When I do finally bring somebody home in Europe, it is a man so adorable that I want to photograph him sleeping. Squeeze is so cute it’s like making love to something out of a legend, a merman or a wood spirit, and I long to document him because I don’t think anyone will believe me. He is so cute he should be a tourist attraction here in Paris, one that a bunch of Senegalese guys are selling selfie-sticks and bottled water in front of. The sight of his face on the pillow next to mine makes me grin with unbridled pride and pleasure. It’s like having a baby owl in your bed.
Squeeze is here now, in my Paris apartment, sleeping off some jet lag as I write this. I haven’t fallen asleep with anyone since Sketch, and I had sort of forgotten how nice it is to wake up in the middle of the night with someone else in the bed, to pull yourself close to him and protectively cover him with the blanket, kissing the vulnerable skin on the nape of his neck.
Squeeze is not French. He’s a Venetian living in Paris. I think about my friend suggesting a few weeks ago that I go make out with some Italian guys, and how I felt like I missed my chance in Rome and Florence. Luckily, the universe provides us with do-overs. Much like the streets of Amsterdam, if you go in one direction for long enough, you end up back in the same spot, at the same intersection, and you get to make the choice again.
I’m heading home this week, back to New York. My time here is finally up, and I’m feeling like this is the part of the film where Sam Elliot comes out and summarizes the life-lessons imparted by our adventures. So here are a few of the things that I learned in Europe:
- There is a global hegemony, and it is Pringles. This is the fourth continent I have been to, and so far, they all have Pringles on them.
- In Europe, you stick your credit card in from the short side. It’s not a swiping kind of thing. Had I known this in Copenhagen at the outset of this trip, I might have gotten that soda.
- Dairy-free in New York, I can apparently tolerate cheese and butter in Europe. I’m not sure if this is due to how we stuff our cows full of hormones or what, but it was worth the trip just for the unfettered gelato access. I have no idea what my body is going to think when I go home this week and ask it to start living on quinoa and sticks and thorns again.
- Socially-awkward things I do here can totally be dismissed as American quirks. When I violate some museum protocol or have my yoga top on inside out, I can simply say, “Oh, that’s what we do in New York.” With a little sniff of superiority. It’s awesome.
- The French are terrible huggers. They only do that double-kiss thing, and are puzzled why I want to hang off their torso. “It’s a New York thing,” I tell them.
- At the outset of this trip, I had wondered if somewhere in the world there are men who want a girl like me. Apparently, in France, there are men who want a girl like me; I just can’t communicate very well with them. In texts, instead of writing ha ha ha in response to my trademark American wit, French men write back ah ah ah, which I think sounds like Count Chocula laughing.
While I am trying to itemize the things I have learned, the adorable man wakes up and adorably puts his pants on. “I just can’t with you,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around his naked waist, his belt buckle jingling against my bare skin. I know he doesn’t understand the colloquialism, so I guess I’m mostly talking to myself. “I just can’t.” What I feel towards him: waves of unearned tenderness that I have to struggle to hide. Men don’t like to be told a hundred times that they are cute; they find it a little condescending. Also, I keep looking at him and laughing like he’s a puppy with his head stuck in a box, not hearing a word he is saying.
According social-psychologist Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk about the power of body language, daily exposure to cute things is good for your mental health; it’s the reason why so many social workers’ office are kitten-bedecked. And it does feel good on my brain, walking Squeeze to the Metro, battling the urge to squeal at him doing ordinary things. Just knowing that I can feel this way about another person, that I’m not actually as cold and dead inside as I sometimes feel, is enough.
Squeeze and I are developing a running joke that he is unburdening me of all my cherished misconceptions about Paris. “I’m breaking your dreams!” he laughs, as he explains that it is actually forbidden to go in the fountains, including the one in front of the Trocadero with all the Americans in it, or that one can not stay the night at the gorgeous Hotel de Ville, which is apparently Paris’ City Hall.
“Stop breaking my dreams,” I say, nudging him playfully because I really just want to touch him. But this trip did rid me of some of the false ideas I had: about needing a break from the rest of my life, about how maybe it would be better to meet a man who doesn’t speak my language, so we wouldn’t have to pretend to communicate.
Some dreams need to be broken. We need to communicate, and if we can’t, we at least need to pretend to try. I walk up to unfriendly Parisians, trying to communicate, saying hi, until someone tells me that in France, the word hi is used the way Americans use the word ouch. It’s like announcing that I am hurt every time I greet someone. I think about how desperately I have wanted in the last few weeks to call Sketch, just to say hi.
On the Metro, getting closer to his stop, I kiss Squeeze and look around to see if anyone else is impressed. I think about that old joke: a man has been stranded on an island with a supermodel, and after he has been having sex with her for a number of months, she asks him if he has any fantasy he would like her to fulfill. In response, he dresses her in his clothes, tucks her hair under his baseball cap, and runs up to her so he can yell, “Dude! You’ll never guess who I’ve been banging.”
I look at this man and I need to tell the Internet: you’ll never guess who I’ve been banging. Picture the cutest guy you’ve ever seen and then multiply that by twelve.
He asks me what I was up to, while he was sleeping off his jet lag in my bed. “Writing,” I tell him.
“What are you writing?”
“I write a blog.”
And here it is. How would the blog change were I to share it with someone I am writing about? Would I be less honest if I knew Squeeze was going to read this? Would I leave things out? Or would it force me to be fairer, to think about things from another point of view before committing my opinions to the Internet? I just met him, but I want to trust him, to share something other than my body with him. This blog is, afterall, about the search for connectedness with other people, but it is itself one of the ways that I try to connect, the digital searchlight with which I hunt for other wild, broken people who know exactly what I am talking about.
He asks: “What is your blog about?”
And I tell him: “Travel.”
I just can’t.
But travel is not a lie. Because even when I’m home in New York, this blog is about travel. We are all in motion. We move like atoms, wildly perambulating even when we’re just occupying a chair, moving armies of letters across blank fields, breathing our way closer to getting over things.
Squeeze, the adorable man from Venice who came to Paris for work, he is moving too. His company no longer needs him here in Paris, and he has been offered a promotion in a bigger, more lucrative city.
He is moving, of course, to New York.