I leave London late in the day on Friday to meet eee and PG in Paris.
I have no romantic delusions about Paris. it is sexy and pretty and a little dangerous. The experience of Paris is like the first time kissing a girl, or a married man. But like an illicit kiss, the thrill wears off and one is left with a rather disorienting and ordinary reality of wives and crowds and filth and thieving gypsies. And what seemed so very romantic at the start is just the same as anything, anywhere. Paris will break your heart.
So I leave LHR. And I arrive and and leave CDG after a spate of conference calls, and I meet a waiting and tired eee and PG at our hotel.
The next morning, we walk. From the hotel, which is just off the Champs Elysees, to the tower; along the river to the museums. We see the Impressionists and beyond. We walk from the Musee d’Orsay, where PG mistakes butter for cheese in the cafe and startles himself over a creamy biteful.
We walk and talk; talk and walk. We love travel and adventure and travel, but it is mostly eee who loves Paris, which is Enough. We walk down the banks of the Seine, and the water is high. I assume it is high tide; I assume it is a tidal river.
It isn’t the Thames, PG says.
It isn’t the Hudson, I retort, A mighty, working river!
What did the Hudson build?! he snorts.
The Hudson built New York! It built Canada! Why, it built North America! What did the Thames ever build?
LONDON! he bellows
Like, a million years ago! I mutter, It also gave everyone the plague! I say under my breath.
But each time I say “Hudson,” I feel a dull pain in my chest; I cannot explain why it is happening and do not know when it began.
We walk to Notre Dame; gypsies promptly nick my phone. I grumble and sigh, then call the phone company from my half-functional American blackberry. I write the case number that the company gives me on the back of hotel bill. I scrawl it in lipstick because — for the first time I can ever remember — I am without a pen.
Paris does that to people.
That night, we dine at a mediocre Italian restaurant on Avenue George V and I take conference calls while seated, full-lotus, on the carpeted floor of the private dining room. It is ten-to-midnight, and I am two bottles of sancerre deep into the evening. The dining room is surrounded by bookshelves packed with nothing tomes; books on topics about which nobody cares. I flip through <<Les Chiens>> while I have a very important conversation.
My brain is fried. I am fried. I am fried eggs-on-toast. Croque Madame.
The next day, PG departs for London then Chicago so eee and I wander the city alone. We walk the winter sunlit paths in Pere Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried. Strains of “LA Woman” echo in my head. The cognitive dissonance is…astonishing.
That night, we dine with Stefan and Marine at a place that looks like it is plucked right out of Soho. The food and company are both absolutely perfect, and we finish the meal with a decadent, caramelly desert.
The meal ends, and we kiss goodbye; head back out into the cold, clear Parisian night and off to our respective destinations.
As eee and I walk back to the hotel, I am struck by a very important thing. I have been stuck on this idea that no one will remember me in Paris on my 25th birthday when I am 60. But Stefan and Marine were there that weekend; they were at that dinner before we departed for New York. As it turns out, there are others in the world who can recall that those moments happened; who can remember that place and time, even if the meaning was perhaps not the same.
It strikes me then — and it strikes me hard — that I have been fussing for years about not having something that I have had all along.
We walk, and I look at eee. I know she is freezing, but I say: Do you mind if we walk just a while longer, I want to take a picture of the arch?
I love the Arc de Triomphe. It is silly — maybe stupid. But I love the arch in Washington Square Park, too.
eee is game, and we walk to the end of the Champs Elysees.
There we stand for a moment, admiring in the cold, starry night as the traffic whizzes by.
Then we turn around and head back for the hotel; back for the warmth of our room; back to our suitcases and packing and the rest of our lives.
Paris, I suppose, is filled with romance and danger — it is a place where things may go to disappear, but it is also filled with unexpected chances to recover what we thought we’d lost.