Finding Momentum

A letter to Paris

Paris, I confess I don’t really get you. I mean, it’s amazing being here, walking your cobblestone streets, taking in the sights and sounds. Your language is beautiful, melodic, and silky, so much so that I’m embarrassed when I try to speak it — the words kind of slip out of my mouth and I lower my voice to avoid the embarrassment of mispronunciation (several people have assumed that I’ve simply grunted, and for some reason my face has flushed red).

You know, I don’t appreciate being hawked at, or grabbed by the hand, trinkets pushed into my hand. I looked up from my phone once and walked past a few of your street vendors when I felt two hands on my wrists, and in a panic I pushed them off and stuffed my phone into my pocket and felt a hot flash of anger and annoyance. Don’t touch me. I guess I thought I was going to be robbed, more of an instinct. Obviously I wasn’t, but that put me in a sour mood for a couple of minutes.

I think I understand why Parisiennes don’t claim to love Americans — it’s because Americans like me don’t even try to learn your language. I’ve imagined them all thinking in their heads as I stand with them in silence in an elevator, or wordlessly jab my finger at a croissant in a window, “Why does he not speak our language? Why can’t he even say ‘one croissant, please?’”? I’m making it up in my mind, of course, but I’m caught off guard in the moment that I have no idea how to say it, and that it never even crossed my mind to figure out how.

On the crowded subway train in from the airport a couple days ago, I reached down to pull up my luggage. We were packed in, neck to neck, breathing down each others’ necks. The African lady standing directly in front of me said something in French — something stern, I gathered — and I panicked because the words meant nothing to me, and I was, for once, the dumb one, the mute one. I mumbled (or grunted), then dropped my bag and decided against pulling it up.

Later on, I figured out what she said: “The train door opens on that side.”

It’s rained much here for the few days that we’re here — and as we walk around I’ve seen several girls that are on the verge of tears. One was looking gloomily out a subway train window. Another was walking hand-in-hand with another man, her eyes about to pour. What happened to them? Are they melancholy because of the weather? Is the chilly air drying out their contacts? What are they thinking? Did their superhandsome French boyfriends break up with them? What is exactly so romantic about this place?

We walk and roam your streets and find, to our dismay, the majority of shops and plazas shut down for the New Years’ festivities. It wasn’t so disappointing the first time, but on the third or fourth time you visit some place only to see shuttered doors, it can be a bit of a blow. My dad suggests we go someplace to eat, and we don’t do too poorly on our share of baguettes, crepes, omelettes, and waffles.

Here I feel a strong aversion to the mobs and New Years’ partygoers. All I really want to find is a small cafe in a quiet part of town and sit down with a good book or a laptop to get some coding done (I’m a nerd like that). The first was found in a rainy maze outside the Royal Palace — I had a cappuccino and sat by a long, foggy window and watched tourists pour out of the building, dodging rain. The second was a tiny shop I swear you could have found in the Mission, or somewhere in Brooklyn: young hipsters crowded around little tables, artisan, single-origin coffee being ground, the aromatic oils blooming to fill the entire cafe. Ah.

But really, Paris, you won me over tonight. It wasn’t really anything that you had done, but it was a moment I had by myself on a short jog along the canal. I crossed over your bridges and there, at the top of one, I realized something. Maybe it was the eerie quiet and calm you had — you, a city of 2 million! — and the streetlights reflecting over the water. I stood and realized that I want to come back again. Maybe there’s a reason why people affix locks to your bridges, in hopes that a part of them is tied to you so they may return. It had stopped raining; I could find no slice of the moon. A couple murmured beneath a dimmed shop window. My heart was still pounding; my breath short. Paris, I’m hoping that I’ll be back soon.