Friday, September 5, 2008

An American Lesbian in Paris

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you our newest guest blogger, Shannon Connolly, who is going to write a weekly column about her semester abroad in Paris.

I asked her to share with us her experiences mainly because I'm terribly jealous she gets to live in France for a few months and I want to live vicariously through her adventures.

I first met Shannon - well perhaps when you first met her - in that full page photo spread in The Advocate last month on Cougars.

She was working as an intern at the popular gay news mag when she was recruited for said photo shoot.

Ever since the above shot I call her the lesbian Lolita of LA.

Shannon is currently in her senior year at USC and studying this semester in Paris as part of her coursework. She's pursuing a career as a journalist and writer.

I'm not sure it's part of her studies or homework, but one of her first missions was to find a local lesbian bar.

Now I give you, episode 1 of A LESBIAN AMERICAN IN PARIS.

“A Lesbian in Paris”
Shannon Connolly

So, after ten days that have felt more like an episode of The Amazing Race than a week and a half of my life, I am finally settled in to my semi-permanent home in Paris. I will be living here for the next three months, and seeing as I cannot bear the thought of being totally disconnected from my beloved and oh-so-gay life in West Hollywood, I will be keeping you all updated on my adventures until I return.

I arrived here on August 21st, three bags in hand, fifty euros in my wallet, and the address of my new school in my back pocket. It was seven in the morning. I was starving. I was exhausted. I had no international cell phone, no phone card, no internet connection, and suddenly, in this age of technology and constant communication that I have grown up in, felt eerily alone. I crossed my fingers that a quick cab ride later I would find myself welcomed with open arms by the directors of my program and would have my hand held, more or less, through my first few very intimidating days in a foreign country.

I had conjured images in my mind of the beautiful Parisian building I imagined would be my university here, so thirty minutes later, when my cab driver dropped me and all of my luggage in front of a dark alley (I kid you not, it was just a dark alley) and assured me I was at the right address, I felt the urge to climb back in the cab, return to Charles de Gaulle Airport and fly straight home to LA.

I ventured into the alley though, bags in hand, and found a small building around the back with my program’s name on the front door. I introduced myself to a woman at the front desk and she handed me a second address and a rudimentary map to find my way to my hotel. Sigh. Back out of the alley and into the hustle and bustle of the streets of Paris, I passed exactly four couples (all straight) making out in the three blocks between my school and my hotel. And let me remind you, this was approximately 7:30am. I guess that’s why they call it the city of love. Nonetheless, the pangs of homesickness for West Hollywood began.

I walked into Hotel Belle Epoque, a super-tiny but quaint hotel near La Bastille, and introduced myself, in French of course, to the concierge. Not a particularly smiley fellow, he simply handed me an envelope with my name on it and assured me my instructions were inside. I think you can see at this point in my journey why I began to feel like I was on an episode of The Amazing Race.

Well, despite my initial reservations, I have managed to survive my first ten instruction-filled and yet directionless days here. I have become well-acquainted with the eight other students in my program and am getting used to being the “token lesbian.” It’s a good group though – we have a token frat boy, a token Jew, and a token Asian as well. We’re kind of like a modern Breakfast Club.

The two other girls in my group agreed to accompany me to “Le Marais” – the West Hollywood of Paris – at the end of our first week. I had done my research online and was anxious to find a bar called 3W (the name stands for “women with women”).

We scouted our route on the métro and left our hotel, ready for a night on the town. Just minutes later, I stepped off the métro and into the gayborhood. Ah, it felt like going home. Gay and lesbian bars lined the streets, rainbow flags flew from apartment balconies and rainbow stickers were proudly displayed in storefronts. We walked a few blocks, looking very touristy with our maps in hand, and finally found the street I had been looking for – Rue des Ecouffes. 3W was just steps away.

I walked up to the front door and found myself in front of a sign:

Fermé jusqu’à 2 septembre

The bar was closed for the summer holiday (most Parisians leave the city during July and August to vacation in the south of France), and so my plans were foiled. Merde (shit).

I was just beginning to lose hope when a lesbian motioned to us from across the street (a bit of a lesbian guardian angel, I like to think) and invited us to sit for a while and have a drink at her bar: Les Jacasses. We accepted the offer and proceeded to fait des amies (make friends) with a table of women sitting near the front door, who were all more than happy to chat with us a while. Nous aimons les Américains! (We love Americans!), they told us.

After a bit of conversation, we exchanged numbers and they wrote down on the back of a postcard the names of local bars and local gay websites so I can find my way here in Paris. I now have plans to return to Le Marais later this week and meet up with that same group of women.

Ah, it is so nice to be gay and have “family” everywhere – n’est-ce pas?

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