Food, France, Photography, Travel, Writing

French Kissing Lessons: Paris

FullSizeRender-3 The plane from Florence to Paris is delayed for eight hours while we camp out like refugees in the airport, eating consolation sandwiches and waiting.  Airports appeal to the street-urchin side of my personality; nowhere else is it acceptable for adults who are not homeless people to sit on the floor eating stale pretzels out of a bag and muttering to themselves.  I make myself right at home.

Airports also make me incredibly chatty, and as I have no idea what is going on, I appeal to those around me.   This is how I meet an enormous lovesick Parisian, holding his suitcase in one hand and a bottle of Chianti for his ex-girlfriend in the other.   “She broke up with me two months ago,” he tells me, ripped up in all the same places as me. “But I’m still hoping.”

We share the common tongue of those who can not let go, and when finally the airline confesses that our plane is actually at Pisa airport, over an hour away, and that we will need to find a bus to meet it, I hang stubbornly onto my new best friend’s gigantic sleeve.   We eventually land at Charles de Gaulle at three in the Paris morning, long past any hope of public transit, but Lovesick lives near the apartment I am staying in, and I have faith that he will make sure I get home. In the movie of our travel adventures, I tell him, we would be trying to make it from Florence to Paris first with conventional planes, busses, and taxis, eventually enlisting helicopters and maybe submarines. In the film, the wine that Lovesick is bringing home for his ex-girlfriend would be forever imperiled; he almost lost it at airport security in Pisa, and in the film it would fall over a highway overpass into a truck-bed filled with cushiony hay and we would have to chase it down on stolen Vespas.

I try explaining all this to Lovesick, whose jet-lagged and exhausted English is not up to the task of following me. He all but claps a hand over my mouth and instructs the cabby to drop me in front of my apartment. I realize: I am in Paris. There are ten terrifying minutes when I can not figure out where to touch the front-door magnet to unlock the lobby door, and resort to waving the magnet around in the air like a conjurer, but eventually I make the proper contact and am inside, in an beautiful, uninhabited apartment a New York friend has lent me the keys to.   The heated towel rack restores my faith in travel, and a shower later, I am so glad that I’m here that I can’t sleep. I keep opening my eyes to see if it is morning yet.

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So French.

The next day, I walk around Paris, involuntarily squealing: at la Tour Eiffel, at the macarons, at all the French people. Sketch liked to say about certain things: “That’s so French.” I’m not sure what made certain things, like tight underwear or neat little moustaches, particularly French to him, but this never failed to make me laugh. I’m laughing now as I type this, the kind of laughter that’s like broken ribs. At the Louvre, I take pictures of the portraits by David, Gerard, and Sketch’s favorite, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon. They are so French.   I will keep these photos on my phone, like Lovesick, carrying that damn bottle of Chianti; somehow, having them means I will see Sketch again.

After a Musee D’Orsay / Louvre doubleheader, I get a text from Lovesick inviting me to meet some of his friends on the Rue des Lombards at a bar. His friends are each foxy in their own way. One is funny and wildly flirtatious, with corkscrew hair.   Another is trim and intelligent, the son of a French diplomat. He has traveled everywhere and speaks five languages fluently, including one language I have never heard of; he is an accomplished salsa dancer. The third friend who joins us was a former NBA draft pick, who blew out an ankle and with it his shot at the pros; he speaks no English, but watches me with moist, gentle eyes, his hands the size of trashcan lids. He places one on my leg and I shiver.

What follows: hours of these men getting drunker and wilder in their competition for my attention.   For this sex addict, this night will go down as my Mardi Gras, my St. Patrick’s Day, my New Year’s 1999 all rolled into one bacchanalian feast of getting-some.

The guys tell me I have not experienced French kissing until a French person kisses me, and so first I kiss the son of the diplomat, leaning over the café table and toppling drinks. He bites a little, and he will bite harder as I proceed to kiss each of his friends: the funny one, who buys me a rose from a passing peddler, and then the one who speaks no English, who will use his phone to translate the question: Will you come home with me tonight?

I am sorely tempted. But as the night slips on closer to the hour of the last Metro because this is not New York and the freaking subway CLOSES here, the guys have fallen into drunken argument. They take pictures of one another kissing me, threatening to send the pictures to the girlfriends whom, naturally, they all have at home. Under the table, their hands are all over me.

The smart one, the diplomat’s son, bites me too hard when I kiss him good-bye. My mouth tastes like blood.    Lovesick, who has been talking quietly with his friend about his ex-girlfriend, begins sobbing into his hands. He’s so hurt; I hope she comes back to him, whoever she is. I walk him to the Metro, leaving his friends to their squabbles, clapping him on the shoulder. Of all these men, Lovesick is the only one who is single, and he is the one who is least available. I leave him at the Bastille stop, thinking about how we are all prisoners, and how everyone who tries to love someone is a revolutionary, one who better be ready for blood.

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Ominous symbol of love in Paris: the padlock. So many of them have been clapped onto the guardrails of the bridges, the weight threatens to pull them right into the Seine.

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One thought on “French Kissing Lessons: Paris

  1. Pingback: A Common Tongue: Paris Part II | When You Stop Digging

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