|DISCLAIMER: The following story is a fictional account of young teenage boys who are in love. There are references and occasional graphic descriptions of gay sex involving minors, and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. With a few notable exceptions, all characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed in this story by known individuals are not necessarily intended to be representative of those of their real-life counterparts. Although the story takes place in actual locations and establishments, the author takes full responsibility for all events described and these are not in any way meant to reflect the activities of real individuals or institutions. The author retains full copyright of this story, and of stories based on these characters.|
|Please note that this is the twenty-eighth and final story in a series known collectively as Naptown Tales. The entire series can be found on my GayAuthors Page and on the Naptown Tales Page at Awesome Dude. Please see the Introduction for important background information.|
Note to reader: Although not necessary to follow the story, English translations can be viewed in most browsers by simply hovering the mouse over French text.
Oh man, this was sooo sick. This was so fucking cool! We were on a huge motherfucking jumbo jet, headed to Paris. My best friend in the world, Paul, was sitting next to me in the window seat, and my other best friends, Brad and Cliff, were sitting next to us across the aisle. We were all upstairs in business class. I'd never been on a plane with two floors before - not that I'd flown that many times.
The seats in business class were enormous, and there's a sweet built-in entertainment system with all kinds of movies you can watch anytime and videogames that you can play with each other. I knew we were supposed to try to go to sleep - it was an overnight flight - but there was just too much to do. There was no way any of us would be going to sleep . . . that was for sure.
When Mom and Dad sat me down earlier in the summer and gave me the news that they wouldn't be able to take me to Paris and Italy as they'd promised, I was devastated, but then they told me I'd get to go anyway, and I couldn't believe it! Trevor, Kurt, David and Jeremy were going to take time from their honeymoon to show us around Paris and Italy. I couldn't believe they'd do that, but I guess Mom and Dad bribed them with business and first class tickets plus stays in first class hotels.
Not only were we still getting to go, but my best friends were coming with me! As much as I love Paul, I was particularly happy that Cliff was going with us. After the scare we had at the end of the school year, when his AIDS took a turn for the worse, it was sure great to see him enjoying life again.
Mom drove the four of us to Cincinnati - actually, the airport's across the river in Covington, Kentucky - so we could have a direct flight to Paris. I think it cost a little more to fly out of there to Europe than from JFK, Newark, or one of the other East Coast cities, but it was well worth the extra money to avoid the hassle of flying out of a big airport. Besides which, Cincinnati's so close - it hardly takes any time to get there.
On the return flight, we'd be flying from Rome to Chicago and my parents would pick us up there. It's a bit of a drive to Chicago, but I was glad they were doing it. O'Hare's supposed to be one huge motherfucker of an airport, and I was glad we wouldn't have to try to change planes after a long trans-Atlantic flight and going through customs.
There's a six-hour time difference between where we live and Paris, so it was already morning by the time we arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport. What a sick airport! They have these moving conveyor belts that you stand on, and there's this circular atrium with tubes going right through the center of it, carrying passengers every which way.
We had long lines to wait in to get through customs, and of course we stood in the line marked, 'Nothing To Declare'. 'Course we all had to show our passports, too. I just about crapped my pants when I was pulled aside for further questioning.
In my nervousness, I very nearly blew it. I thought I'd try out my French and so I said, "Nous apportons une grosse fortune dans votre pays." In my attempt to impress the customs agents with my command of French, I said that we were bringing a lot of money into the country, which was the opposite of what I'd meant to say.
The customs agent replied, "Mais vous etes dans la file d'attente pour que rien a declarer!" pointing out that we were in the line for nothing to declare.
My reply to that was, "Oui, c'est exact."
"Mais venez juste de dire que vous introduisiez une fortune en France!" he challenged me hotly. What the fuck was going on?
"J'ai dit que j'apportais une grosse fortune." I again explained rather testily. What could I say - I was very tired and I kept making the same mistake.
"Si vous introduisez une somme considerable d'argent a l'interieur de l'Union Europeenne, alors vous devez la declarer!" he practically shouted at me.
"Je ne comprends pas quel est le probleme!" I practically cried. I really was almost in tears.
Switching to English, the customs agent said, "You keep saying you're bringing a vast fortune into France, but you are in the line for nothing to declare."
My eyes practically bugged out when he said that. Shit, I was getting it all wrong! "No sir," I finally replied. "What I was trying to say is that I have no great fortune to bring into the EU."
Laughing, the customs agent asked me, "How long have you been studying French?"
"Just over six months," I replied.
Astonished, he said, "Really! Your inflections and grammar are perfect. The content, however, is something you need to work on very carefully before you use your French in everyday conversation.
"People really do appreciate it when you speak the language here, but you speak it so well that everyone will assume you know French as well as you speak it. You could really get yourself in trouble, as you almost did here.
"You might want to stick mostly to English until you learn more French," he concluded. "People may let on that they do not speak English, but nearly everyone here understands it."
"Man, Sam, that was close," Paul said when we finally exited the line and left the customs area with our luggage in tow. Fortunately, all our luggage had built-in wheels. The stuff cost a fortune, but my parents were paying for it, so I wasn't complaining. It didn't bother me that Brad and Cliff were giggling at my attempt to be worldly. It helped put me in a better mood.
As soon as we exited customs through a set of automatic doors, we were assailed by a crowd of people who were waiting to greet friends and family members. Right in front I spotted David and Jeremy - how could I miss them? - they're so tall - as well as Trevor and Kurt.
I couldn't get over how adult they all looked, now that they were married and on their own. Well, Trevor actually is an adult since he's eighteen, but even at sixteen, Kurt looked so mature, although he's not all that tall. Until recently, we were always around the same height, but now I'm closer to Trevor's height at nearly six feet. Brad's taller still and is rapidly approaching his older brother in height. Paul and Cliff are still kind of short at 5'6" and 5'7", but at fourteen, we're all still growing.
We practically ran to meet our brothers and Jeremy said, "Welcome to Paris, dudes. We're gonna have an awesome time." OK, so they didn't quite sound like adults yet. I guess they'd still sound like teens until they finished college.
After a round of hugs, we all headed for the exit and got in line for a taxi. With eight of us all together and with all our luggage, we had to take a Monospace - what we would call a minivan taxi. I knew we should have been pooped and slept in the taxi, but we were all so excited and pumped with raw energy, and we spent the whole ride staring out the windows, even though there wasn't much to see until we got near the city itself. Still, everything was new and different for us.
Paris is not at all like New York, which has a metro population roughly half again larger than Paris' twelve million, but Paris is equally impressive, if not more so. I'd done some research on the layout of Paris in advance and so I had some idea of what I was seeing, but in reality, it was so different from what I was expecting.
There are no tall buildings in Paris proper, which is a very old city with streets that don't follow any discernible pattern. There is no 'grid' in Paris the way there is in New York, so getting around when you don't know where you're going can be a challenge. By law, buildings can be no higher than eight stories, which helps to preserve the character of the city. Seeing it in person, I had to admit that Paris has a certain charm that's lacking in New York.
Outside Paris, however, there are multiple edge cities where building height can be as tall as they can build them. La Defense is prolly the best known of the edge cities, and it looks more like a big city than does Paris itself.
There's an enormous glass and steel building shaped like a square arch at La Defense that they built in line with the Arc de Triomphe on Avenue des Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel at the Louvre. I'd read about all this in preparation for our trip, but seeing these sights from the windows of our taxi was a whole other story.
And then there's the Eiffel Tower. Man, that had to be one of the most beautiful, and graceful, structures ever built. I couldn't help but stare at it as we got closer and closer to Paris itself.
We were staying in Hotel De Vendome, a four-star luxury hotel located right near the Louvre. Although there were much more elegant hotels in Paris, from the moment we arrived, we knew this place was special. Located in a historic building that used to host embassies, the place had been beautifully restored and brought up to modern standards a few years back.
With only 29 rooms and eleven suites, this was a small hotel that catered mostly to the rich. The sheer opulence of the place, with gilt trim and antique furnishings everywhere you looked, amazed us. We'd stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and this place was every bit as luxurious, if not more so in spite of its small size. I almost felt embarrassed to be staying there but, hey, my parents were paying for it!
We were staying in a pair of suites, each of which had two bedrooms with king-sized beds, a luxurious bathroom and a wide screen TV. There was a kitchen with a fully furnished wet bar and an elegant living room, too. The place also had wireless Internet access, which apparently was a rarity in Europe, although they charged extra for it.
We hadn't bothered to bring our laptops, largely out of fear they could be stolen, but we all had smart phones with the ability to connect via Wi-Fi, so we'd save a small fortune in the long run. Thanks to the Wi-Fi access in our hotel and the Skype app installed on all our phones, we'd be able to call home for free! Also, we'd all downloaded maps of the cities we we'd be visiting in advance, avoiding major data charges when wandering the streets of Paris, Venice, Florence or Rome.
It was nice that we were staying in a separate suite from our older brothers. Don't get me wrong, I love Trevor, Kurt, David and Jeremy, but they're on their honeymoon. There are just some things I didn't need to be exposed to!
As we were settling in, I noticed there were two toilets in the bathroom, but one of them was real strange. It kind of looked like a cross between a toilet and a sink. Instead of having a tank on the back of it, there was a faucet with hot and cold running water.
At that moment, Paul was walking by the bathroom, so I called to him and said, "Hey Paul, check this out."
"What the fuck is that, Sam?" he asked. "That's the strangest lookin' toilet I've ever seen."
"Maybe it's a urinal," I suggested.
"Nah, why would a urinal have a drain with a stopper in it?"
"You're right about that," I agreed. "Maybe it's for gay men to give themselves enemas."
"Huh?" Paul asked.
"You know, when they have anal sex, sometimes they like to clean themselves out first," I said.
"Huh?" Paul asked again.
"You know," I said again. "When gay men have anal intercourse, one of them sticks his dick up the other's ass, but they sometimes get shit on their dick from doing it. Some gay men wash themselves out before having anal sex so their partner won't get shit on his dick. They wash themselves out on the inside, you know, with an enema." Although Paul was at the high school the day Kurt and I gave our presentation, we'd never gone into any explicit details about what happened when I was abused at camp.
Suddenly it was like a light went on in Paul's head and he said, "Eww, gross!"
Just then, Brad walked in and asked, "What are you guys doing huddled around the bidet?"
"The what?" I asked.
"The bidet," he replied. Haven't you ever seen one before?" When we shook our heads 'no', he continued, "A bidet is like a sink, but for women to wash themselves down below. You know, it can get to smell pretty rank down there, and a bidet is a convenient way for women to clean themselves.
"You don't see them much in America, or even in Europe anymore for that matter, 'cause people usually shower every day, but some Europeans are more conservation-minded and just wash their face, under their arms and their genital area. A bidet makes it easy for a woman to do that."
"Ohhh," Paul and I said at the same time. It was so funny.
After we all got settled in the hotel, we decided to go out and get some lunch. Gourmet food preparation has become a major hobby of mine, and I absolutely loved trying to figure out the ingredients in everything I ate, and how the food is made. As Trevor likes to put it, I've become quite good at 'reverse engineering' a lot of the dishes I've sampled when we go out. I was therefore really looking forward to learning more about French food. I wanted to try my skills at French cooking when we got home.
What I wasn't prepared for was the preponderance of Middle Eastern restaurants in Paris. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, given that one in five Parisians is a Muslim, but I just wasn't expecting that.
For lunch, we went to a typical French bistro near the hotel. Although the weather was delightful, the density of smokers sitting at tables on the sidewalk forced us to sit inside. Thank God Paris now had a ban on smoking in restaurants! It sure seemed that a lot more French people smoked than did their American counterparts.
I'd tried smoking when I was twelve - in fact, that was one of the ways Gary managed to seduce me - but I couldn't stand the smell of tobacco smoke now. None of my friends smoked - at least they didn't dare smoke around me - they all knew I couldn't stand it!
We all ordered sandwiches along with water to drink. When the server returned with bottled water for us all, David tried to explain in English that we wanted tap water.
"I will not serve you unless you order something to drink," the server replied. "No restaurant will," he claimed. Somehow I doubted that, and what a rip-off! We all ended up ordering cokes instead.
Unfortunately for David, nearly every sandwich on the menu contained some sort of meat, and they all contained cheese. Fortunately, he was able to order a smoked salmon sandwich and Jeremy ordered a turkey sandwich, but when they arrived, they both contained ham. When David complained, the server took the sandwiches back and returned a moment later with sandwiches that didn't contain any ham.
"I can still taste the ham," David said bitterly after biting into his sandwich.
"So can I," Jeremy complained. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I can't eat this."
"Let me take care of this," I said, and then I summoned our server.
"Quelle genre de restaurant vous etes pour ne pas etre capable de servir de la nourriture aux vegetariens?" I asked. "Ne pensez pas vous en sortir juste en enlevant le jambon et en leur servant a nouveau le meme sandwich," I implored. "Non seulement ca, mais Jeremy est a moitie juif et ne mangerait jamais du porc." I wasn't about to let them off the hook for merely removing the ham from David's and Jeremy's sandwiches. That Jeremy kept Kosher wasn't quite true, as I knew he used to eat bacon, but it helped to make my point.
"Nous avons prepare les sandwichs en toute bonne foi, et nous ne pouvons pas simplement les jeter a moins que vous payiez a nouveau," the server replied, which made me furious. Good faith my ass!
"Le probleme, ce n'est pas le prix, I countered. "Jeremy a probablement plus d'argent a la banque que ce que vous verrez probablement dans toute votre vie. Le probleme est qu'il n'y a rien sur le menu indiquant que les sandwichs pouvaient contenir du jambon." I didn't care how much it cost to remake the sandwiches. Their menu was deceptive.
"Il n'y a rien qui indique qu'ils contiennent de la laitue, mais vous n'avez pas l'air de vous opposer a l'inclusion de cet ingredient," came his reply.
"Presque tout le monde mange de la laitue, mais beaucoup de personnes ne mangent pas de viande," I objected, and then I added, "Je voudrais parler au gerant maintenant. Est-ce que vous pouvez aller le ou la chercher s'il vous plait." Comparing ham to lettuce was pretty lame. It was time to talk to the manager.
After waiting for about five minutes, an older gentleman came out and asked, in English, "What may I ask is the problem?"
I immediately launched into my complaint, saying, "Mes amis Jeremy et David ne mangent aucune viande rouge. Il n'y a rien sur votre menu declarant que tous vos sandwichs contiennent du jambon, ce qu'aucun de mes amis ne peut manger. Quand ils ont demande a ce que leurs sandwichs soient refaits, notre serveur est revenu avec ce qui aurait du etre de nouveaux sandwichs, mais mes amis pouvaient encore sentir le gout de jambon dans ceux-ci.
"Notre serveur n'a ete que tres lourd en essayant de regler ce probleme. Il a agit comme si c'etait un affront personnel de refaire de nouveaux sandwichs. Il ajoute qu'il a agi de toute bonne foi, et que nous devons payer les sandwichs qui ont deja ete faits, mais comment peut-il y avoir de bonne foi quand le menu n'est qu'un mensonge?"
"Vous devez encore et toujours payer les sandwichs que nous avons fait pour vous, que vous les mangiez ou pas," was the manager's reply. The manager was every bit as big a jerk as was our server. He insisted we pay for the sandwiches, too.
"Tres bien alors, I countered. "Nous allons partir maintenant, et nous payerons les sodas et pas un Euro plus.
"Mon pere ecrit des revus evaluations de restaurant pour le magasine Voyage et Loisirs. Il a donne a ce restaurant une tres bonne note, mais evidemment il semble etre sous une nouvelle direction. C'est une honte que vous ne souhaitiez pas continuer a avoir le soutien de vos clients Americains."
The manager suddenly had a change of heart and said, "Peut-etre nous pouvons vous accommoder pour cette fois-ci, et la prochaine fois vous saurez que vous devrez demander vos sandwichs sans jambon. Milles excuses pour tous les ennuis que tout ceci a pu vous cause."
He then took Jeremy's and David's sandwiches back to the kitchen, and appeared a few minutes later with fresh sandwiches.
"Man, what did you say to them?" David asked after taking a bite out of his new sandwich.
"I said a lot of things," I answered, "but what finally got action, after threatening to walk out without paying, was telling them my dad writes restaurant reviews for Travel and Leisure."
"You didn't," Jeremy exclaimed. "Sam, you are evil. Remind me never to get on your bad side."
"You have nothing to worry about, Jer," I explained. "I'd do anything to help my brothers and friends out."
"Obviously," Trevor said with a chuckle.
It's funny, but the sandwiches were very simple, consisting of nothing more than a few slices of meat and cheese along with lettuce and butter on French bread, and yet they tasted better than just about any sandwiches I'd had back home. The only reason I could think of for that was that everything in the sandwich was fresh, from the fresh-baked bread, to meat that was freshly cooked and cheese, both of which were freshly sliced, just for our sandwiches.
I'd heard that the French could be rude, and that many Parisian restaurants did not see themselves as being a service industry, but we had a huge choice of restaurants to go to, and I'd be damned if I was going to patronize ones that acted like it was a privilege to eat there.
"From now on, we check restaurant reviews before we go anywhere to eat," Jeremy said, and we all heartily agreed.
"So what's first on the agenda, guys?" Trevor asked.
"Well, we're right by the Louvre," I suggested.
"Yeah, but you need a good solid day for the Louvre," David countered.
"More like a good solid week, from what I've read," I added, "but there are several museums I'd like to visit while we're here."
"And we need to leave time for the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, and all the other Parisian landmarks," Kurt reminded us.
"Keep in mind that most of the museums are closed today," Jeremy pointed out.
"Oh yeah," I suddenly realized, "I forgot that it's already Monday."
"Actually, the museums are closed on Tuesday here," David countered.
"Not all of them, but since it's a nice day, why don't we start with the Eiffel Tower?" Trevor suggested. "We know we want to see it, and we don't want to take a chance on bad weather later in the week. Also, there might be a line, so we need to leave plenty of time to see it."
"Sounds like a reasonable plan," David said in agreement, and we all indicated our approval as well.
Checking his iPhone, Jeremy discovered that we could purchase our tickets on-line and save a ton of time in the process. Further, the youth rate extended all the way to age 24, so we all qualified for the reduced fare of 9.90 rather than the adult fare of thirteen Euros. Since we needed a printer to obtain our tickets, we headed back to the hotel and found that the Concierge was more than happy to arrange the tickets for us. We should have probably consulted him in the first place, but we were all new at traveling completely on our own.
The concierge told us it would actually take us as much time to get there by Metro as to walk, and waiting for a taxi large enough to accommodate all of us would also take time. It was only a little over three kilometers away, which should take little more than forty minutes on foot, he told us.
"And since it's such a beautiful day . . ." Jeremy said.
"We'll walk," David chimed in, finishing his husband's sentence for him.
The walk to the Eiffel Tower was very scenic indeed. We crossed over the Seine on Pont de la Concorde, and then walked along the 'left bank' the rest of the way. Along the way, there were many street vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs, with a lot of artists in particular selling 'original' oil paintings of Paris. It appeared that most of the so-called original paintings were nothing more than cheap knock-offs. One of the artists, however, had some unusual charcoals and pastels that he'd done of passers-by, and he offered to do one of us all, on the spot.
We certainly didn't want to carry something like that around for the rest of the day, but David asked about the possibility of stopping by later in the week to have him do a larger portrait of him and Jeremy. Trevor and Kurt also said they'd be interested if the price was reasonable. The artist offered to do one of each of them for a hundred Euros, which for the quality of his work, was more than reasonable. David took his card and promised to call him later to arrange a time.
When we got to the Eiffel Tower, as expected, the lines at the ticket booths stretched forever. I guess everyone else had the same idea as we did. We were all glad we'd purchased our tickets in advance.
There are three levels to the Eiffel Tower, and of course we all planned to go to the top. The first level is for the restaurant and we had no intention of stopping there. The lines for the second level were long enough, and we had to wait nearly two hours, just to board one of the elevators to the second level, and that was with a reserved time! Fortunately, the line wound its way around a fascinating exhibit on the history of the Eiffel Tower, and we sure had plenty of time to see it!
Once we got to the second level, we had to wait in another long line to get on one of the elevators to the top level. For some reason, even though elevator capacity to the top was limited, the line wasn't as long as the one to the second level and we only had to wait a little over an hour.
The view from the top level was absolutely spectacular. We could see all of Paris from there. What's more, the sun was getting low on the horizon and although they wouldn't let us stay up at the top level for very long, we were able to stay and watch the sun set over the Parisian countryside from the second level. It was magical.
Although we should have all been utterly exhausted from jetlag and being up all night by now, we were still pretty keyed up, and decided to head over to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, about a mile away.
Man, the traffic on the Place de l'Etoile, which forms a circle around the Arc de Triomphe, was insane! It felt like we were all taking our lives in our hands to try to cross it so we could see the arch. There were no traffic lights or police to assist pedestrians in crossing, and the cars stopped for no one.
We ended up having to make a mad dash for it and didn't discover until afterward that there was an underground passageway we should have used instead. The arch was spectacular. It was a true monument to early nineteenth century architecture.
By the time we finished seeing the arch, we were absolutely starving. Fortunately, the route back to the hotel took us right along the elegant shopping street, the Champs-Elysees, which offered plenty of selections of restaurants. Rather than taking any chances, we decided to check restaurant reviews on-line before making a choice.
"Hey, this sounds perfect," Jeremy said as he scanned the list on his iPhone. "L'Atelier Renault is a four star pub located in a Renault dealership. In addition to showcasing all the latest models of their cars, they have an outstanding selection of antique automobiles on display. Not only that, but the seats in the booths themselves resemble antique automobile bench seats, and there are numerous accents to make the patron feel like they are eating in an antique car.
"They have a very extensive gourmet menu, with plenty of seafood and fish selections for David and Jer, and a decadent desert menu, too. They're not cheap, but for Paris, the prices sound reasonable, and the service is reported to be impeccable. We can even make a reservation on-line."
"That sounds great," Kurt agreed, and we all chimed in that we'd like to go there. Like I said, we were starving, and decadent desserts sounded like just what eight hungry teens needed to finish off a wonderful day.
I don't even remember going to bed that night. We were sooo tired by the time we got back to the hotel and the next thing I knew, sunlight was streaming in the window of Paul's and my room. By the time I regained consciousness, I realized that someone was knocking on our door.
Getting up, I walked over to the door and opened it to find Brad in just his boxers. It was then that I became aware I wasn't wearing anything, but then we'd all seen each other in the nude so many times before.
"Get up, guys," he said. "I just got a call from my brother, and we're going to leave here in a half hour. It's already eleven o'clock, and we missed the complimentary breakfast that comes with our room."
"Shit . . . Paul!" I called back to my best friend, who was rubbing his eyes. "We've gotta get going!" It was a damn good thing neither of needed to shave yet.
A quick check out the window showed that it was raining outside. Today would definitely be a museum day. Hooray! I was prolly the only one of us who was hoping for rain.
As we ate our lunch at a much friendlier place than the one we'd gone to yesterday, we discussed our options for the day and decided to spend the afternoon at the Musee d'Orsay, an art museum converted from an old train station. The Louvre would wait until we had a full day to spend there and besides, it was closed on Tuesdays.
Man, the Musee d'Orsay was wicked. The building itself was beautiful, but the art it housed was spectacular.
One of the things we learned from our trips to Washington and New York was that, with the exception of Paul, no one else could tolerate seeing art at the pace I liked to see it. Well, I do like to read all the descriptions, 'cause it tells you a lot about the artists and their lives. That was important to me. Somehow it made it personal - kinda like what I'd have felt if I'd been in their shoes.
Given our past experiences, we all agreed that it would be much better if we split up and went through the museum in smaller groups and at our own pace. That was sure fine with me. We decided we'd all meet up at quarter of six, just before the museum was about to close, and head to dinner from there.
Unfortunately, the museum was undergoing major renovations that wouldn't be complete until next year, but even at that, most of the art was still on display. The museum is known for its impressionist and post-impressionist collections, and I was in heaven.
I like all forms of art, from the early funerary articles of ancient Egypt to post-modern performance art. My absolute favorite form of art is that of the Impressionists. Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin, Pissarro, Monet, Tissot, Rousseau, van Gogh and Seurat are so ace. We also saw paintings by somewhat lesser known artists like Bazille, Bernard, Bonnard, Carriere, Carot, Cross, Denis, Dupre, Knhopff, Millet, Vuillard, and a whole lot more.
The thing I love about the Impressionists is that they were true pioneers. They were radical in their day. They were the first to paint the world as they saw it rather than as it was. 'Course before the advent of photography, the only way to make a picture of anything was to paint it. Anyone can paint a picture, but it truly takes an artist to create art.
Impressionism is all about capturing the mood of a scene. Unlike with the cubists and some of the other, more modern styles of art, the subject matter in impressionism is still easily identified, but it's more than that. An impressionist painting conveys what the artist was feeling at the time. Don't get me wrong, I love the more modern stuff, too, but Impressionism is special.
I could have spent hours studying the details of each and every painting – I really wanted to commit every detail I could to memory, but we didn't have hours to spend at the museum. Besides, Paul was getting antsy as it got closer and closer to six o'clock – our time to meet the others back in the lobby. He'd been very patient with me throughout our excursion, listening carefully as I filled him in on my thoughts on each piece of art so that maybe he would develop the same interest that I had. I wanted to make the best of the time we had, but I knew that Paul's attention span could waver over time.
After finishing with the museum, we strolled around the area known as Saint-Germain-des-Pres on the left bank of the Seine that has narrow streets lined with quaint, pricey shops. As we were all getting hungry, we decided to try getting a reservation at the famous Cafe de Flore and were surprised when we had no difficulty getting a reservation for the eight of us. That should have probably been a clue that the French themselves knew better than to eat there.
The reviews on-line were mixed, with some raving about the place, but others writing about rude service. Perhaps it was because of the coming holiday, but the service was incredibly slow, the servers were rude and the food was pretty mundane. Our server even took the bread off of a vacated table and placed it on ours! Needless to say, we didn't eat it.
After dinner, we resumed browsing the shops in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. It was while we were in a bookstore that the shop owner turned to David and asked, "You boys are famous, are you not? You just got married."
"Why yes," David answered, "but how did you know?"
Rummaging through a stack of papers, the man pulled out a copy of the French newspaper, Le Monde, from just over a week ago. On the front page of the 'Style' section was a photograph showing my four friends at their wedding.
David's jaw dropped open and Kurt said, "Holy shit!"
Jeremy exclaimed, "I don't believe it! Our picture's in Le Monde! We're not just talking about The Star back home, or even the New York Times or Washington Post. This is freakin' Le Monde we're talking about. That is so totally cool!"
"I never dreamt there'd be any interest in our wedding outside of our home town," Trevor admitted.
"According to my friends, the wedding was on all the national network news programs," I related.
"I heard the same thing from my friends, too," Brad chimed in.
"I would love to see gay marriage here," the shopkeeper interjected, "but our politicians are so afraid of offending the Catholic and Muslim populations. They need to learn to do what's right . . . not what's expedient."
"We have the same problem in the U.S.," David related. "Only a handful of states have legalized same-sex marriage, and the vast majority of states have outright banned the practice, including our own.
"I tried to get Obama to take a stand on the issue, but he insists that we need to wait for public sympathy to move in our direction. But how will the public ever change unless our leaders are willing to lead? You can be a leader or a follower, and Obama's looking more and more like a follower."
That was David, always the idealist.
"Something tells me you boys are the leaders of the future and not at all followers," the shopkeeper said, and I couldn't have agreed more.
"So are you going to the Gay Ball tonight?" the shopkeeper asked.
"Gay Ball?" David questioned in reply. "What gay ball?"
"It's a huge event. They hold it every year on the eve of 14 July," he explained.
"For Bastille Day," Trevor confirmed.
"Well, we don't call it that here, but yes, it's part of the national celebration," he clarified. "It lasts from 22:00 until dawn. There's music, and dancing, and thousands of people dressed in costume. But you don't have to dress up or anything to go. There will be plenty of people in shorts and tee-shirts, just like you."
"Where is this gay ball?" Kurt asked.
"It's at Quai de la Tournelle, right across the Pont Marie from Ile Saint-Louis. Of course that's not far from Place de la Bastille itself, where there will be concerts tonight as well."
"Really?" Kurt asked.
"You boys did not know about this?" the shopkeeper asked with incredulity.
"We only looked up events for July 14," Jeremy explained. "We knew about the military parade tomorrow, and of course the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower tomorrow night, but we didn't know that anything was going on today."
"Oh, you must go to the concerts at Place de la Bastille. I of course will go no where near there . . . there are too many people, but as tourists, you must go," the shopkeeper admonished us.
"Thanks for telling us," David replied. "So when do the concerts start?" he asked.
"There are two stages, and the musical performances start at 20:15, which I believe you call 8:15 PM," the shopkeeper answered. "They end around midnight."
"Shit, that was like an hour ago!" Brad noted. "We gotta jet if we're gonna get there in time for anything!"
Thanking the shopkeeper again, we hightailed it out of there and made it to Place de la Bastille in just over a half-hour. Man, was it ever crowded. They had every kind of music, too, from Jazz to hip hop.
After the last musical act had finished at around 11:30, we headed back to Quai de la Tournelle, where the Gay Ball was in full swing. What an experience!
A lot of the people were wearing very elaborate costumes, and a lot of the guys were in drag. Everyone was, literally, dancing in the streets. It reminded me a lot of pictures I'd seen of Mardi Gras.
We all got into the festivities, even us straight or primarily straight boys. I danced with all my friends, and with some cute shirtless French boys, too. Hell yeah, I'm mostly straight, but cute is cute.
We didn't get back to the hotel until around four in the morning, and then we got up at seven so we'd be sure to make it to the parade in time. Fortunately, the sun was shining and in spite of our lack of sleep, we could all feel the excitement building in the air.
Bastille Day, the day that France celebrates its national identity, is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress, a highly symbolic event that took place on July 14, 1789 and signaled the end of the French monarchy. France's course to true democracy was not a direct one, however, as they succumbed to the whims of the emperor Napoleon and even returned to the monarchy for a time. Today, however, France is a parliamentary democracy and a full member of the European Union.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. It tells the story of the French Revolution in a way that no history book can. Dickens makes the revolution come alive - pretty amazing for a story that was written a century and a half ago. People wonder why I love to read so much. For me, there's so much knowledge and joy to be found within the pages of a book!
After grabbing quick showers, we all headed down to the hotel lobby and were directed to an attractive breakfast room. A server soon appeared and asked us if we would like coffee, tea or hot cocoa. Kurt, being the addict he is, asked for coffee before anyone else could even open their mouth, which got a laugh from his husband, who also ordered coffee. Jeremy and David ordered tea, and all of us younger guys decided that as much as we enjoyed a good cup of coffee, we couldn't resist trying the hot cocoa.
"Oh my God, this cocoa's orgasmic," Paul said after taking a sip, causing all of our jaws to drop as we stared at him. I didn't even know Paul knew the word, let alone would use it in a sentence like that. Seeing all of us staring at him, he said, "Well, it is. You guys have all got to try some of this."
Paul was generous enough to share a sip of his cocoa with Kurt, and the rest of us, following his example, shared some with our own brothers. When David tasted a sip from Brad, he said, "Paul's right. This is the best hot cocoa I've ever tasted. From now on, I'm getting the cocoa."
Even Kurt said, "As excellent as the coffee is . . . and it's actually espresso, even I have to admit the cocoa is outstanding. Orgasmic is definitely the right word for it."
Finally, I got around to tasting it and when I did, I actually moaned. It was that good, and then I realized why and explained it to everyone else. "We're all used to drinking hot chocolate made from a powder. Even the best mix is still a mix. It's like drinking instant coffee.
"This stuff is real hot cocoa, made by melting real chocolate and dissolving it in heated milk. After drinking this, it'll be hard to ever go back to drinking the other stuff again."
"I'll never drink the other stuff again," Brad chimed in. "This stuff is fantastic . . . pardon me . . . orgasmic!"
Just then, the server arrived with four baskets containing an assortment of fresh breads, croissants, pastries, fruit preserves, cheeses . . . and ham. David immediately asked if he and Jer could get a basket without the ham, and the server actually asked if they'd like something else instead, such as extra cheese, smoked salmon or tuna salad. David was delighted with the response from the server and he and Jeremy ended up getting a basket with smoked salmon.
"So this is what a continental breakfast is supposed to be like," Trevor exclaimed as he made a sandwich with a croissant, Swiss cheese and ham.
"Back home, we'd be lucky to get a couple of stale cheese Danish," Jeremy agreed.
"This really is good," Cliff chimed in. "It's almost enough to last until dinner."
"Maybe for you," Brad chided his best friend, "but I'm a growing teenager and a budding football star. I need my cholesterol," he exclaimed, earning a round of laughter from the table.
The streets of Paris were packed with people, but that didn't stop us from going wherever we wanted. However, we did steer clear of the Metro, expecting it to be overrun with suburbanites coming in for the day for the festivities. Throughout our wanderings on the crowded streets, all of us remained diligent about keeping the eight of us together. We weren't taking any chances!
The two most important events we wanted to see were the military parade, which would take place in the morning on the Champs-Elysees, and fireworks, which would take place that evening in many locations, but most spectacularly at the Eiffel Tower. Jeremy had made a dinner reservation at a place from which we could see the fireworks, but he said it was a surprise and wouldn't tell us anything more.
We set out immediately to find a prime spot to stand on Avenue des Champs-Elysees, a short distance away, and found that the street was already thick with people. Still, we managed to find a good spot from which to stand and take our photographs.
The parade went on forever and was completely different from the 500 Festival Memorial Day parade back home. The military displays were impressive; actually they were really sick, with row after row of marching soldiers, columns of tanks and other vehicles, marching bands - and there were military jets flying overhead!
After the parade, we headed away from Champs-Elysees and the crowds and grabbed a quick bite of sandwiches at a boulangerie. We then headed to a really wicked contemporary art museum called Palais de Tokyo on the right bank of the Seine, on Avenue de New York. After spending a couple of hours there, we crossed over the Seine on a footbridge and headed to Musee Quai Branly, a brand new museum showcasing the art of primitive cultures from around the world.
What a sick museum! I mean, we had a pretty good museum back home called the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, but that was a pathetic shack compared to the Branly. It was really sweet how they built the museum above a lovely garden, making it look like the museum was floating in the sky. I'd never seen such an extensive collection of primitive art from the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. Even with four hours to spend there, it wasn't nearly enough time.
At precisely seven o'clock, we all met back outside the main entrance to the museum. I was really surprised when Jeremy just took us to Cafe Branly, the museum coffee shop, for our dinner reservation but then, after talking briefly with one of the servers, we headed to a bank of elevators and took one to the top floor. When we got out of the elevator, it was as if we'd entered an entirely different realm. The setting was elegant and I suddenly felt drastically under-dressed in my board shorts, a wife beater and sandals. At least David and Jeremy were wearing polo shirts but none of us was really appropriately dressed for the place.
Jeremy didn't seem to be intimidated in the least, however. He just sauntered up to the Maitre d' and said, "We have a dinner reservation for seven o'clock . . . the name's Kimball."
"Why yes," she replied, "a party of eight," and then she added, "as you can see, we're not quite ready to seat you, but if you'd like to have a stroll out on the terrace, I'll come get you when we're ready. She then led us out into the restaurant itself, which was simply stunning. Not only were the walls entirely glass, but the ceiling was as well, giving the patron the feel of being outdoors. She pushed open one of the wall panels, which turned out to be a door, and we stepped out into the muggy July Paris air.
Once outside, Jeremy remarked, "If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn she was trying to get rid of us." He then added, "Guys, I know we're all a bit under-dressed. I didn't realize it would be quite such a classy place but I was assured when I made the reservation that dress is casual. In any case, we're very lucky to have gotten the reservation. I knew it would be busy, so I called a couple of months in advance and was told they were booked solid. They only have seating for a hundred patrons and there's only one seating for the evening.
"When I mentioned it to my dad, he simply said he'd see what he could do. The next day I got a call that something had opened up."
"Like they say, money talks," Brad exclaimed and we all laughed.
"Actually I think he used his political connections," Jeremy corrected Brad, "but I'm gonna slip the Maitre d' a 'C-note' when she seats us, just in case. That should ease any issues with the dress code as well," he added.
"I rest my case," came Brad's deadpan retort and again we all laughed.
The view from the terrace was absolutely spectacular. The Eiffel Tower loomed large above us, its image reflected in a large reflecting pool on the museum rooftop. Around the other side, we could see the Grand Palais and Basilique du Sacre-Coeur on the horizon. We thoroughly soaked up the view, highlighted by the setting sun. We all shot photo after photo with our digital cameras, but when it got to be 7:30 and we still hadn't been seated, I began to get a little concerned.
Obviously, Jeremy did too, as he announced, "I know Parisians are pretty laid back, but it's a half hour past the time of our reservation and not only hasn't the Maitre d' come back to seat us, but we're still the only ones here. I'm gonna check on what's going on." A few minutes later, he emerged and reported, "It seems that while they start taking reservations for seven o'clock, actual seating, regardless of the time of your reservation, isn't until eight."
"Shit, we could'a had more time in the museum," Paul whined, echoing my sentiments exactly.
Finally the Maitre d' came to get us at quarter of eight, which was when most of the patrons started to arrive. Although we weren't the only ones casually dressed, Brad, Paul, Kurt and I were the only patrons in wife beaters, which sure made me feel self-conscious.
My eyes just about bugged out when we got our menus. The place was called Les Ombres and the prices were unbelievable. On the a la carte menu, the cheapest item was a cream of fresh peas appetizer, at twenty-one Euros! Jeremy told us we should all order the Tasting Menu, which was 95 Euros. Fuckin' unbelievable. Most of us ordered the wild bass ceviche, although Trevor and Kurt got the saddle of lamb Vienna. Not surprisingly, none of us ordered the foie gras. I had to admit that the food was some of the best I'd ever tasted and I couldn't wait to get home and try my hand at French cooking.
When the unmistakable sound of fireworks began, we all rushed outside to the terrace to watch. The fireworks display was spectacular and even included streams of rockets shot from the Eiffel Tower itself. Afterwards, we returned inside to finish the meal, which was capped off with fresh fruit and exquisite chocolates, along with coffee. It was a truly memorable evening.
Although Thursday dawned bright and sunny, I put my foot down and insisted on spending the day at the Louvre. I wanted at least a full day there, and was secretly plotting to try and finagle another day there as well.
I was surprised to learn that the redesign of the Louvre, with the construction of the pyramid and all the underground stuff, was done by none other than American architect I. M. Pei, the same man who designed the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I'd have thought the French, as nationalistic as they are known to be, would have only used a French architect. I guess this was an important enough project that they wanted the best person in the world, no matter where he or she was from.
As we all descended from the pyramid into the underground visitor center, it immediately became apparent just how ingenious the pyramid really was. Not only was it a focal point for the courtyard above ground, but it served as a giant skylight for everything that was below ground. The visitor center didn't feel like it was underground at all. It was bright and airy, and one never lost their perspective on where they were with respect to the ancient buildings of the Louvre, which were always clearly visible, even from underground.
The Louvre redesign really made me appreciate the genius of I. M. Pei. He did an awesome job with the East Building, too. He knew how to design a building that was perfect for showcasing the world's best art, and that was a work of art in itself.
I know poor Paul had a tough time keeping up with me, but there was just so much to see and there was no way to take it at my usually leisurely pace. The only downtime was when we waited in a long line to see the Mona Lisa. At least there was art on the walls leading up to it, so the time wasn't totally wasted.
The time spent in line was way worth it, however. Da Vinci was such a gifted artist. He was another man who was thought to be gay, and made an incalculable contribution to society. What mattered is what he gave humanity - not who he loved. Why couldn't the Bible thumpers see that?
By the end of the day, Paul and I were completely worn out, and we'd barely scratched the surface of the Louvre. I wanted to come back the next day, when it would be open late - 'til ten PM, but everyone else wanted to go to Versailles, since we only had two more days left in Paris. Even Paul insisted on going to Versailles.
It took a lot of talking on my part at dinnertime, but I finally convinced Trevor that it was safe to leave me at the Louvre while everyone else went to Versailles. I really hated to miss Versailles, but given the choice between another day at the Louvre and a day at Versailles . . . well, there was no comparison. I'd just have to enjoy everyone else's pictures.
On Friday morning, after having another wonderful breakfast at the hotel, I wished everyone a fantastic time in the Parisian countryside and then I headed back to the Louvre. It was an incredibly liberating feeling to be totally on my own for the day, and we all had our cell phones with us just in case. I was fourteen and streetwise, I spoke the language and the museum was literally only a few blocks away. What could possibly go wrong?
I was in heaven. I could see whatever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. Not that I didn't enjoy being with Paul, but there was something wicked about being totally on my own. I felt like an adult.
One of the coolest things I saw at the Louvre was an underground exhibit of the medieval castle from which the original structure of the Louvre grew. The signs were in French without translation, and it was so cool to be able to read them all, which my friends and brothers could never have done.
I didn't realize it, but the Louvre started out as a royal residence, to which were added on buildings containing government offices. The museum wasn't established until the nineteenth century, and it only occupied one wing of the structure for a long time. As the art collection grew over the years, however, more and more room was needed for the museum, and so the government offices were ultimately moved out of the Louvre, making way for an expanded museum. However, until Pei's redesign of the Louvre, even the entire Richelieu wing was off limits to museumgoers.
I was so excited and enthralled with the museum that I never got around to eating lunch, and ended up grabbing a quick bite of dinner from a street vendor in the courtyard, rather than spending time in the cafeteria. It prolly was a stupid move, but I just wanted to satisfy my hunger so I could get back to seeing the art. Actually, I had my phone alarm set to remind me when I should take my pills, so that's what clued me in.
As it became evening, I finally began to get my fill of the art, as there's only so much a person can absorb in a day. I decided that as magnificent as the Louvre was, it still didn't quite measure up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which to me was the best art museum I'd ever seen. Still, I was determined to stick it out until closing time at ten.
At around seven, however, I started to experience cramping in my stomach and had to make a run for it to the men's room. I sat down on a toilet and couldn't get up as I filled the toilet bowl with load after load of diarrhea. Fuck, I must have gotten food poisoning from the street vendor!
Before I knew what was happening, I felt incredibly nauseous and found myself vomiting onto the floor. I didn't dare get off the john for fear of shitting my pants.
While all of this was going on, I could hear the sounds of people coming and going. Before long, someone called to me through the door, "Est-ce que ca va?" asking if I was well.
"No," I answered. "Je pense que j'ai une intoxication alimentaire."
I heard whomever it was talking into a two-way radio, and then he said, "Nous allons vous amener a une infirmerie. Vous ne pouvez pas rester ici." I didn't particularly want to go to an infirmary. I didn't feel like going anywhere.
"Mais je pense que je vais me salir si je ne reste pas sur la toilette." I complained. I sure as hell didn't want to shit myself.
"Veuillez alors ouvrir la porte pour que quelqu'un puisse nettoyer le degat pendant que nous attendons que vous soyez assez bien pour quitter les cabinets," he replied and I complied, opening the door so my mess could be cleaned up.
When I opened the door, he asked, "Vous etes plus jeune que je pensais. Est-ce que je peux vous demander quel age vous avez?"
"Quatorze," I answered.
"Y a-t-il un adulte avec vous ici?" he asked.
"Mon frere a dix-huit ans, mais lui et mes amis sont a Versailles pour la journee. Mes parents sont aux Etats-Unis," I answered. He wanted to know my age and when I told him I was fourteen, he asked if I was with an adult. I explained that my brother was at Versailles for the day.
"Est-ce qu'il y a une facon dont nous pourrions joindre votre frere? Est-ce qu'il a un telephone portable, par hasard?" the man asked.
"Nous avons tous des telephones portables," I answered.
"Vous n'etes pas dans un etat pour faire un appel vous-meme. Si cela vous plait, veuillez me donner votre telephone et je ferai l'appel pour vous," he asked.
Rather than say anything, I speed dialed Trevor and handed him my phone, as he'd requested. I got a sinking feeling, thinking of all the trouble I'd be causing my brother and our friends.
"Pardonnez-moi. Parlez-vous francais?" the man asked when Trevor came on the line. He then switched to English and continued, "That is not a problem. My name is Mr. Bordeaux and I'm with Security at the Museum of the Louvre. I'm with your brother . . ." then turning to me he asked, "What is your name?"
"Sam," I replied.
"Your brother, Sam, and he has a bad case of vomiting and diarrhea. He thinks he may have gotten food poisoning. He's unable to leave the toilet just yet, but as soon as he can, we are going to take him to a nearby infirmary. He needs fluids, and rest. I will need your permission for him to receive treatment."
After a pause, he said, "Thank you, but we will also need that in writing . . . Yes, of course you want to be with your brother."
After another long pause, he continued, "That's excellent, some hospitals do not trust American health insurance companies, which do not always pay. You would have had to pay in cash, but with a travel health policy, all you need to do is call the company and they will take care of the rest."
After another long pause, the gentleman replied with the name and the location of the infirmary where I was to be taken. After ending the call and handing my phone back to me, he asked, "Do you feel up to traveling now?"
"I . . . I think so," I replied, realizing I was speaking in English after I said it.
"Good," he replied. "Clean yourself up as best you can, and I'll be waiting for you outside the stall."
I was glad he left me some privacy, even though I was feeling like shit. With my rear end being as raw as it was, I couldn't get to where I felt clean back there, but I did what I could, and then pulled up my boxers and board shorts. When I tried to stand, however, I felt incredibly woozy.
Opening the door, I called out to the guy, "I think I'm going to need some help to walk." The security guard looped his arm around my waist and helped support my weight as we hobbled to the door, but then I asked, "Could I please wash my hands?" Some things are just ingrained, you know?
"If you're up to it, we'll try it," he agreed. He had to do virtually everything for me, but at least I left the restroom without shit on my hands.
It took us a while to get there, but we finally got to an underground parking structure of some sort and he herded me into a small security car and we drove less than a kilometer, to a hospital emergency room entrance. What greeted me inside was something out of Hell.
There were people everywhere in the waiting area with no place to sit, and once I was taken to the treatment area, I found one enormous room with gurneys placed so close together that there wasn't enough room for a person to stand between them. The curtains that hung from the ceiling were all pushed back and didn't even line up with the spaces between the gurneys, so there was virtually no privacy at all.
They had me go to a separate room and change out of my clothes and into a hospital gown. They took all my clothes away, and wouldn't even let me keep my cell phone with me, so I had no way to contact Trevor or my friends.
Once they assigned me to a gurney, they just left me there. When I vomited all over the place, they cursed at me in French and finally gave me a plastic tub to vomit into, but they still didn't do anything to help me. Several times I had to run to the bathroom to shit, and nearly fell in the process 'cause there was no one to help me.
I could feel myself becoming weaker and weaker from dehydration. I desperately needed fluids, but they refused to give me anything - not even Gatorade, which they'd never heard of - until I stopped vomiting. I begged them in French to put in an IV - that's always the first thing they do on TV - but they kept telling me to be patient and a doctor would be with me shortly.
While I was lying there, I remembered that laissez-faire is a French term. I kept asking for Trevor, as I was sure he should have gotten there by then, but all they would tell me was that visitors had to wait in the waiting room. They wouldn't even check for me to see if he was there.
By contrast, when I fell off my bicycle and we thought I might have broken my wrist, they took care of us right away at St. Vincent's Hospital, Mom was able to stay right with me the whole time except when they took my x-rays, and everyone was courteous.
Finally after waiting many hours, my gurney was pulled out and I was taken to an area where a doctor examined me. She listened to my heart and abdomen with her stethoscope and pressed on my belly, and then she had a nurse draw several tubes of blood. Then I was sent back to the 'sardine can' where they'd been keeping me, and I waited there another few hours with nothing to do and no treatment at all until someone finally came to get me and told me I could get dressed. First thing I had to check was my pockets. Everything was there including my cell phone.
Once I had my clothes on, the doctor came up to me and told me, in French, that I didn't have appendicitis and I didn't have infectious diarrhea. I most likely had food poisoning - well duh - and just needed to drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest.
She gave me some suppositories to take for diarrhea only if the diarrhea prevented me from traveling, and told me to eat a lot of yogurt, as it would help me recover faster. Well I'd never been a fan of yogurt, but if it would help, I'd eat a vat of the stuff.
Apparently, I was free to go.
I exited into the waiting area, where I found Trevor and the whole rest of the gang waiting for me.
"Sammy!" Paul shouted when he spotted me, and then he ran up to me and engulfed me in a hug. Trevor, Paul, Mom and Dad were the only people who called me 'Sammy' when they were expressing some sort of sentiment and the love they had for me.
I was still feeling sorry for myself when I spotted Cliff, and I thought to myself that if he'd been the one to have gotten food poisoning, he very likely would have died while waiting to be seen in that Godawful emergency room. I was glad it had been me and not him.
"They wouldn't tell us anything," Trevor complained with bitterness in his voice. "The only thing they did was to take the insurance info . . . that they were all too happy to do, but once they had it, suddenly, no one seemed to speak English. Are you OK?"
"Other than feeling like someone ripped my guts out, yeah, I'm OK," I replied. "They wouldn't give me anything to drink, so I'm totally dehydrated. Bad as it is out here, it's worse in there, and my speaking French didn't make any difference. They wouldn't tell me anything, either. It took all this time for them to tell me what I already knew . . . that I had food poisoning."
"That's what the guy at the Louvre said. He seemed like a pretty nice guy. I called him to thank him for looking after you. He was amazed that you've only been speaking French for a half a year. He said your French is as good as most native speakers. You don't even have much of an accent, he said.
"But how'd you get food poisoning?" Trevor asked.
"I was so stupid. I was foolish," I answered. "I wanted to get something quick to eat and to save a little time, so I went to a street vendor in the courtyard of the Louvre. I should'a known better."
"Sam, it's not your fault," Trevor tried to reassure me. "The street vendors are licensed, just like they are in the U.S. There was no reason for you to suspect that the food was tainted. None at all. This could have happened to any of us.
"Now lets see about getting you home, and getting some fluids into you."
"Still, I feel like shit for pulling you guys away from Versailles," I said.
With a laugh, Trevor said, "We were just about to head back to the hotel anyway, so we didn't miss a thing because of you."
Turning to his husband, he said, "Honey, could you, David and Jer see to it that everyone gets back safely to the hotel? OK? I'm going to get a taxi for Sam and me."
"Could I go back with you guys?" Paul asked.
"Of course you can, Paul," Trevor answered. "Sam's your best friend and I'm sure he'd like having you with us."
"You know something, Trev?" I started to say. "You're gonna make one hell of a father someday."
Blushing and getting tears in his eyes, Trevor said, "You don't know how much that means to me, bro."
Trevor was wonderful to me. He was so much more mature than when I first met him at summer camp two years ago - so adult-like. He took charge of the situation without a moment's hesitation and he didn't make me feel like a little kid, either. Even though he was now legally an adult and was responsible for me on the trip and all, he still treated me like his equal - like his peer - the same as he always had.
Trevor Austin is truly one of the finest people I have ever met, but when I thought about how I went along with Gary and falsely accused Trevor of molesting me, I couldn't help but break down and cry.
Placing an arm around my shoulders and holding me close to him, Trevor said, "It wasn't your fault, Sam. You did what you had to do to survive." How'd he always know when I was thinking back to summer camp? "Telling the truth in the end the way you did to save Kurt took guts. More than most kids would ever have."
He always knew just what to say. All I could do was to cling to him for dear life as I cried my eyes out. I loved my bro like I would never love anyone else. Kurt too, for that matter. Come to think of it, Kurt's my bro-in-law, now. Sweet!
Once we got back to the hotel, Trevor took charge of making sure I was OK. He'd brought rehydration salts in his luggage, just in case one of us did get sick, and he started pushing fluids back into me. I felt much better once I'd been rehydrated, too.
He got me some chamomile tea to help settle my stomach, and once I felt better, he got me a bunch of yogurt to replenish my gut.
On Saturday, our last day in Paris, while everyone else went out to see Notre Dame, the Pantheon, Sacre-Coeur and other famous Parisian landmarks, Trevor stayed behind with me to be sure I continued my recovery. I tried to tell him I'd be OK and that he should go, but he wouldn't hear of it. I just hoped that losing yesterday's HIV meds down the toilet wouldn't screw up my counts - I guess I'd find out when I got home.
"You'd do the same for me if the situation were reversed," he claimed, and he was right - I would!
Trevor arranged for late checkout, since we were scheduled to leave on an overnight train to Venice that night. By the afternoon, I was going nuts cooped up in the hotel and all. I begged Trevor to at least take me to the Pompidou Center, or rather the Centre National d'Art de Culture Georges Pompidou, as it's called. It's supposed to be a really wicked modern art museum, and I was dying to see it.
"But you need your rest, Sam," he kept saying, and I kept countering with, "But I'm dying of boredom."
Finally, Trevor relented with the proviso that I take it slowly, and that we only stay for two hours. He also insisted we take a taxi rather than walk.
Let me tell you, I've never been more impressed, nor disappointed in a museum in my life. The building itself is totally sick - it's all glass and steel and all of the plumbing and ventilation is exposed. You can see everything inside the place, and it's very cool.
The trouble is the art. Yeah, they have some really nice modern art, but it's not an exceptional collection, and it's so . . . limited. The bookstore and library were cool - maybe even outstanding - but I came to see the art. I mean, Paris is supposed to be the center for art for the whole world, but the permanent collection at the Pompidou Center isn't half as impressive as the one in the MoMA in New York.
In spite of the bad things that happened, Paris was wonderful, and I was already thinking about what I wanted to see when I go back someday. It's one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen, and the Louvre in my opinion is second only to the Metropolitan Museum in New York - at least considering the museums I've seen so far. There's a lot I still haven't seen in Paris, so I've gotta come back!
The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing and Alastair in proofreading this story. I would particularly like to thank Stef from Quebec for his assistance with the French translations in this part. I am forever indebted to Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting my stories.