Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nostalgia is a drug, part 2

Continued right away to give Geo a little something to read while she heals...

We ask the desk clerk (the twin who wears the dark glasses) for a Do Not Disturb sign. At least I think that's what I ask him. Behind his sunglasses, he gives no sign of even hearing me. I describe to him, in my parody of French, our adventure of the morning. We don't want another adventure, I believe I tell him.

He nods quietly, his sunglasses reflecting the light from the street.

We don't ride the metro in Paris. This surprises me a bit; I romanticize the metro - symbol of childhood freedom - it represents a big piece of my Paris memories. And I know how to find my way around from metro stops. Maybe that's one reason. I don't want to rely on ancient habits to find my childhood. I want a new route there.

And neither of us is interested in going underground and getting on another vehicle. We both want to walk. We've been cooped up too long; we want to wander and lose ourselves.

Paris is the place to lose yourself. People leave you alone. I appreciate this. When I was here as a kid, my family tried to teach me how to wear a "metro face." A metro face is stone cold, man. It tells strangers that you are not a soft touch, you are not interested in a date or a cheap watch. My sister had a great metro face, like a door coming down, shutting off her beautiful features behind bulletproof glass like the Mona Lisa. She looked like she was born here.

I looked like a goofy small-town kid from Utah. I'd give my gap-toothed grin to anyone, look people in the eye, chat with someone who tried to engage me. But here's the thing. Parisians don't engage.

I still have no metro face. I can shut it down some, if I'm paying close attention, but it takes a lot of concentration, and I can't keep it up for long. This gets me in trouble all over the world. Most often, it just means I get into some interesting conversations with colorful people. But it can be tiring, after a while. By the time we got to Paris, I was exhausted.

And I got to rest. In Paris, I can look people in the eye, I can smile at them, and they don't see it as an invitation. Parisians don't engage. This means a genuine rest for me. I can let my face do what it wants, and nobody expects anything from me.

I could have used a metro face in Provo much more than I need one in Paris.

As we walk, my bones loosen in their joints. I walk easily beside Mr. Billy, opening up, not caring where we go or how long it takes to get there. We follow side streets because they're small and curving and I see the wide doors I remember from this quarter. Behind these doors are broad courtyards and stairs leading to apartments or boarding-house rooms.

"Hey," says Mr. Billy, "I think the Luxembourg Gardens are right down there."

He points down a street. I can feel the past barreling in toward my chest; the pension was at one corner of Luxembourg.

We walk down the street, and my eyes are eating everything in our path.

"That's the metro stop," I say, pointing. I remember this. Climbing up and out of the metro onto a garden island in the street. I slow down. Many of the wide doors I remember have been replaced by slick storefronts. Children's clothing. High-end chocolate. None of this was here before, and I start to doubt myself. Maybe this isn't it. It's been thirty years. How would I know?

A paper store, called Marie Papier. This makes me smile, just a fraction. My mom's name was Marie, and she was a poet. A little joke, just for me.

Across the street is a patisserie. It's more than thirty years old, and it hasn't changed, it hasn't changed at all. I'm nine years old and pressing my forehead against the glass, counting my centimes for a mille feuilles or a chocolate eclair, dancing my eyes over cakes and trills of chocolate and fresh raspberries.

This is the pension where I attended school

We're here. There, to the left, is the pension itself. It's a nondescript building, but for me it breathes and speaks stories into my mind. I can see the row of windows on the second floor, where the classrooms were. I would hang over the railing during class breaks to see what was happening in the street. The back window, where the French student stayed - the only one who wasn't part of our group - I had a crush on him. I don't remember his name, but he wore a scarf around his neck and little round glasses, and he would tell me, in English, that he was "teer-ed", and I would reply that I had fatigue.

I squeeze Mr. Billy's hand, drunk on memories. It's several minutes before I can move.

More to come...in the meantime, check out Mr. Billy's take on our adventures in France

3 comments:

Geo said...

you are better than my favorite bakery full of raspberry charlottes and almond croissants and napoleons and madeleines and baguettes and all the other deliciosities that i cannot pronounce but am determined to sample tomorrow in your honor even if i must walk up the big hill to eliane's oh but aaargh i just remembered they aren't open on monday so i guess i'll just stay home with my purpled-up body and practice my metro face which i have always stunk at as well

more please i always overdo it with french sweets so very ugly american of me

Shuriu said...

Ah, Caitlin! I loooooooooooove reading this & part 1 so, so much! You know, on ne peut pas dire tellement! tellement beaucoup en francais! You always have to pair the so, so much with some damn adjective. One good thing about English ;-)

Chemical Billy said...

My dears! I've been tardy in posting, but your words sustain me...

(yes, bless English for the ambiguities it allows, the shadow-spaces that are not permitted in so many other languages.)

And French sweets should be overindulged in. That's why they were made.