Camp Life

The first four nights of Paris we stayed in a campground – Les Grands Voisins. The organization converted an old hospital into shelter space. They house about 600 people – a mix of homeless, artists, and world travelers. Plus, they have a midwifery school for about 80 students in the middle of the grounds. As soon as we saw this place a couple months ago we had to book it, not really thinking about the cold weather…

I think I was in denial about other places getting cold. I mean, rationally, I know there are cold places in the world. Texas does get cold those dang two weeks of the year. But in October? Things are supposed to be warm still, right?

The tents we stayed in were situated on these elevated wooden platforms so close to each other there was essentially no privacy. I could hear in the next tent over the giggles of a couple as the woman complained about waking up in the morning. The first night we had only the thin yoga mat they hand out to guests at the reception to make the space more comfortable on the wooden slabs. I’m not sure if that thin yoga mat did much of anything. We slept in our clothes with our small camp towels to keep us “warm.” As I was falling asleep I was reading a book about a Jewish woman surviving through the holocaust at one of the work camps. She was moved to Germany to work picking asparagus where her hands bled daily from the grind and only had half a loaf of bread to last her for 5 dinners. This is what I thought about as I lay on that hard surface in 45 degree weather. If that woman could survive the holocaust, surely I could get through four measly nights in France at the beginning of winter.

That woman was one tough cookie though. I tossed and turned waking up every 30-45 minutes throughout the night with the cold moving from my toes up to my shin bones and my hip and spine bones bruising each time I turned.

Zach and I caved and went nearby to buy cheap sleeping bags to help cushion and keep in the heat as we slept. I looked forward to a new night and a new chance to try out the campsite. Thinking that this $8 sleeping bag would solve all my problems. See, I also got sick the first day we arrived in Paris. I broke out in a fever that night and was coughing and sneezing often. I thought this sleeping bag would be the cure.

Long story short, there wasn’t really a restful night for me those four nights, though the last three beat the first. The sleeping bag did give us some warmth – more than we had at least. But throughout each night I would wrap my feet in my hands hoping to transfer some of the heat only for it to be gone again within the hour. The sleeping bag made mornings almost worse because we did not want to leave them and go out into the colder air lurking right outside.

And, if I’m going to be completely honest, I only showered once those 4 days because the showers were outside, visible by a good chunk of tents. You could pull down this yellow tarp to shield your showerhead and only leave your lower legs and feet exposed to passers by. But then my problem was with how do I change behind this wet tarp with my clothes out of reach so they wouldn’t get soaked from the shower? I’m not quite comfortable enough in my own skin to have just a towel around me in front of loads of strangers in the campground. It was an adventure for sure!

I don’t mean to make it sound like the worst experience ever though. I think it would have been lovelier if it was warmer outside, but I think a lot of things are lovelier when it’s warm. I am a Texan after all.

On our last night in the campground we hung out at the charging station and met a great group of guys – three native to Paris, one from Mexico, and one from New York. One of the Parisians gave us loads of recommendations on books and movies and wines to try. We talked about politics of Paris, of the U.S., the differences, the similarities, and tried to solve all the world issues, which we obviously could not. The conversation started with substance use addictions and then moved to them asking us pretty early on, “Why do you have so many guns?” Which of course started a whole new conversation. Then it inevitably developed into the upcoming election and to save everyone reading this post I won’t go into many details on that. 😉

These are the moments we really wanted to experience while traveling. Talking to new people, learning new things. Like, for instance, the Parisians were explaining that in France if you wave or display a French flag in some way, people typically have a very negative reaction. The flag wavers are seen as fascists or some terrible thing. They said recently there are a few people who have done it since the attacks, but even then it’s received with strange looks and “What are you doing?” thoughts. This is such a contrast from the American flag paraphernalia decorated on cups, belt buckles, butt pockets, and anything else you can imagine. We put stars and stripes on everything and with great pride! The Parisians said they admired this national pride. I’m not saying one way is right and the other is wrong – they are just different from each other and it is fascinating!

Until next time!