Joyeux Noel in the beautiful city of Paris, where I enjoyed a 6-day sojourn on my own. It was the general advice given to me that I could see Paris in 3 days. C’est impossible! I spent an entire afternoon at the Galleries Lafayette and the surrounding areas, exploring tiny shops, boutiques and cafes in cobblestone streets. I partook 8 glorious hours at the Musee du Louvre and Musee d’Orsay and still, I yearned for more. The Musee Picasso. Musee National d’Art Moderne. Espace Montmartre Salvador Dali. These museums alone would have taken me 3 days- and more. And so I was humbled. Moved. And the butterfly that was my heart fluttered when I beheld the most magnificent collection of art in the world.
I started Christmas Day with a tour, which promised “historical sights of Paris.” I should’ve known better- after all, I used to be a lawyer. “Sights” was really just it, so when it ended at the Eiffel Tower, I was determined after that to go see those “sights” again on my own, on foot! Not knowing which way to go after the Eiffel Tower, I made the decision to randomly follow a couple pushing a baby in a stroller. Bad choice. Ended up walking for miles, lost in a ghetto-like neighborhood, where Algerians with slick- backed hair yowled and wolf-whistled at me, and African boys stood on street corners smoking cigarettes, watching me behind their shaded eyes. I found a random Metro station, chose a direction and rode through the end of the line where I found myself at the Arc de Triomphe! So- guessing does have its advantage! I walked the length of the Champs-Élysées, spent hours at the Christmas Market, watched the traffic at the Place de La Concorde and continued walking until my feet hurt, my hands froze and I cursed myself for undermining the weather (it was 6 degrees, and I only had on a thin shirt and a tank top underneath- with only a denim jacket to protect me from the wind and cold). The Louvre was a welcome sight, and I shivered in the Carousel de Louvre, watched the pyramid again and continued walking. 4 hours must have passed from the time I left the Eiffel Tower, until I saw the welcoming sight of the Pyramides Metro station- and the way home. And where was my map, you ask? In my bag, crumpled and crushed, because I had gotten so lost that it had become irrelevant (it never showed the names of the little streets I wandered through!) But what a cool adventure anyway. And so I sank into bed that night, blisters on my feet, my cheeks cold and flushed from the outside and the happiness in my heart accompanying my loud snores of satisfaction.
On Boxing Day, a dramatic turn of events took place at the Basilisque du Sacré Cœur (Church of the Sacred Heart) in the quaint village of Montmartre, where I got “stuck” in the narrow spiral stairway of the way up to the dome tower of the church, where one is reputed to have the most beautiful view of all of Paris from that height. I never got to see the view, having suffered from a claustrophobic attack in the stairway (which I never knew I had!) and forced myself to climb up a landing and sit there alone for the next hour. I thought of wide open spaces, of mind over matter, but when I tried to take the few steps down the tower (to try to gain exit through the entrance) I froze and felt the walls closing in on me. And there I sat in the cold stairway as people passed me. Only one girl stopped to ask if she could help. My tears became ice on the cold floor and my fingers were so numb I could no longer feel them. Then came the American in Paris, as I now call him as I never knew his name. He who was going up the tower but came back down to sit with me upon hearing my occasional cries of “Fuck it, you can make it down!” and mumblings of “wide open spaces”. He who took my frozen hands and warmed them in his own and guided me down the 100-odd steps descending. He who was handsome and patient with quiet grey eyes, who left me only to converse with the French ticket attendant to be ready for me. He who spoke to me gently, encouragingly, in honeyed sonorous tones, who brushed away the tears from my eyes and caught me when I took the last 2 steps and collapsed in relief, crying in his warm, strong arms. If I hadn’t been so traumatised I might have laughed about the Hollywood quality of the incident. As it happened, I couldn’t laugh and he took me out into the cold sunshine, bought me a cup of hot spiced wine and walked with me for a while. And when I was feeling better, he gave me a kiss on the cheek, smiled, told me to take care and disappeared into the growing crowd of people. I never knew his name.
In the evening, I met D who arrived from his Christmas celebration with his family in Orleans. D and I have been friends for a while- but i think Paris changed us this night. He picked me up from my hotel, and we wandered the streets, ending up on a Metro and in the artsy neighourhood of St. Germain des Près, where he bought me dinner in a quaint little French restaurant and where we had a bottle of rose. We walked along the Seine, his hands warming my cold ones. We stopped at the Notre Dame which I didn’t get to stop to see on my tour, and he rested his head on my shoulder as I took pictures. We walked miles, laughing and talking, playing silly games, as I practiced my rusty high-school French with him, exploring beautiful Paris by night, running across empty squares, climbing onto a merry-go-round, got lost along the different Metro lines. We ran like jaywalkers on busy streets, spied into people’s apartment windows, shared an ice cream in the cold. It was my last night in Paris, and he wanted to make it a night to remember. And when he left me at my doorstep at 3 am and kissed me gently on both cheeks, I wondered if I would ever see him again.
As fate would have it, and by the strangest stroke of luck, my flight back home was postponed by a day, and so i was given one more day in Paris- and with him, who rejoiced and came to see me as soon as we both awoke from our slumber. My favorite artist in the world is Salvador Dali- no, not Raphael who painted the glorious Resurrection of Christ, or Da Vinci with his Monna Lisa, nor Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night or Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus- it was Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory that captured my heart and plunged it into a state as permanent as his signature melted watch. At some point of time, I may have mentioned this to D, several months ago, and he now took it upon himself to make sure that I would witness the world’s rarest, permanent collection of Dali’s lesser-known works and his sculptures formed using the lost wax process. I could’ve kissed him, I was overjoyed to see the words “Espace Montmartre Salvador Dali” loom before me- after an agonizing uphill walk and several tens of steep staircases up Montmartre hill. Worth all that sweat and exhaustion. And so, the magic continued my last night in Paris- From Dali to an evening stroll in the quaint artistic village of Montmartre, watching artists paint and sell their wares, my frozen hands again lovingly warmed by his in his pockets, our breath forming smoke rings in the night air. Rush hour in the Metro and he held me close to him, the scent of his cologne a faint whiff in my nose, my hair a tangled, blown-by-wind mess in his face and still we stood like creatures of the night. We downed pints of Guinness at the Tavern of St George, met his friend J, and exchanged hot kisses under a street lamp, the cold night air stinging our noses. We walked arm in arm, my body sheltered from the wind in his strong arms, his cold cheek pressed against my face. And we lay together in the night until the morn arrived and I left Paris- and part of my heart, with him.