The last night in empty Cannes, I slept for 9 hours, trying to sweat out the virus. Waking up the next morning, I wasn’t sure if I was done with it or not. My roommate and I went out for a bite and then came back for one last glass of wine on the veranda.
I saw Portland walk by. The night before, everyone who was left behind gathered for one last cocktail party- and we all were civilized and happy. Laughing at each other’s jokes. Taking endless pictures. He offered me his chair. I left early because I felt like I was going to pass out if I didn’t disappear in darkness.
So when I saw him walk by the next morning, he looked up at me on the veranda and I waved hello. His face froze, his eyes widened and pathologically rolled forward. I said, “God, bitter much?”
I took the bus to the train station and waited on the platform between a couple French kissing and a woman with a cell phone pressed to her head and tears pouring down her face. Everyone was so unapologetic, no embarrassment and no resistance . The train screamed forward, forcing everyone to silence, and we boarded for Paris.
Sitting there with my ipod and an empty notebook, my pages were eager for blog notes from the last few nights, but all I could do was stare out the window, at the rolling hills and the livestock. Everything was so God damn beautiful. The cliff cutting into the sea. The untouched pastures. The single house on fresh land.
Gade, the first man to approach me in Cannes, out of the blue, started texting me like crazy. “Where are you?” “Paris? Wait for me. I will be there.” “Please wait.”
Five months ago, in February, I remember telling everyone that I had to go to Paris. “I have to go. I don’t know how, but I know I have to go.” Paris wanted me, and pried open an unexpected door of opportunity so I could glide through.
A few hours later, Paris skipped towards us with all her promises and mystique, everyone sat up in their seats to stare out at the tall buildings, the industry blowing up in smog and graffiti.
I dragged my closet of a suitcase out of the train and headed towards the metro. My sister gave me notes and maps on how to navigate Paris. My father was so upset when he found out I bought my ticket in and out of Paris, that he refused to talk to me for three days. It must be hard to be my parent, though they don’t read this blog or hear the details of my adventures- they know.
My suitcase got stuck in the metro doors. Two strangers helped me push it through. I paid to use the potty and I was released to the city.
After dropping off my bag at the hostile and checking my balance ($70 American dollars left)- I threw on my Europa hat and walked to the Seine, since I knew it would guide me from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower on foot. I wanted to conserve my metro tickets.
Every other intersection had a metro map, and I kept a small tourist map on me.
I stopped at Notre Dame and examined the walls. Around the west façade, the three doorways had hundreds of small saints and figures sculpted around the archway. Each one known by distinction to their artist. The workmanship is breathtaking.
Outside, a smiling little girl, with her brown hair blowing in the wind, held her hands out as birds happily stood in her palms and snatched up each seed.
On the stairway, down into the water of the Seine, was an old man, topless and bald, so skinny his loose skin hung over his ribcage. He held a cigarette to his mouth, staring down the water for oncoming boats.
There was the smell of fish, not like Seattle where it overcomes you and smells of blood and still water. This fish was so perfectly salty and clean, I could almost taste it. My stomach growled. I wasn’t yet hungry enough to spend money on food.
People bustled. Tourists stopped me for directions. Obliged, I pulled out my map and helped them orient themselves as best I could.
I walked, and saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Crossing the traffic, I cut over the streets, sometimes losing the tower behind tall buildings and warm restaurants gently blowing cigarette smoke and pastry at me.
A man in a business suit stopped me, and said something in French. I said, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” He said, “Yes . . . uh . . . what happened to you?”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
He said, “You are looking up like uh . . . I don’t know . . .”
I pointed to the sky and said, “I am chasing the Eiffel tower, but the buildings get in the way.”
He said, “Ah, you are very close.”
We chatted for a bit, and he said, “So you are American and in love with France?”
I said, “Oui.”
He said, “I have a flat you can move into. No problem. Its empty. You can live there.”
I laughed and said, “I have dogs. Could I bring them?”
He got serious, “No, no, no. No pets.”
I threw my hands up in the air and said, “Oh well.”
Cutting through the buildings and blocks, I stopped outside a cafe where a beautiful spaniel laid out, obediently waiting for its owner without a leash.
She’s wasn’t grey or black, like in all of the photos. She was the color of caramel, like the inside of a music box. I gazed upward and thought about climbing her, but the line was a three hour wait. So I got an ice cream cone instead. Tourists were everywhere, they got on my nerves because they were slow moving and left their trash everywhere.
With my cone, I slowly headed back towards the hostel. I wanted to make sure that I was in after dark- my parents and Abe had already planted a million horrific scenarios in my head about what could happen to a lonely girl who looked younger than she actually was.
A beautiful French boy, around my age, walked up to me. I tightened my bag.
He said, “Bon Jour, Madame.”
I smiled and said, “Bon Jour.” If he was a crook, he was a cute crook.
He was taller than me, his lips full and the sun warmed his skin to brown sugar. He told me I was beautiful, and I said, “Merci.” I stepped back.
He said, “What’s the matter, why you so strange with me?”
I said, “I don’t know you, are you trying to rob me right now?”
He said, “No, of course not! Why you think such a thing?”
I said, “My parents put all these bad thoughts in my head. I guess it made me paranoid.”
He said, “Ahhh. Well, I think that is good for you. No, I see how beautiful you are and I think, I have to kiss that girl.”
I said, “Which girl? Me?”
He said, “Yes. You are very funny.”
I said, “Thanks.”
He grabbed my hips and pulled me in for a kiss. I slipped out of his hands, and said, “Oh, no no no. Um, I don’t kiss strangers.” (Kind of true)
He put his hands out, “Why? You’re beautiful. Do you like me?”
I said, “You seem nice.” He grabbed the hat off my head and put it on. He stood in front of me with his hand pressed on his chest. Good Lord, I couldn’t have sex again? Could I?
He said, “Then, why not?”
I said, “In America, we have to get to know someone first. You know? Friends?”
He repeated, “Friends” like it was stuck to his teeth.
I kept walking, handsome stranger in tow, and got a call from Aldrich. I was surprised. Part of why all my affairs worked so well in Cannes was the understanding that we would probably never see each other again.
The British boy who held me at the dance waited outside my office for 20 minutes before his taxi came to whisk him away to the airport. This a devastating discovery after I wasted two hours in a Southern drama with Matthew McConaughey.
Mr. Darcy added me to Facebook. Really, what more could you ask? The allure, in part, was we were tossed from all ends of the Earth to live, drink and love in one small city for two weeks. No consequences. We live on as each other’s fantasies.
I picked up the phone and spoke to Aldrich, he was cheerful. After a few minutes, my French Stranger took my hat off, put it back on my head, bowed and walked off.
Aldrich said, “Someone there with you?”
I said, “A strange man came up to me. He is gone now.”
Aldrich paused, “All the men in Paris want to fuck you, yeah?”
I laughed, “No.”
As the sun set, I jogged over to walk between the buildings as to cut the sound and hear him better on my phone.
He said, “I am uh . . . sorry again for . . . what I said. I was very tired.”
I said, “Don’t worry. You are an artist. You are temperamental and passionate. I get it.”
He said, “You understand me. No one understands me, you understand.”
Was this kid for real?
He continued, “I am schizophrenic.”
I repeated the word, “Schizophrenic?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “I think you mean to use another word.”
He said, “I have multiple personalities.”
I said, “You mean you’re moody, right?”
He said, “Sometimes I nice, then I not so nice.”
I said, “I don’t think you mean . . . what that word means.”
He said, “I can’t control sometimes, I get mean.”
I said, “We are artists! We do that. Don’t worry about it.”
He said, “You can come here to Toulouse. You can live with me.”
I stopped to let my feet throb, as the windows from restaurants and apartments turned yellow, like the eyes of a cat widening with a first stretch and finally opening.
I said, “You don’t know me very well. I can’t live with you . . . and the dogs. I have three.”
He said, “Ok, you can bring one.”
“No”, I said. “I love them all.”
Sure, I could leave my dogs with my parents, except my parents sent an email every other day reminding them that two pit bulls were far too much for them to handle.
He said, “Maybe we can bring all. I don’t know. We talk.”
If only boys knew what it meant to offer a homeless girl sanctuary they would never dangle that proposition down so close. It makes you starve for a home. I considered it, even though I knew he would outgrow me in a matter of months, fall for a girl his age or drive me crazy with his erratic mood swings. Still a girl needs a home. I could get on my feet, learn more French, start over somewhere I felt held onto me, as hard as I held onto it.
The hostel was close. For now I settled into a lonely bunk bed inside a small room with two girls who barely spoke English. I cracked the window at the foot of my bed so I could smell my new lover, as I slipped into another dream.