As our tour of French speaking Europe progressed it became increasingly clear that the show was hemorrhaging money. The producer reduced the quality of our hotels from sumptuous in city centres to seedy on city outskirts. While doing a show in Geneva, our hotel was so far out of town that it wasn’t even in Switzerland. Our hotel breakfasts went from fresh baked pastry, rich cheeses, and lavish charcuterie spreads to stale baguette, stale baguette, and stale baguette.
Me and the missus could hardly pack a decent lunch and supper from such a meagre breakfast spread!1
The show’s financial demise rested on our producer’s decision to run the show for three weeks in Paris. If we’d only toured the provinces, the show would have been profitable. The producer had no trouble selling out a two-thousand-seat theatre for three shows in Lyon, Montpellier, or Rouen. But he couldn’t get more than three hundred for any of the thirty shows we did in Paris. I don’t know why he wanted to crack Paris so bad—maybe it’s a prestige thing.
From that point on we spent every day off in Paris—even if it meant a twelve-hour drive from the opposite end of the country. Almost everyone on the crew was Parisian, and the cost of fuel to drive back to Paris was cheaper than hotel rooms for the entire crew. The cast was dumped in the cheapest hotel the producer could find—on the freeway, far from the City of Light.
But hey, we were still in Paris, right? It’s not like we were in Fort Macmurray in February, or (shudder) Fresno, at any time of the year.
I’m not sure if this is true of the rest of humanity, but if you put a bunch of actors together in the kind of situation they otherwise would only have dreamed of ever attaining, a perfect storm of lots of money, lots of time off, lots of good food, lots of good people to share it with, and all this in the one of the most beautiful places on Earth, they will inevitably find something to complain about.
I once heard one of my cast mates complain that he was sick of all the old buildings in Paris. And this chap was from Winnipeg of all places. Winnipeg. The home of frostbite and sadness and stabbings. I heard another complain about the catering we ate at each theatre—which, in order to keep the French crew from mutinying, was always of exceptional quality .2 His ideal day involved searching whatever town we were in for their local McDonalds.
Our new, terrible hotel’s distance from the city centre, combined with having already spent close to a month in Paris, meant that some of the cast opted just to watch movies on their laptops at the hotel and eat at a nearby mall food court (which included a McDonalds THANK GOD FOR THAT).
But the missus and I were determined to make the most out of our time in France. At first we tried walking into town from the hotel—which the hotel’s concierge assured us was impossible. We’d heard that nonsense before. People don’t realize how intrepid urban explorers like us can walk from anywhere. But after almost dying on the shoulder of Paris’s freeways, we had to begrudgingly concede defeat. The city was literally inaccessible by foot from our hotel. Freeways hemmed it in on all sides.
We eventually found a bus that weaved its way through the Parisian suburbs, which connect to the end of one of Paris’s subway lines. Only ninety-minutes later, we were downtown. But what to do? We’d already been to all the major attractions—I wasn’t counting on being back in Paris, so I’d made sure to ram in as much as I could during our first three weeks. And my wife assured me she would no longer be my wife if we spent any more time in museums.
Weeks earlier, while on a free walking tour I spotted a small tile mosaic of a Pac-Man ghost cemented onto the side of a building. Our guide explained that it was put there by a Parisian street artist named Space Invader, who had hundreds of similar pieces scattered around the city. After doing a little research into Space Invader, I found a map that a fan had made listing the location of every piece that this very prolific street artist had installed. I copied the locations down onto our street atlas and set about finding and documenting as many as we could in our two days off.
The Space Invader Safari was born.
The first one to spot the mosaic scored a point and had their picture taken beside it. Every couple hours we’d stop at a park and eat some of our stale breakfast baguette. When we got sick of that, we’d get some olives, cheese, salad and a mini-bottle of red wine from a grocery store.
Over the course of those two days, we spent twenty-four hours roaming the streets of Paris. We probably covered close to a hundred and twenty kilometres distance, up and down magnificent boulevards and little side streets. We ended up finding eighty of the mosaics, I spotted forty four, the missus thirty six.3
It’s funny to me that despite going to such icons as the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Pompidou, Palais Garnier, or to the Louvre (three times) what I remember best, and most fondly, are those two days wandering the streets, hunting for tile mosaics of video game characters from my childhood. Up to that point I felt like a tourist doing things, surrounded by other tourists in one of the most touristy cities in the world. Somehow the Space Invader Safari made Paris feel like it was mine. And though my French remains embarrassingly bad, it made me feel a little bit like an insider.
The only picture on the wall in my home-office is a photo of one of the Space Invader mosaics in Paris. It serves as a valuable reminder that the best way to experience life is to get out there, make it your own, and do it until blisters bleed through your socks. There aren’t enough Big Macs in all the MacDonalds in all the world I would have traded those days for.
1 Have I mentioned we’re cheap?
2 With the notable exception of a town called Bressuire in which we were served an oily black stew containing meat and sausage from any animal they could get their hands on, served from a trough. I shit thee not. A trough. I called it the Bucket o’ Meat. Oh, and we were also served pigeon once. That was disgusting too, although the crew certainly seemed to love it.
3 I am a CHAMPION!!!!!