar, and no more than €70 a night (all be it twice what I was paying in my twilight-zone fluke of a crash palace) I’ll be a happy (and, more importantly, sane) legionnaire, without want of anything more. Well, perhaps maybe an extra inch or two in thickness……

FOR THE WALLS, for the walls, sheesh!

2 comments:

  1. Une question Dermot,

    Do the surrrounding towns have uniform shops/tailors who offer the seemingly daunting job that is ironing the dress shirt?

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  2. NORMALLY a good legionnaire shoul take pride in the excruciating task of ironing his parade uniform, the million or so creases included. However every regiment now sports its own dry cleaners (or "Pressing" as they call it in France. Apart from cleaning the dress uniform that may have gotten a smudge of oil on it from the FAMAS, they also iron our shirts to the specifics demanded by the Legion. It might cost between 4 and 5 euros for the clean and iron.

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