I forced myself to fight for a spot on the ligne 13 this morning. A little girl squeezed my knees and gave me a genuine smile. Her honesty relaxed me. I can feel a lady with a wrinkled forehead breathe behind me. She accidentally hits me with a plastic bag. I go to a cafe. Le Fountain Sully in the Marais. I imagine I am here in 1920, or 1942. I like the way the tiny espresso cup fits perfectly around my pointer finger. I smell curry, Turkish food and chocolate. I am trying to write so I put my earphones in an attempt silence once sense with another. It doesn’t work; Hemingway and Fitzgerald are dead I think.
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I return home. Finding an apartment for foreigners can be a nightmare so I opted to live with a single French woman and her 16-year-old son through an organization for students in Paris called Homestay. Tonight Sylvaine is eating her salad and sautéed spinach for dinner and stares blankly at her son’s enormous plate of pasta and cheese. I have a flashback to a moment when I was thirteen I read the book French Women Don’t Get Fat, on the floor of Barnes and Noble. Her son goes back to his laptop. She stares at the empty plate of pasta with hungry eyes and then cleans up the mess.
For dessert she made caramel flan. The look of it jiggling made me not want to eat it but I do out of politeness. She watches how wide I make my slice. I take small bites and when I return my fork to the plate I try to do it without a clink. From now on I make a bigger effort to eat out of the house.
I find a restaurant called Café de Vins on a small side street somewhat hidden from the Notre Dame. Tres mignon. Looks cheap, but good and still French-ish. The server looked Russian and was wearing fake Birkenstock sandals with mismatching baby blue socks on a day in November when you can see your breath outside. There is a Styrofoam cloud in the middle of the glass ceiling. I hear the American man sitting next me say, ”I can’t believe this morning I had the smallest cup of coffee I have ever had.” I take a picture of the cloud and then myself looking at it. My eyes looked vacant that day. I like so many American girls came here searching for something, someone, some city to fall in love with. Paris is a beautiful place to be in love, but it extenuates your loneliness when you are not.
When alone in Paris there is always the Cinema or a Café. I go to the Palace café in Monmarte and order a vin chaud. After one I get a second. I am not sure what compelled me to order another, but there was surprise in her voice when she replied, “bien sur.” She cannot tell who I am or what I am doing here and neither can I. A couple gets up from a table nearby. The man turns around to put his arm in his jacket and accidently smacks the cinnamon off my table. It snaps me out of my notebook. I was just thinking how easy it is to hide beneath a jacket in the winter unless you have someone to see what is under. “Did I do that?” the man said. His wife carefully places the cinnamon back on my table and says, “sorry!” I respond “c’est d’accord, c’est d’accord.” I wonder why I did not respond in English. I guess I was not used to being seen. I hope Sylvaine is asleep when I get home.
I left after two drinks and ate a big orange I had in my bag on the way back to the train. My hands were so sticky I had to keep them cupped upwards for about 10 blocks. I must of looked weird but I secretly hoped somebody noticed me. The Bulgarian woman I babysit for told me it took 10 years for her to make real friends in Paris and that in the past two years it has gotten harder. I suddenly see how the falling economy doesn’t only mean less money; it means more fear and less kindness. Less travelers and lost connections. Something profound begins to happen when we start to lose. Gertrude Stein said, “It is not what you gave to France that really matter, it is what it did not take from you that matters.” The train approaches and there are 7 people waiting and only two maybe three spots. I get the sudden urge to fight for something other than for my spot on the train.
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