Gastien Pt 1 (9 page)

 

IV

Gastien decided to familiarize himself with the area. Maybe he got dropped off somewhere that did not make sense for him. Since he could see a few young painters gathering up their equipment as the light faded, he doubted that the area would be inappropriate. He also knew this was right in the area where he came with his father during deliveries. Still, he would be more efficient in hunting down a job, and a room to rent, by learning this evening what was around there.

His feet hurt badly. Not that he had blisters,
non
, and thank God for that! Because his boots were not new they did not blister or pinch, but neither were they so old that they would not last him for awhile. His feet simply hurt from the miles he had walked last night. They wanted a comfortable bed and a warm quilt over them. Well, they may have to wait a very long time for that quilt, but hopefully not so long for a bed. Soon he would find work and be able to find a modest room with furnishings.

Walking, he noticed
Le Procope
and the
Cremerie Restaurant Polidor
. These were both extremely busy, popular spots. He had helped his father deliver to them.
Oui
, he was in the right place. It never occurred to him that popular restaurants would not be looking for someone like Gastien, that they had more requests for work from students than they could possibly fill. In Paris, it was considered a good job for a student to serve at a popular restaurant. Experience counted for almost everything, if you wanted to work at a business that had a solid clientele. Innocently, he decided to apply at both places right away the next day. He saw several other cafes and restaurants, some busier than others. Getting a job tomorrow should be no problem, he thought happily. I should be working by the next day after tomorrow, next week at the latest.

Finally, he was in front of the
Académie Julian
. Tears filled his eyes as he thought of how hard he had worked the past two years at something he hated in the false hope that his father would help him go to art school. He doubted he would ever do so now. It would take full time work to pay for food, shelter and art supplies, not to mention clothing and other incidentals. His free time would be taken up by painting, once he had supplies…if only he could watch other young painters and learn! He wanted to watch those with experience, too, because those experienced painters could teach him the basics of what he should know so that he could tweak the rules. He wondered if other painters would be friendly to a hungry, young boy off the streets wanting to learn. He supposed they would be just like anyone else. Some would be kind, some would not. He would just need to keep a thick skin.

Darkness was fast approaching so he knew he had to find a place to sleep. He wished he had somewhere to keep his tarp while he hunted for work tomorrow, but he doubted he would find anywhere safe. Full darkness fell as he made his way back to the area where he wanted to apply for work. There were not as many people on the streets now. Nonetheless, there were a fair amount going to dinner, plays, lovers strolling, and window shoppers. These people moved in a different world than Gastien had ever known. He did note, however, that the two restaurants he first noticed as busy continued to be so. They would be good places to work.

How he would love to sit and listen to some of the conversations going on at tables with easels packed up by them! It would be pure joy to spend a whole evening talking with other people who loved art. He had not experienced even one minute of that. Even if he could not add much to the conversation yet, he could sure learn a lot!

As he walked by one group sitting inside by a window, he stopped. There was a young artist showing the others a painting he had just finished. Gastien was rooted to the spot. Imagine being able to share and critique work you had just done that day, to get ideas and encouragement from others like you!

Suddenly the artist turned his head, looking Gastien in the eyes. Gastien smiled shyly, pointing at the painting, nodding his head. The painter smiled back and waved. Gastien waved and then quickly turned away. As much as he would have loved to join them, he could not take the chance that they would beckon him in. He could not afford to spend any part of his money on food or drink in there right now. He hurried away like he was late for a meeting with someone.

The painter had looked friendly with his reddish blonde hair and blue eyes that seemed to be laughing at the whole world. He appeared to be about Gastien’s age. With any luck, he would see this artist painting around here one day soon. Hopefully, he would let Gastien watch him, maybe even give out some knowledge.

 

 

V

I need to find a place to go tonight, thought Gastien. I need to think about how I spend my money. It will go quickly. Even though I should get work right way, I can’t take the chance of not having a plan if I don’t. Gastien looked up and saw that he was heading toward
Notre Dame de Paris (
usually
just called
Notre Dame).
He continued toward the church. This would be a place where he could plan.

 Perhaps I will get a message from on high, he thought cynically. “God” has not given me much help in my life so far. Perhaps he will finally realize I exist if I sit in his damn living room with a tarp on my back! Gastien doubted very seriously if there was a God at all. He had been forced to go to church for eighteen years. So far this “God’ had not noticed that he had repeatedly gotten the shit knocked out of him whenever it happened to please his father to do so. How his mother kept her faith, he had no idea. God certainly did not see to it that she ended up in a safe place with a loving man to care for her.

He was sick to death about hearing that rewards in heaven were far greater than what you could receive down here. To him, that was just a fairy tale. He would gladly give up any “pretend” future rewards in a place that did not exist for a life of fun, warmth, food and painting. Oh, and throw in plenty of women to boot! If he was going to burn in hell for not believing, he hoped to have as much fun as he could before he roasted. With any luck, he would also set a world record for fornicating, as that blathering country preacher liked to call it.

However, he was not above using a church to have a warm place to sit and think. When he got there he walked up the many steps. It was now about ten o’clock, and evening services were over. Gastien bypassed the holy water without using it. He did not genuflect as he approached the cross. I will not bow down to some statue or some so called “higher being” that refuses to acknowledge that I even exist, he thought. Let other people have their “God.” His would be “the color”.

He sat down toward the back, in a darker part of the church. It was warm and peaceful. Just what he needed in order to think. He realized it probably was not as warm as he thought it was just coming in from outside, but it was better than being in the damp. With his coat on he was quite comfortable.

Let me think about my money and what I need most, he decided. He knew more than Matt had given him credit for. He understood that things were very expensive in Paris. He would have to make the choice between a room for a few weeks or two very paltry meals a day for a month with this money, unless he found work. Which was it to be? He almost thought the room was more important because he would not have to carry the tarp. But two weeks went fast. And hunger was not something he was familiar with, until today. Today he had a lot more food than he would have moving forward, at least for awhile. Maybe he should choose food.

What if he did not find work? It should be no problem, but what if it was? How was he going to get more money without turning to crime? Gastien was not inclined to steal or trick people. He knew the value of money. He had no desire to take money from people who worked hard to earn it. So, what could he do for money?

Of course! He could sketch people on the street. Those lovers window shopping, the couples in the restaurants…they would pay a small amount for a quick sketch of themselves to commemorate their night, if it was done well enough. He did not worry that he was not good enough; he knew how good he was at sketching and drawing. That would be the answer to at least getting some food. But he needed more charcoal and more paper once he ran out, which would be quite soon. Plus, if he ever wanted to be taken seriously, he needed some paint supplies. What his mother had given him were watercolors and paper. He needed at least some very basic supplies in order to start to paint in oil.

It was an endless circle of things he needed that would take money! Suddenly, he realized what he must do. He must take the money his mother had given him and buy art supplies. If he chose food, it would be gone in a month. If he chose a room, two weeks. But art supplies would last much longer. Long enough for him to develop basic oil painting skills, hopefully earning some money. He knew better than to think he would fully support himself with art at first. He would still need to find work as a server. In the meantime, if he could at least start drawing and painting, it would be a start. Then, as word of mouth spread, someone would perhaps hire him to do a portrait. It would take a long time, but he refused to be negative about it.

The decision has been made, he told himself. I will ask where a good art supply store is tomorrow. I would think there would be at least one by the art school. If so, that one should be more affordable than any located by the shopping in the 6
th
. Students don’t have as much money. But where will I keep the supplies?

Suddenly, he knew. God had not helped him out once so far in this life, but Gastien would see to it that he did this time. Gastien was going to look for a place to hide his supplies in this cathedral. If he came at night he should be safe. It was just for a short while, until he found work and then could rent a room.

It was still too early to go snooping around for a hiding spot, but it was not too early to catch some sleep. Gastien looked around cautiously. No one was around except for a couple crones doing their Hail Mary’s. What they were doing up so late he did not know. Perhaps they thought Mary was less busy late at night. That made as much sense as praying to her, or anyone else for that matter. Still, he did not want to get kicked out, so he opened a prayer book. He had taken the tarp off and was resting against it to one side, looking like he was deep in prayer. Soon the room faded. He dreamed about buying paints and squeezing them onto canvas, about seeing the bright colors spill out, exploding into bright energy. He was laughing in his dream. Everything was safe, and bright, and warm.

Gastien woke at dawn because he was cold. The big, old church had dropped quite a bit in temperature. He was still thankful for the opportunity to sleep inside. He sat up, stretching his neck and arms.
Merde
, but he needed to piss! He knew the church would have some kind of enclosed area for doing that, just as the major parts of Paris now had gas lighting, coal heat, etc. He decided to search that enclosed area out and then try to find a place to hide his tarp until tonight. He really did not want to apply for jobs carrying a big tarp on his back.

He found the enclosed toilet and used it. An enclosed toilet was sure nicer than going to a privy outside. One of the many advantages of Napoleon’s rebuilding of Paris, he guessed. He noticed a mirror outside the toilet room, so he took a minute to make sure his face was clean. Already he needed a shave.

There was even running water here. What a wonderful convenience that was! He quickly looked through his tarp. He found the bar of soap and the one towel he had packed. It felt good to be able to wash his face, under arms and hands. He hoped no one walked in while he was shirtless. It would not do to be thrown in jail for being indecent in a church. He would have liked to clean all over, but knew he could not take the chance of being caught. He then used water to slick down his hair. Next he got out his crude toothbrush. It was really just a wooden pick that he used between his teeth. Then he cupped water in his hands, rinsing it around in his mouth. He wished he had some cloves or other herbs for his breath.

All in all he did not look too bad. Although It would be nice to put on his fresh shirt and trousers, he did not want to have two half dirty sets of clothes. This set was not bad. He had been careful to try to stay as clean as he could. It was going to be a big ordeal figuring out where to wash his clothes. He guessed he would have to use the river Seine and then either lay them on a rock or over tree branches. Once it got even colder out that would be an unpleasant task indeed. He may have to go quite awhile without clean clothes, once temperatures dipped to a little below freezing. That would be a few months yet, though. Hopefully by that time he would have a place to stay and a place to wash out his clothes inside, even if it was shared by several roomers.

Gastien went to explore the church. There were dozens of alcoves and halls, and many steps. It would be easy to get lost. It would be even easier to forget where he put his tarp and, later, his art supplies! It made the most sense to start with the rooms off of the main congregation area.

Gastien thought for a minute. He did not want to pick a room too close to any door. Someone might find his things and steal them. He knew that it was unlikely people would be digging around looking for things like what he owned, but one never knew. He walked down a main hall, noticing different stations along the way. Beautiful statuary and ornate decorations surrounded each of them. Some had little chapel areas where you could sit and pray or think.

He came upon St. Catherine of Bologna and read that she was the Patron Saint of Artists. This is the spot, Gastien thought. If any of this fairy tale stuff is real, then the Patron Saint of Artists should certainly be able to protect my belongings. He looked around the little area. There were benches there to sit on. There was not really any hiding place that he could see. But as he sat down, his foot hit against the bench. It made a hollow sound! Jumping up, Gastien tried the bench. Could it be possible that the top of the bench opened? With a creek, he started to lift the lid. He stopped, looked around and waited. Nobody came. Slowly, slowly, he opened it up enough to see inside. The bench had not been opened in quite some time. It was full of cobwebs. That was good news. It meant that it would be unlikely that anyone would be looking in there and finding his tarp! He noted that it was dry and did not have a musty smell, but rather a smell of cedar. His art materials would not get damp or infested with any bugs.

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