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


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.