It started to seep into my eyes as I looked through the dappled haze of sunlight on the Seine. Completely dislocated, a feeling of baroque sensitivity coursed through me. I had been drinking for almost four days solid, losing my suitcase in Dublin airport having fallen asleep slumped against an elevator, pumpkin seeds and vodka peppering the dowdy, scruffy beard and a sweaty, palpitating breastplate all giving signals that I was a man entrenched in gloomy intoxication. The purpose of the trip was to exorcise ghosts of the past; I had spent many thrilling moons in Paris with an ex, somehow returning to this arena of Eros and awe was going to rejuvenate me – I had no idea my addiction had become so severe that I would experience it with anesthetized senses, no clothes, no toothbrush, looking like a child’s version of a man scrawled onto tracing paper with a blunt pencil. I’m glad she didn’t see me. I sent her a picture of a cigarette warning on a box of Marlboro Red through Facebook messenger. “Bonjourrrrr. Je suis a Paris!”, read the message. Then I picked out my smoke box and sent her a picture of a man’s rotten foot, his centre two toes eroded away by some heinous, gangrenous, cancerous metastasizing process. “Fumer tue”. The image could perhaps be read as a metaphor for my mental state. A dirty decadent trying desperately to cling on to a sense of poise, of balance and care – something which had in previous years made me feel protected against it all. I was now the gangrenous foot – toeless and without doubt, repulsive. I would hear a song in a Supermarché and think it was speaking to me through some cosmic lines. I would smell the subterranean odour of the Paris Metro and think it was piquant, almost alluring in its chemical strangeness. That is the one thing I always, and will always love about Paris is the smells. As I wandered hopelessly through Pére Lachaise every morning with a bottle of Sobieski vodka listening to radio jazz, wafts of pastries and flour and sweetness and that umami flavour came dancing across the breeze and I felt momentarily satisfied, momentarily satiated that I did in fact feel and my senses weren’t in fact completely annihilated by booze. But therein lies the sadness, the peripeteia in the universe of the addict. I suddenly realized that people were out there enjoying that food. Sitting together conversing in that inimitably laconic French way and here was I, deliberately skirting around everything, perpetuating my own dolour, my own pain, my own loneliness – in fact, perpetuating self-laceration and suicidal ideation.
I stared at the graves and tombs and would Romanticize death. It wasn’t even noon and I couldn’t find Marcel Proust. I approached an affable looking man with a beautiful moustache and asked him, if I can translate, “Where is Marcel Proust?”. Instead of replying, “he’s dead”, he kindly produced his map and gently explained where I could find his place of rest. I staggered across the undulating cobblestones never finding Piaf, Proust, Chopin, Balzac, Wilde or Modigliani. I instead walked through my own slow funeral, allowing the brilliant sunlight of Paris treacle through the sycamore, stopping to listen to the black ravens cawing – again attaching some sublime significance to their presence, as if they were gatekeepers to some other dimension, to some dark transcendence.
I left the graveyard as my kidneys groaned under the weight of orangina and vodka. I eventually found a nearby hospital to take a piss in, where after emptying my load, I mixed yet more vodka and hobbled along to the next oblique scene. When you are this enraptured (falsely) by addiction, everything takes on a sort of haphazard beauty; trees are beautifully anthropomorphic, young children make you feel maudlin and helplessly pine for your own prepubescence – everything feels gorgeous yet precarious, a horribly addictive antidote to the increasingly monotonous and artificial modern world. I suppose we’re all looking for beauty, for union (in our own misguided ways), and when the lens is smeared with vodka, you can invert the pain and it all seems malleable and pliable and you drool and grin like a drugged labrador, moping about the streets, mirroring yourself against a teaming city of mad vapours and laughter until your run out of booze and you have to refill before the potion loses its affect.
I kept insisting my Irishness upon people. Je suis Irlandais. Oh bienvenue monsieur. Si, si, merci. Une autre verre s’il vous plait. I sat close to Montparnasse and drank almost five pints of beer on top of the three bottles of vodka I had already drank listening to Bob Dylan on Spotify through my headphones staring at every cohesive throng of people that busied their days with shopping, with errand and baguettes, guiding their effervescent children home from school, watching the Metro line 6 hurl past, everything coalescing in some big atomic soup of which I was looking at, absolutely divorced from it all. I chain smoked. I hadn’t showered or changed my clothes in two days. I was a bum. Not some lofty bohemian. Un cul sallé. Both realizations hit me. I returned to my chamber and looked at pornography on my phone and deigned to masturbate. I tried so hard for relief. I was limp as a cocktail sausage. I listened to the Neil Young, Hamilton Leithauser and Nick Drake until my woozy sedation lead to a dirty sleep. I had no dreams. I had not spoken to anyone expect barstaff or epicerie staff for either saucisson, vodka, rum or tobacco for over two days. I didn’t want to.
I posted some pictures of Rue Oberkampf and the 11e on my Facebook to which a couple of people liked and commented on. Tiny little endorphin rush. I knew that one of my favourite groups, Wire, were playing the night before and despite being offered a ticket through Facebook I was too far gone on booze to have possibly have been admitted entry even with a ticket. Yet more skirting, more peregrinations followed. This time I ended up in Montmarte – a long vaunted quarter of Paris for its painterly, mellifluous light and its vertiginous steps. I found it coarsely touristic and bland as fuck. I was drinking neat rum at this point and a statue of the Virgin Mary caused my tear ducts to gurgle. Any artistic inclinations I had were extinguished. I regret not sitting, breathing, writing, drawing. I missed everything. I was avoiding everything yet I pined for something. It’s this weird schism, magnetic in its torture, like a bluebottle caught in a cyclone. We are told to not drink one day at a time by the programme and with time this life becomes easier. That night I vomited into the toilet, a grainy pink bilge infused with vodka, my knees trembling and my body swaying under the harsh toilet light. This was the end of my itinerary. I was going back to Dublin tomorrow. I rose early and drank again, factoring in frugality I opted for warm, high-proof Kronenbourg of which I bought three and poured into an empty water bottle, drinking it in a matter of seconds in Champ de Mars. The decadence was gone. I had met nobody. The man I was five years ago as an undergraduate had been enveloped by this thing, this brutal, cauterizing hypnosis.
Tourists beamed and exalted at the wonder of it all. Couples shared anecdotes and instagrammed their hearts away, gushing over the roses and the magnolias and whatever the fuck else was going on. I saw none of it. I kept a watchful eye out for police and security as I was now emitting the colours and flavours of full blown vagrant, someone that looked pulled from a septic womb, battered by the sun, vital organs flagging under the savage weight of it all. I limped as far as Bir Hakeim. I hadn’t worn socks since arriving and could feel my baby toe eating my fourth toe. On the shuttle bus back to Port Maillot I could feel the cold drain of alcohol beginning to seep out my system. I bit my nails. I smelled my fingers. Nicotine. Yellowish edible scruff. I prayed to God I didn’t have to piss during the one hour bus journey. I imagined pissing myself and being left torpid and dazed in the hard shoulder, my pissed jeans and disheveled Irish thumbs trying to summon a hitchhike to Beauvais, being stared at by belligerent French cows in the fields nearby, their sour bovine heads supercilious to my flaky florid potato face and my tousled, greasy hair.
Perhaps, if that happened and I did piss myself I could just live homeless in Paris, scrounge enough to buy a bruised guitar and busk derivative 12 bar blues renditionsin the sweltering side streets, hacking acidic phlegm into the gutter. I began to hear music that wasn’t there. Jazz patterns. My brain felt sodden and the comedown, as always, comes at the worst time. It never comes welcome. An incredibly bloated American woman kept turning her head and making eye contact. She looked in the horrors too. We’re never alone. I doubt it’s because she thought I was handsome. The jazz patterns continued. You have finally gone insane and will soon evacuate piss upon yourself, the girl beside you will screech and wail and will end up declared psychiatrically unfit for travel, spending the night in a locked ward! I breathed into my solar plexus, I relaxed my facial muscles and projected calm, still thoughts into the universe. I recognized the contours of the hills either side of us. The Parisian sunlight was spectacular, the arboreal fringes of Paris glowed, I had a brief moment of clarity. It is always the radiant permanence of nature. It is always welcome. I was almost there, boxer shorts still dry, aural hallucinations dissipating…
In Beauvais the Sun’s diminishing rays began to streak psychedelic scars from cerulean to creams to pinks to almost limes and lavenders back to a waning grey across vivid sky. I smoked outside. I felt slightly more at peace away from the arterial city. An Arab man nearly fell off a railing he was coolly sitting on and we laughed together. I was feeling alright. I bought one more beer and, dodging the frowning phalanx of armed police in the departures lounge, I scurried into a toilet reeking of multinational shit. One more beer for the air. A la prochaine.
Time to board. The Irish. A creamy, baggy eyed yet endearing bunch stood patiently in line. I had no real desire to return home but I knew I had to sober up before ever travelling again. My possessions were on one tote bag, one passport, one toothbrush, headphones, USB cable, small moleskine journal and one burberry cap. I felt comfort in that. I was lighter. I made conversation with some Irish girls in the queue, the first successful contribution to humanity I’d made in over 96 hours. I was back, baby! In the back of my still emptying brain, I was still half fearing to be deemed too physically wretched by the airport police and hurled into a white room to be deloused and perfumed. There was a momentary delay as I breached the final gate. I was on board. Still no pissing, no more jazz syncopation. The flight was brief and I managed to feign a sleepy pose and avoid all glares of judgement.
I was back on home soil. Donnybrook. Old Wesley Rugby club, where, as a 13 year old I would drink vodka and smoke fags. It is sixteen years later.