Corkscrewed in Paris

Or how to ruin a perfectly romantic evening with yourself.

This is what the Eiffel Tower looks like when you have red wine in your eyeballs.

On the fourth or fifth night of my Parisian escape-from-reality, I spent the early evening strolling around Montmarte, losing myself among paths less traveled and letting the cool October air fill my lungs. I had just finished a contract writing gig at MTV and before I would (unknowingly) experience three long, depressing months of unemployment in New York City, I — like any rational twentysomething with no savings — decided to go to Paris.

As I walked down Boulevard de Clichy, thinking about how having a job and a steady income and the comfort of knowing what’s to come was incredibly overrated, I quickly switched back to rational thought. I decided — as I do at most hours of most days — it was time for wine and cheese. I picked up a bottle of red and a baguette and block of fromage from a quaint market (all for seven magical euros), and hailed a cab back to my penthouse Airbnb rental, located just outside the city in a Paris suburb called Montrouge.

The apartment was gorgeous — and thoroughly spotless. White walls, white furniture, bright-white everything, with chic pops of primary colors throughout. The top-floor flat was a bargain at $79 a night and included Wi-Fi, a precious puppy and an espresso machine (truly, all of life’s necessities). There was also a sprawling private terrace, which took my breath away in the most thoroughly cliché way the first time I stepped foot on it. The Eiffel Tower glistened in the distance, even in the foggy haze of my rainy first night, and I genuinely thought I was dreaming. What life is this? I asked to the little dog. (But he didn’t speak English.)

On this particular night, I had the apartment and that unbelievable outdoor oasis all to myself. Fred and François, the sweet couple who were nothing but welcoming during my entire stay — often offering city recommendations and breakfast pastries in broken English — were away for the weekend. The Parisian palace was mine, and I planned to set up my carb-cheese-wine dinner on the terrace, watch the city sparkle and enjoy my evening as the Queen of France.

I placed the bottle of red on the white kitchen counter, stepped over the white kitchen mat and opened every white drawer and cabinet in search of a (probably white) wine opener. Nothing. I searched the bar-cart area in the living room, replete with vino, and still found no tools to remove a cork. Did they pack all their corkscrews for their weekend getaway? Was their booze collection just decoration? Were they French magicians who could open wine with their mind? Naturally, I took to the internet. “How to open a wine bottle without the proper tools.” The answers were ones I’d heard before — “bang it on the wall with a shoe,” “break the neck of the bottle,” “literally just go buy a new wine opener, you lazy fuck.” All great ideas, but in my defense, it was pretty late in the evening, and finding a French Walgreens wasn’t appealing or remotely easy on the outskirts of town. I was alone, after all – left to solve one of life’s greatest (thirst-based) challenges with my own creativity. Breaking glass was ludicrous, as was banging glass against a wall with a goddamn shoe.

So I did what any of you would have done — I took the sharpest, skinniest knife I could find in the The White Kitchen, and I shoved it as hard as possible into the cork, hoping only to push it into the body and make it a floatation device, ready to save my thirst. But the combination of excitement of this forthcoming wine and my underestimated strength created a powerful force. I shoved the knife so hard into the bottle that a Wine Explosion® occurred.

My life flashed before my eyes. (Mostly just glimpses of me finding corkscrews in their proper places.)

The White Kitchen was no longer white, and neither was I — the pinot noir covered my pale skin from head to toe. I was beyond drenched, and listen, if you’ve never had wine in your eyeballs, then you cannot truly understand this kind of extraordinary pain. Alcohol has blurred my vision quite often in the past, but this was an entirely new level. I was literally crying wine.

I ripped off my dress, one of my favorites, and ran to the bathroom to wash out my peepers and my clothes. There were black tears and there were red tears and all I could think about was how upset Fred and François would be that I ruined their perfect domestic paradise. I left my dress in the sink and hurried back to the kitchen to do damage control, only in my bra & undies. (I was truly a sight for my own sore eyes.) And after 7,000 paper towels, I managed to restore the countertops and floors to their original flawlessness, with the exception of the rug, which was sprinkled with pink spots — perhaps only detectable to those who knew an accident-prone American hot mess had recently stepped foot there. Otherwise, I had done a fantastic clean-up job, and although my eyes were bloodshot and my wine was mostly fucking gone, I was content with my recovery.

And then I heard an unusual noise. It sounded like a tiny, fast-moving indoor river. Because…well, that’s exactly what it was. From mid-way into the living room, all the way down the hall, pouring out of the bathroom, I had created my own woman-made Seine. I was the opposite of Jesus, turning wine into water.

While rinsing out my dress, I’d left the water on in a panic to tend to my first mess, and after the collar was sucked into the drain, it clogged the entire sink and created a dam for what was sure to become the end of my damn future Airbnb usage. I ran to the bathroom, splashing through the brand-new hallway creek, shut off the faucet and surveyed the damage. Water had crept into their bedroom and underneath the furniture and into closets and all around the couch and I immediately wanted to drown in it. I found every towel Fred and François ever owned in the linen closet and placed them around the penthouse, hopeful bath towels were just magically more absorbent in France. The water began to soak up slowly, but not before it could seep into their porous concrete floors. This was a disaster of epic proportions. (Mostly because I still didn’t have a glass of wine.)

I did the best I could to make it look like I had not created a new Parisian body of water. Hours went by and I washed & dried the fifteen or so towels and put them all back just as I had found them, resting peacefully, blissfully unaware of their forthcoming call of duty. The floor was still wet, but in a way I could not change, and I hoped my hosts would find this tragedy hilarious and clumsily adorable and not appalling or exceptionally careless (even though it was). I went to bed exhausted, WITHOUT BREAD OR CHEESE OR WINE, as punishment for my attempt to live like the Queen of France, high in her castle, looking over her land, all without a corkscrew. I was prepared to be screwed the next day, too, when F&F would return home, and I slept terribly thinking how awful I was at even pretending to be royal.

I spent the next day out of the apartment, exploring the city, thinking and not thinking about the mess I made, and when it was time to go home, I was ready with the simplest and most heartfelt of “I’m sorry” speeches. Fred and François were in the living room when I arrived, and they greeted me with tilted heads and folded arms and disappointed smirks. “I’m sorry,” I said (nailing it) and looked down at the floor, wishing my Wine Explosion was just a (wet) dream. Then Fred said something like, “So…there was a flood?” And I attempted to explain the synopsis of my dramedy to them. They nodded and scratched their scruff, and I was genuinely so sorry, and I knew they could tell. They seemed to be understanding (with what they could understand) and they seemed to be forgiving (at least the dog was) and they reminded me that Airbnb would potentially cover some of the damage if any was permanent, and we hugged and I was pleased to be given the best-case scenario for a worst-case scenario. I told them I was off to have a big glass of wine, and they paused and looked at me like I had just told them I shat on their white walls. “No, no. At le bar. Not here.” And they were relieved. No one has ever been that scared of me drinking wine in their apartment. (Except maybe anyone who has ever invited me over.)

A few days later, after I had gone back to the Real World, I got a notification that Fred & François left a review for me on Airbnb. I cringed. There’s no way they could give me a glowing report, despite their in-real-life forgiveness, and I was afraid I’d have to create a new Airbnb profile and take on a new identity to ever stay in a stranger’s place ever again. I opened the app and took a deep breath.

Sara is a very respectful and nice girl. She was also a real “bloomer” girl, it was so fun because she was so stress by her mistakes… Water in the bathroom and wine in the kitchen ;-) We had a good time with her, we just regret that we had too much work to spend more time with her.

My first thought was, “bless those gorgeous French lovers,” and my second thought was, “what the actual shit is a ‘bloomer’ girl?” I looked up the word — just recently, actually, because for some reason it didn’t occur to me to care in the last few years — and in a context like this, it’s an informal British term meaning “a serious or stupid mistake.” I mean, way harsh, Fred & François.

While I haven’t made a habit out of flooding apartments and repainting strangers’ homes in vino as of late, I’ve certainly spent a good portion of my drinking years making messes. In theory, I should’ve known the following seconds after googling “how to open a wine bottle without the proper tools” were going to be an inevitable disaster. I’ve been a ‘bloomer girl’ since — well, since I began to bloom. And perhaps a week-long trip to Paris in the middle of unemployment was, in fact, a ‘bloomer’ move, too.

My entire solo escape was beyond magical — the people I met, the places I fell in love with, the adventures that unfolded, you wouldn’t even begin to believe! Until, of course, you get to the part of the story where I open the bottle of red. That shit’s pretty believable. So is the part where I skipped town to acquire international stories and dodge responsibilities and bask in my delusions of grandeur at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Those tiny irresponsible moments in France, however, translated into legendary storytelling that got me through the next few months, before landing a fantastic job (one that was worth the wait and the extravagant detours). There’s no doubt that The Paris Flood was a monumental mess and a fateful faux pas, but more than anything, it was a lesson in compassion and forgiveness and blind trust (for Fred and François). For me, it was a reminder to always keep a corkscrew handy.