The plan was to write this report this morning. But then I had to attend a lot of seminars and do interviews at the OuiShareFest. It's a good thing I'm not employed as a professional journalist. Imagine being hired for hanging out with weedsmoking nudists in the night, and then getting up the next morning to work more than a full day - what worker's union would allow that? "Ok, let's give her a Hunter S Thompson-contract."
So here is a summary of yesterday evening. (Based on notes I wrote on my phone before going to bed (professional, huh?). A sociologist friend experienced with field work once gave me the advice to use note cards for these occations. But without clothes you have no pockets for them.)
At 7.45 pm I'm standing at Metro station Avron where my host will meet me. He arrives a few minutes late, because of a broken bike. Without pictures on his profile I had made my own idea of what he would look like. Which was of course totally wrong. We start walking towards the apartment, and I try to get a sense of who this is. He seems friendly, even though a bit nervous. At least not like someone who would be dangerous. So I decide to go through with it. (And I send the address to a friend and some messages during the evening/morning to let her know I'm fine. Just in case.)
After buying some breakfast for me and a bottle of wine for the evening in some small organic wine shop we arrive at the apartment.
- So should I take my clothes off now, right away?
Ok. I get undressed in the hallway and he in his bedroom. There we are.
- Do you want something to drink?
- Sure. Thanks!
I have to say that the whole nudity thing wasn't half as uncomfortable as I'd have expected. After a while it was like, "yeah, we don't have any clothes, so what?". Even though I'd recommend trying this on a day when it's not 13 degrees and raining. Our ancestors invented clothes for a reason.
So there we are, naked, in a small sofa, having a glass of wine and some roquefort cheese paté (interesting invention). Talking about Couchsurfing, organic wines and Laos, where we've both been. Nicolas kindly offers me lots of things I've never tried. Like truffle wine. And after the starter a lentil stew with coconut milk, curry and Jerusalem artichokes, which is delicious.
- Do you cook a lot of vegetarian food?
- It's not vegetarian, there's chicken in it. Most vegetarian food is better with some chicken.
- Well... then I guess it doesn't count as vegetarian any more.
- Oh... right...
And then some French sheep cheese. Like the French politician Brillat-Savarin put it "a meal without cheese is like a woman with one eye" (one of my dad's favourite quotes).
Nicolas tells me he grows veggies on the balcony. Permaculture. One of the concepts that I'd never heard of before diving into the sharing economy and that now appears here and there. I should make a Venn diagram of the interests of people in this world, including permaculture, zen meditation and fungi.
- I used to have a tomato plant, but now I grow onion since three years.
- Oh, what kind?
- A Canadian white onion. I got the seeds from a Couchsurfer. Look at these...
- Cool. Is it good?
- I don't know. There's only one onion.
- Huh? But you'd grown onions for three years?
- One onion. Three years. I don't want to eat it now. It's old.
So much for urban gardening being the future of food supply.
Before I have too much wine, I decide to ask Nicolas if it would be ok to make a short interview with him. "No, no, I don't want that." What, being naked with strangers is ok, but an interview makes you uncomfortable?
But it turns out the reason is he doesn't want to "advertise" about Couchsurfing. If the word spreads and more people join, it won't be the same thing. It will kill the Couchsurfing spirit, he thinks. What can I do? No interview then. Even though, I'm not sure exactly this interview would cause a huge influx of mainstream people to the forum.
After dinner Nicolas engages in one of his listed interests. Smoking weed. And telling me more about his Couchsurfing experiences. It seems the Couchsurfing spirit might already not be the same it used to be. Most of the things he tells me is about disappointments. Why he doesn't give out his telephone number any more - "they called at five in the morning, drunk". Why he doesn't give out his address any more - "the slept outside the door". Why he doesn't have photos on his profile - "I'd get too many requests". But now he has created a filter to select only the right people. Like me, I guess.
- I drink. I smoke. I'm naked.
True. Not for everyone.
It still makes me wonder. Why do this? If the people you meet disappoint you? I can only recall him telling me about one good experience. His first Couchsurfers.
- It was during the Bush era. They were great. American. She'd been a gogo dancer. But they were so cool "yes, we're American, but we can't help it, we didn't ask to be born there".
The French and their anti-Americanism...
The apartment is tiny. And, to be honest, needs cleaning. How much I realize fully first in the morning light. We're sitting in the living room, also tiny, and quickly getting filled with smoke since the door to the rest of the apartment is closed. On the other hand, when it's open the room is too cold. The dilemmas of being a smoking nudist.
Nicolas also tells me about the ongoing riots in Paris. What started as protests against the new French labour laws has now degenerated into trouble makers fighting with the police, not far from where he lives. "They're not real Parisians. They're not even French sometimes."
Being a real Parisian himself he's also proud to tell me what it's about. The gist seems to be not to smile. (Even though Nicolas, to be fair, is an awful lot more nice and friendly towards us tourists than the real Parisians he tells me about.)
At midnight I'm exhausted. But since I'm sleeping in the living room I don't really have a choice but to wait until Nicolas is done with smoking and telling me about how nice people are in Laos.
At two I've managed to convince him I'm fine sleeping on the sofa, which is about 30 cm shorter than I am (and so narrow I fall out of bed in the morning), in my sleeping bag, instead of his bed. And promised to wake him up before I leave to say good bye. Or at least make enough noise in the shower.
- When people sleep in my bed, I wake up when they get up. But I won't if you're here, so you have to wake me up.
After five hours of sleep in the smoky room I get up to take my shower. Nicolas is already up, making coffee.
- It's with spices. The bedouins in Sahara taught me how to do it. If you have time later today and want to go to the Père Lachaise cemetary, let me know.
After all, I have every reason to be thankful to this man, offering me dinner, a couch, sightseeing and making breakfast in the morning. And after reading his Couchsurfing profile thoroughly nothing came as a surprise. (My best advice: take the time to do that!) Even though, after this I'm less convinced about the benefits of permaculture, Parisians, nudism or smoking in very small rooms than before.
After breakfast it's time for me to leave. And to put my clothes on.
- If you feel like it, leave me a reference, are Nicolas last words as we say good bye, peeking out from around a corner as I open the door to the stairs.
I guess this is it.