Paris perfected the freelancer’s dream even before Hemingway was scribbling in cafés and leaving his child to the attendance of a cat. Once you’ve sunk down your café crème (forget café au lait – so common) you’re left to get on with it. Each meal is lavished with wine and pieces of baguette. Even better, the price of coffee and bread is government regulated so you probably won’t starve.
We pull into the city triumphant after seven hours on the Megabus, ears tuned to French radio in a last-minute attempt to filter out the drone of the man beside us. He’s been talking on his phone for four hours straight now because he starts to twitch if it goes silent.
If you’re lucky and do your research correctly, your budget £17 (AUD$31) London-to-Paris Megabus trip will include a sublime ferry voyage across the British Channel, giving you time to stretch your legs and inhale the delicious salty mists off the cliffs at Dover.
If you’re unlucky, you go underground.
“Wait! This isn’t Dover!” I exclaim as we rattle towards the wasteland of Folkestone. Instead of seagulls and ferries bulging with hot food and coffee, we pull up beside something that resembles a train of baked bean cans with the labels rubbed off.
“We’re not going to Auschwitz, are we?” blurts out my manfriend, quite inappropriately, as our bus reverses into the belly of a Eurotunnel cargo train.
Still, there’s something pretty neat about sitting in a bus, in a train, rattling in darkness seventy-five metres below the English Channel. Wait! I mean terrifying.
Once you get past the geographical and language barriers (never underestimate the power of a smile and a nod), you’ll find the Parisians a friendly, self-assured lot that suffer no fools and enjoy the ridiculous. I have laughed with the French over many things: cramped seating at a restaurant, an enormous wooden bread lifter that almost knocked me dead, and a particularly inappropriate “Salut!”.
But what you can’t laugh at is Parisian support of their freelancers.
Gaîté Lyrique describes its digital arts resource centre as “un centre de ressources dont la particularité est d’être consacré aux cultures numériques”; or, as Google Translate clumsily dubs it: “A resource centre whose particularity is to be devoted to digital culture”.
Once a lavish nineteenth-century theatre, the original Théâtre de la Gaîté was sacked by Nazis even before its crude distortion into an failed amusement park. But in 2010, this sleeping beauty was shaken up by the City of Paris and transformed into a modern music centre and ‘toolbox’ for digital artists.
So there are design books and tablets to peruse; a whole section devoted entirely to video games; free WiFi (of course); and a café with modestly priced espresso, beer and wine at the ready. Furniture is retro cosy, and the walls are dappled with dreamy forests and hypnotic projections. Music tends to be of the inoffensive indie variety.
To someone who has been living out of a suitcase for two months and cowering next to Starbucks and McDonalds buildings for free WiFi, a visit to the Gaîté Lyrique is like enjoying a Christmas with snow, puppies, and a dinner free from family spats.
Once you’ve stocked up on notebooks from the supermarket (for all you stationary suckers back home, Rhodia and Clairefontaine pads can be picked up in Paris for around AUD$2.50 each), you’re ready to work. Unhampered by brutish café staff or Draconian drinking regulations. Free from the insults of bad coffee and bread.
Leaving Paris, you get the distinct sense it doesn’t want you to go. Or maybe you just don’t want to. Obstacles urge you to linger a little longer on every corner: gypsies hold their oddly lifeless babies and plead for change, while hardened dog shit clings to the wheels of your suitcase. Raindrops weigh down your clothes as you lug your life possessions up that enormous staircase – made famous in Amélie – towards the Gare du Nord.
In the station, even the Eurostar attendants seem to demand I stay, insisting I carry my bags off the train as it prepares to leave, while they page an inaccurate description of my manfriend over and over as he wanders, lost, in the waiting rooms above.
Pros of working in Paris:
- A culture that seems to exist entirely to support freelancers (abundance of cafés, free bread, cheap wine, the Gaîté Lyrique, etc.).
- Government regulated prices of bread and coffee.
- Preservatives are illegal in bread, so you’re forced to get it fresh: something I assume fuels the mind for work
- If French isn’t your native tongue, you can enjoy the pleasant murmur of foreign conversation while working – without the distraction of understanding it.
- The éclairs are exquisite.
Cons of working in Paris:
- You pay for the romance: sitting outside a café or restaurant with your espresso can cost you almost double.
- Shoddy French will get you pretty far, but not that far.
- Public toilets. Good luck finding one.
Megan Anderson is Going Down Swinging’s online editor.