"We rarely recognize happiness when we are living it. Only later when we are no longer happy, do we find it in memory." Richard Selzer The Exact Location of the Soul
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Henri did not call. Well of course not, he was probably in the throes of a mortal hangover. I decided to windowshop along the streets. It was dark at six. There was a beautiful church, the Madeleine, by my hotel. After wandering up to it, I decided just to see where the streets took me. Without knowing where I was going I ended up back at Notre Dame de Lorette, near Henri, near my first hotel. Apparently I am programmed to end up there. Set me lose blindfolded anywhere in Paris, and I will eventually lead you to Notre Dame de Lorette. I'm not sure why you would need to be there, but that is where you will end up.
The restaurants were closed there and there was not much to look at and so I headed back to the Opera district where I looked in the windows of shops I could have seen on Madison Ave-Cartier, Lalique, Lacroix, and Chanel. I didn't see anything I particularly wanted to buy, nothing that I couldn't get here, and even if I could I didn't feel like going through the bustle of of finding things in my size and going into a changing room or attempting to ask a clerk questions in French. The stores slowly started to close. I went back to my hotel to see if Henri called. He had not. I called him, and he didn't pick up the phone. I left a message in my broken French, "I would like to see you before I go back to New York."
Was he angry? OK I had seen his brother naked, and his brother had seen me naked, but it wasn't an offer. It wasn't intentional. I had left without saying good-bye without saying thank you. I had rushed out, but couldn't there have been good reason? I was embarrassed. I had to get back to the hotel. I couldn't wake him up. OK I could left a note, but well clearly I wasn't "all there" and even when my ability to write in french is only slightly better than Henri's ability to read in french. Damn it, Damn it, Damn it. So now my self sabotaging ways have made their way into my luggage. I have brought them with me to piss off one of the warmest most hospitable people I have ever met. Of course. It wouldn't be me otherwise.
I go out to the street to find food. I could take a cab to St. Michel or some other place, but I wander until I find a small restaurant that is no longer serving food, but only serving dessert. Paris runs on its own time, as I had said before, and unless you know what that time is you can end up starving at seven o'clock at night staring at a lone piece of tarte tatin with a nice cote du rhone to wash it down (since watching Sideways I feel quite inferior whenever I talk about wine-damn you Paul Giamatti-yep I referred to a glass of wine as "nice"). It is enough. It has to be, all the other places have already closed, and as I go the waiters are putting the chairs on the table. I go back to the hotel, and there is still no message. Things are better this way I think. After all I have to leave the hotel at 5 am in order to make my flight. Better I stay here and get a good night of sleep. Alone. Unravaged. Without even the comfort of a cat on the end of my bed. Don't want to be hungover on the flight home, or worse miss it completely. (But why really? Rushing back so I can indoctrinated bored freshman about the subtle nuances of my carefully honed syllabii?) The wine works its soporific magic, and I fall asleep after setting a wakeup call for four am.
I awake in the middle of the night suddenly unable to sleep. For almost an hour I lie in the dark trying to get my eyes to close, trying not to think that I have wasted my entire time in Paris getting drunk and stoned with people I don't understand. I didn't make it to the Musee de Rodin again. I didn't even see the Seine once this time. I didn't even see my favorite statue at the D'orsay. I didn't buy chocolate or wine or clothes. I didn't find La Fnac for my gay husband and ask about the cds he wanted. I didn't get anything, not even a postcard, for my cat sitter. What the hell did I do? Christ I could get drunk and stoned in NYC anytime, particularly the drunk part. And well I can't walk in on grand piano scenes all the time, but really I could do without that.
Eventually I accept that I am not going to go back to sleep. I decide to get my things ready. I shower and pack up the few remaining items. I put on one of the shirts Henri gave me and a light sweater over it. Snatches of the party come back to me, not like a slideshow, but like remembering something from early childhood, the saturated colors blurring the lines and edges. Sebastian saying I eat like a butterfly "comme une papillion". What does that mean?He is sitting next to Henri and they are talking about me, my pretty smile, my breasts, jesus at the dinner table. Sebastian points out I am much smaller than Henri, as if that might have escaped his attention. We make an "interesting couple"-right because aside from the language barrier and his lack of literacy and my hyper literate pseudo intellectual lifestyle and that we live on opposite sides of the fucking ocean in countries that currently hate each other -the real difficulty is our difference in height.
And Henri doesn't know about the disability, he accepts me without asking about the scars without noticing the difficulty walking without asking. Even if he did notice, how would I explain? So it simply does not exist. To him I am normal girl, my strangeness is in my language, my culture, not my body, which he seems to understand. But even in Paris they notice my height. Even there. Sitting on the couch Henri mentioned visits me in New York. Their eyes turning on me. I didn't need to know French to read the surprise on their faces. They do not push the inquiry, but I can they are searching me. My face, my body, my manner. They could see nothing unique in me, nothing of the lure, nothing to explain this out of character decision. Still they are impressed. Sebastian promises at dinner to make "a re-ul french voman" out of me. He says it in English for extra comedic effect. Why, I think, do you want to do that? Isn't my whole freakin' allure that I am not a "french voman"?
I think about writing all this, but unlike my previous visit, I do not want to. Whether it is due to embarrassment or wanting to keep the experience my own for as long as possible, I can not say, but when the pen and paper were in front of me, I opted to finish reading Hemingway and move onto the Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine a study of the minutiae including prolonged musing on bag stapling, shoe tying, and straw buoyancy. I studied the hotel information and discovered that not only did they have a dry cleaning service, but for six euro you could have a man's silk hanky cleaned. Because you can not walk the streets of Paris with a soiled hanky.
Finally the alarm went off, and after making a few final sweeps around the room I picked up my bag ,which was augmented with 2 t shirts and 2 bottles of perfume, and went downstairs scaring the bejesus out of the night man with my silent and apparently ghostly arrival. I sat in the foyer reading until the cab arrived.
On the cab ride to Charles de Gaulle, we drive up Notre Dame de Lorette. Of course. Somehow I will always end up there. We drive through Paris. Like New York, even at five am on a Monday Paris is alive with street fights, middle age hookers, tourists dragging bags. ( In Paul Auster's The Locked Room , the narrator claims at one point to chat up a gorgeous Asian prostitute near Place Pigalle. Although in the seventies this might have been possible, I assure you that all the young attractive prostitutes have fled the area.) I realize as we drive to the airport this is the most of Paris that I've seen since I've arrived. I try to ignore the twinge of guilt.
After checking in for my flight, I wait for the duty free shops to start opening. I am starving and thirsty. I pick up a strawberry flavored Perrier and a package of chocolate covered cookies as well as a package of "The Fisherman's Friend" as I am developing a persistent dry cough. I consider buying cigarettes, but reject the idea. There is a liquor store where I could buy wine, but I reject the idea as well. I don't want to be laden with too many bags. Besides, I honestly feel that shopping at the airport is fairly tacky and dishonest. I don't want to give people the impression that I was lingering in a wine store in Paris when in fact I was making last minute purchases in an airport. There was a Fauchon filled with oh so many goodies, but I was overwhelmed by the choice wishing that my dear Bakerina could have been there to offer tips on what I should get and so after a bit of window shopping I meandered to the perfumery. The sample of Eau Sauvage (Scent of the Wild) had grown on me, and I decided to buy a bottle. I wandered the store looking and finally when the clerk asked me what I was looking for, I gave her the name. Of course, I was looking in the wrong section. Eau Sauvage was in the Pour Homme section (for men). She handed me the bottle. I couldn't very well say it wasn't what I was looking for, but it never occurred to me that I had been given a sample of men's cologne. I decided I didn't care, I liked it and I was buying. I bought a lancome lipgloss as well. ( I had been strict orders by my mother to buy something decadent with her Am Ex. I figured this little purchase would qualify.) I have to admit the Hermes and Baccarat stores were alluring and if they had opened I would have tempted to buy a crystal necklace or a change purse, but the plane began boarding just as they were opening their doors.
I had a window seat next to a large bilingual Parisian woman (her plane reading consisted of four books-2 in English, 2 in French). Her hair as well as her body defied confinement. This was not to say she was fat, or even overweight, she had a figure that Sacher Masoch attributed to Venus-that is to say like the ocean she was full of unrestrained curves. I was not sitting next to a woman so much as a natural force. The "brunch" cart came around and when the woman next to me ordered a bottle of white wine with her brunch, I ordered a bottle of red. "That's the spirit" she said to me and settled back into her chair. I devoured the creme fraiche and the brie with baguette. When the lunch came around, she and I both ordered bottles of wine again. I was even able to sleep for about an hour before we landed.
But there was that seeping anxiety. Had I wasted my time? All that and really what had I accomplished? And even on the booty call front I was a failure. Only once. Once. I tried to counter. How many people get to have that kind of experience? To even see into that kind of life for night? I could always go back and see the D'orsay and the Rodin, but the party had been in the moment. Unlike the first time when I had rejected company to see sights, here I rejected sights to be with people. The first time I had felt lonely, but exhilarated. This time I felt like a disappointment and a failure. But there was still a rush. There was some sense of accomplishment. After all I had GONE to Paris, I had called Henri. I hadn't pussied out altogether. But then I had gone and pulled a typical Bunni, and somehow pissed him off.(Which when you consider the first time I met him I stood him up and the second time I was with him I suddenly had to run off in the middle of the night to make my flight home was quite an accomplishment). And strangely the thing I was the most desperate about was that he not hate me. I already knew the people to call. Nutreena and my gay husband would have to help me write a letter-to explain-to make him not hate me.
I knew I would have to becareful about who heard this story first. I knew I would have to find someone who would be sympathetic, who would assure me that I had not done anything irreparably stupid or offensive, that I had not made the wrong choice. Someone who would not say "You spent 4 days in Paris and you only got fucked once and 3 t-shirts and a home cooked meal?" Even an eyebrow raise could have sent me spiraling into the "Holy christ what the fuck is wrong with me?" hole. I knew there was only one person I could count on for that kind of support. I would have to call Bakerina. I landed, and although many wanted to hear my story, she was the one I called first. I met with her in a bar. I showed her pictures off my digital camera. I told her the stories. I showed her the shirt. We had drinks. She was reassuring and we meandered back to my place pleasantly drunken. I changed out of my travel clothes and made tea. I ate the remains of the cookies (which, incidentally, were perfect with tea) and sat on my couch. Lost in Translation had arrived from Netflix so I sat and watched it with my eyes half closed. It began to get dark and the movie ended. I put my dirty clothes in the hamper and the new shirts in a drawer. I should have gone to sleep. I should have turned out the lights and gotten under the covers. I had to teach class the next day. I had the slight diiziness of prolonged sleep deprivation. But instead I put on a clean t-shirt from Henri and sat on my couch and cried and as I cried I only thought one thing over and over again. "What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?"
Tomorrow: Because blogger is acting "hinky", I am putting off the final final conclusion of my Paris story. (It's not over yet.) Also more from hemingway, the storm of the century, and McWade's big debut.

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