Le grand groupe d’AmÃ©ricains.
That was our name as we traipsed through the maze-like streets of the Left Bank. We trampled grass on the Champ de Mars, we caused traffic jams in the narrow, winding staircases of the Eiffel Tower, we swarmed miniature cafes at midday. We were un grand derange, a great disturbance. And, through it all, France supported us.
A request for table seating twenty-six was never scoffed at. We would speak broken French to waiters as they feebly attempted to dissolve the language barrier with their equally misguided English. The Louvre became our home as we tried desperately to absorb the greatness of Winged Victory, Mona Lisa, Liberty Leading the People. And a polite to-go eatery outside became our Lady LibertÃ©, guiding us to nourishment.
Katherine and I returned to our hotel room at the Holiday Inn St. Germain des PrÃ©s feeling exhausted yet cosmopolitan. The evening news forced us to hurriedly translate in our head and run through years of hastily memorized vocabulary and irregular verbs. Every morning was a chance to play pretend. We sipped cafÃ©s au lait and ate buttery croissants.
“Tu t’est bien endormie?”
“Ah. Ouais, et toi?”
The shortest of conversations about last night’s slumber were enough to convince us, at least momentarily, that our lives truly belonged in France.
We attended Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle, a French high school in Reims, for a day in hopes of interacting with students our age. Little did we know that three, four, even five years of French and an AP credit were hardly enough to get any of us through the day. Despite the errors in conjugation and touristy mistakes, I still got a chance to play observer on a fishbowl almost entirely unlike my own. Eighties-style clothing was the norm; cigarette breaks and talking in class were allowed. Even still, there was a common thread.
“Tu connais Obama? Tu l’aime?” asked one French student who had earlier been convinced that Texas was just like old Westerns, cowboy boots and all.
I replied enthusiastically, happy to understand just a few sentences of the entire conversation. I asked him if he liked President Sarkozy; he was hardly as excited as I was at that aspect of French culture. From there on, we each talked about our families, our homes, and the lives that we saw were not so different.
On our last night, we ate couscous in the Latin Quarter, attempting to emulate the effortless cool that simply emanated from the University of Paris students. We usurped an entire restaurant, lamenting the long flight home even through appetizers and entrees. I tried only to remember the good times, the Verdun experience, the Arc de Triomphe. Yet the best was still ahead: a trip down the Seine.
My foot tapped the hardwood floors of the Bateau Mouche while we sailed calmly down the river. Two minutes.
Two minutes until the Eiffel Tower sparkled like Orion behind it.
The hands on the bridge clock moved a centimeter to 9:00. I leapt out of my seat, my chest bursting with expectation. Even when the tower’s lights dimmed, I was changed. Kate and I danced on deck to an imaginary French orchestra, twirled like beautiful ballerinas, giggled like six-year-olds in tutus.
And that night, we walked the Left Bank as Parisiennes.
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