Dusty photo of Eiffel Tower, 2003
I don't remember anything else about that day.
Deranged by the time change, we probably overslept and then couldn't get a bite of breakfast in any of the old restaurants of the Pigalle. The sturdy husband-and-wife owners would have looked at us sharply and pointed to cold ham and buttered baguette sandwiches, unglamorously piled in plastic wrap on the counter.
If the husband pitied us, he would switch on his great, steaming beast of an espresso machine and bring us an au lait. A few men nursing tiny glasses of late morning wine at the counter would look at us curiously.
The chef was gone...it was not time to eat in Paris. Anyone would know that.
Using flash, film camera, 2003
This day, we probably took the wrong Metro stop again and ended up below the statue of Louis XV instead of above it. We would have hitched our bags up, rounded our shoulders against the climb, and walked in silence, me using the snowy domes and peaks of the Sacre Coeur to navigate.
Perhaps this was also the day I asked the hotel concierge, in perfect French for the first and last time in my life, where was the Opera Garnier, earning me the briefest warmth of an approving smile.
But perhaps this was also the day that I unfolded a shelf of clothes in a boutique and made the clerk grimace; the day a fat waiter told me I would be much more beautiful without my ugly wool hat.
From the window of my hotel, 2003
It was not a good trip in the way you would imagine it would be; two young women in Paris for their first time.
I had picked the wrong traveling companion and things had begun to unravel immediately. She spoke French but refused to. Refused, in fact, to use a map, learn the name of the street our hotel was on, pick a restaurant, ask for water.
She sulked when, on our third visit to Fuxia for hand rolled pasta with goat cheese and pine nuts, it was me, not her, that the waiter kissed on both cheeks after an animated Frenglish discussion about eggplant vs. aubergine (he was, I think, surprised to find Americans had the capacity for such whimsy regarding the vegetable kingdom).
It could have been any one of these grim and beautiful November days in Paris that we left the Metro deep below street level and had to exit through one of those endless, white subway-tiled corridors. We were alone in the corridor, this being a work day in a working neighborhood. The fluorescent tube lights flickered blue against the white tile, reminding me of an igloo entrance.
Red bag, Eiffel Tower
My red bag was slung cross my body as usual, zipped and resting under my left arm. Somehow I felt the weight of one fingertip more added to my burden. I whirled and caught in my hand the skinny wrist of a very young, very beautiful boy who had the corner of my wallet in his hand.
"Bon!" he congratulated. "Very good, very good!" he praised me in English.
He dropped my wallet, bowed, and then this very young boy who had just been ready to rob me blind, turned my hand over, kissed it tenderly, and ran off. At the end of the tunnel his friend peeked out, laughing.
"Very good!" he yelled one last time, turning to wave. And then he disappeared.
It was not an act of aggression or violence. There was no malevolence. My little thief had, in fact, been the most French; the most charming and proper person I had met in Paris.
I no longer have that friend but I do have that bag, and there is still so much I don't understand about Paris.
Pardon me while I grapple with the fact that BLOGGER HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING OVERNIGHT... I was thinking about the idea of "once-ness" when I wrote this down. You know, those experiences that are so singular and so memorable. They can't be planned or replicated. I wrote about another "once" moment here.