22 January 2010

We'll Always Have Paris

On my last night in Paris, I went to one of my favorite little brasseries in Montmartre for a carafe of Bordeaux. I had a pack of Gauloises, a new scarf, and a heavy wistful feeling about leaving for home the next day. I had enjoyed my days and nights in Paris, despite the shadow of loneliness that grayed my hours there and left me feeling lost.

When I think back on Paris, I remember how nice it was to be missed by someone; how good it felt to know that someone was at home in America thinking about me. Having someone to come home to is a wonderful thing, maybe the best of things. 

7 years later, I still don't come home to anyone.

I ordered my carafe and the waitress brought me potato chips in a small bowl. This was customary: a little snack to go with your wine. The wine was cheap, sweet, and robust. As I remember it, it was the best I had ever had. It was the wine of being in Paris. It was the wine of beginning to see possibilities. It was the wine that I'd look back to during the darkest days of 2009 to remember that joy still existed, if only in the past. Proust once said that the only possible paradises are those that are lost and perhaps he was right, but even if that's the case, we need only look back to better days to feel the warmth of the sun again.

I sat there smoking my cigarettes-a habit I abandoned when I returned to America-and drinking my wine and talking to a young British woman named Adele who was seated next to me. We talked about how we were doing what others only talked about: we were in Paris with no direction and no job and nothing but wine and beer and the camaraderie formed by strangers in strange lands. It cemented the dreamy feeling of being there into something more concrete, something more palpable, something more authentic. Shared wine and cigarettes will do that: this is why I always smoke when I am in a new place. It's the fastest way to meet people.

Some Brits-two hippy types named Aaron and Beth-who had been playing music inside came out and joined in our conversation. The four of us sat talking, smoking, drinking. Beth had wanted to be a bus driver when she grew up. Aaron was from Kent: where my English ancestors are from. We promised each other that we'd do as we said we would: that I would write, that Adele would stay in Paris, that Aaron and Beth would go wherever the winds took them, but most importantly, that we would remember the moment and honor it.

A scraggly fellow came up to me as my companions were engaged in conversation and asked me for a smoke. I gave him one. He leaned in and asked me in French if I smoked hashish. I hadn't smoked hash in a number of years--so many that I'm disinclined to say--but it seemed like a brilliant idea and absolutely suitable for that particular moment, so I gave him 10 Euros and he handed me a little piece of paper with a chunk of black hash in it.

I told my companions that I had just copped and we decided to go to Pigalle station to smoke it. The gendarme had better things to do than bother stoned people, so despite the police (and army and Legion E'trangere) presence, we were ignored. We continued talking and laughing until it was time to go home. Adele caught a train back to her part of the city. My hippy companions walked me back to my hostel and I gave them what was left of my codeine tablets (legal to buy over the counter in France) that had kept me walking while my feet bled and my nails fell off in the tombs.

When I got back into the Hostel, I stayed up with some Dutch and Americans drinking Kronenbourg and eating some really awful madeleines that I had bought at the grocery earlier in the day along with some fantastic chocolate. We stayed up talking. I told them about my interest in Crosby and the Lost Generation, they told me about their travels through Europe. At 5am, I finally went climbed the winding stairs back to my room and fell asleep, my heart lost in Montmartre, my flight booked back to the states, going home to a place that would soon no longer seem much like home at all.