Like Every Day In Paris, It Was Raining
Like every day in Paris, it was raining. I thought I would be more artful in this diary about the nine months I’ve spent over here, but really I just have to spill it. I guess it isn’t really a diary if I’m just blathering on about my crazy spin with a guy across Europe. I’m in the cab right now and it’s cold out. Bone-chilling, as my mom liked to say. She’s right. Nothing but Armagnac or hot tea can take this chill off. And the dampness–it just creeps through you and winds up your muscles. I don’t know if my palms are sweating because I’m finally leaving here and my emotions are mixed, or if it’s because the cab driver won’t turn on the fan and the car is all steamed up inside, despite the cold and the rain. I never understood how cars steam up like that, and which blower you’re supposed to use to get rid of the fogged up windows. Apparently he doesn’t, either.
Someone is singing on the radio now, and it seems to be a well-produced song, in English. But it’s really awful. I knew every release, almost, in the States before I came here. I could name you every band that was getting radio play. I’m in college, these are the kinds of things I know. But once I came here, nothing was familiar. I’m not talking about French music, per se, but all the English-language pop music you hear in cabs, stores, restaurants, clubs, all over the radio. It’s terrible, boppy, silly music and they just eat it up here. Or maybe they don’t know there’s anything better?
I met J.B. at the Concorde Metro station. It was close to 1am and I was cutting it close. In Paris, the Metro doesn’t run all night. It took me a few days to learn that–a totally inconceivable fact for a kid who grew up on the Upper East Side of New York. I had been in Paris for a couple of months already and felt like I knew the place up and down. Especially the Metro. That unique Paris-Metro-urine smell; the sound of the tires screeching against the tracks. They use tires on some of the subway cars here–it’s like a loud sweeping noise and I still don’t understand how it works. The Tunisian pickpocket guys who wear oversized sportcoats bulging with the random stuff they swiped are particuarly good at their craft underground. The Senegalese hawkers of goods are a great resource–fun to watch, too, since there’s always a lookout for a Gendarme and when one is spotted, they have a signal and they all gather up their things and flee before they get nabbed for selling goods.
So back to J.B. I was listening to my own music and pretty oblivious to the sounds of the Metro that night when he came right up to me and asked what I was listening to. While this isn’t an uncommon pickup line, I looked up and, well, there you have it. I was taken, as they say in the Victorian era. I joined him for a drink, with the promise he would put me in a cab ride home since I was out of money and couldn’t wait till 5am when the first train of the morning started–although I would have liked to spend the night with him. Yes, that fast.
It only occurred to me a few minutes into our conversation that he asked me what I was listening to in English. I wasn’t insulted that I didn’t blend into the city, like I usually was when someone took me for an American. During that first conversation, I felt like it was only he and I speaking in a bubble in the world–like our special understanding and our special language which no one else shared. We sat down in a corner of a large, touristy cafe on Rue de Rivoli and talked mostly about music, Paris, my family, politics and a few other things. Like we knew each other for years. But not really. I drank wine, and I honestly don’t even remember what he drank. It was late. I was tired. My eyes hurt and my voice cracked. Was I going to sleep with this guy or what?
His hands were soft. Ordinarily I would be put off by a guy’s soft hands. I mean, what’s he doing, right? The first time you hold someone’s hand you get a real sense of their life, I’ve always felt. Hands are actually very intimate. They touch everything. They are the first point of contact. They are uniquely one’s own. J.B. took my hand and said he wanted to hold it while we walked. And of course, to make this whole story fit squarely into the cliche that you might expect a Parisian love story to be, we walked along the Seine. I was totally in love with this man and would have done anything for him at that moment, and in the days, weeks, and months that followed.
J.B. was never cruel, mean, or overtly mendacious. He was always respectful, warmhearted, and kind. He never gave any reason to suspect something should be interrupting our beautiful little love story. There was no excuses he gave to me for anything; I never excused him–there was no need. We shared everything. His life was so exciting to me: his friends were all artists, older, successful, Bohemian, independent, and most of all, beautiful. He was surrounded by beauty. His apartment was a crowded little penthouse atop a centuries-old buildling on Ile de la Cite and the glass ceiling had a near perfect view of the Notre Dame rose window. Even the sound of the rain on the greenhouse-like glass surroundings had a rhythmic, soothing beauty. The artwork was beautiful and uncontroversial. His films, writing, and photography were stellar works of beauty. Undeniably beautiful.
I wanted to be a part of his beauty. My awkward teens were now behind me, and I was a beautiful woman when I was with J.B. He kissed my confidence and I reveled in the attention. I was his flower and he paraded me around with his deft (or daft) touch.
I received a call that my grandmother had passed away. She’d been long gone for a while, but I had to get back to New York for the service. I hadn’t been home in close to eight months, so it was going to be quite a culture shock. I wondered if I should bring J.B. with me, but I didn’t want to spoil our otherworldly balance by throwing a rock into this pond. I did, anyway. With a new black dress and my eccentric African-French boyfriend, I marched right through the synagogue to show my relatives and family friends how different and sophisticated I am.
Later, sitting shiva at my aunt’s apartment, J.B. was yukking it up with my uncle, the dentist, my cousin, the investment banker, and my brother, the lawyer. They were all fascinated with him. In a way I was disappointed that he wasn’t leaving them appalled and shocked. But he just isn’t that type of guy–he’s too likable.
We flew back, still in love, but a little more grown up now. We decided it would be best if I gave up my apartment and moved in with J.B., which sounded about right since my landlord was pressuring me to sign another year on my lease which I wasn’t inclined to do since I still hadn’t gotten a gallery showing.
About two weeks after, I got a series of calls from my mother that I just didn’t return because, well, you know how it is. J.B. was headed to Morocco for a photo shoot and so I had the apartment to myself. I cleaned and moved some art around and smoked cigarettes and drank wine and went out a few nights with his friends, who were now my friends, too. And then he didn’t return. And then his friends didn’t return my phone calls. And then I finally called my mother back.
And that’s when I learned J.B. lifted my grandmother’s jewelery.
So as I sit in this cab in the traffic on the peripherique wondering if I’ll make my 10am flight, I miss him, and I want to kill him.