Paris Diaries: Marco...Polo
"But the ghost of you asking me why, why did I leave" -The Ocean by The Bravery

I once advised a girl in search of a man in Paris to stand still for maybe half a second outside of Sacre Coeur because outside of this church there is a battalion of artists who will draw your portrait against your will or offer you a drink all in the hopes of getting your panties on their headboard as a trophy. I'm fairly sure that they get a stipend from the Tourist Board to hit on any and all women they happen to see alone in order to make sure that Paris never loses its "City of Love" title. Unfortunately, I did not heed my own advice and, while I was photographing a detail from the outside of Sacre Coeur, I made the mistake of staying in one place long enough for an artist to begin to draw me against my will. As I stood there telling him to stop, I heard someone say my name. I turned to see it was Marco, the man I met on the top of Sacre Coeur my very first day in Paris. Marco bought me my very first glass of red wine in Paris, and we ended up having a romantic afternoon of dashing through the rain to make love in his apartment, which also smelled like cat pee despite the absence of a cat.(In retrospect, this makes me wonder if there is some sort of phantom cat problem in Paris where stray cats break into apartments, whiz on the carpet, and then vanish mysteriously.) I leave heart broken men strewn in my wake wherever I go in Paris; Marco was one of my earliest casualties. I promised to meet him at 9 pm on top of Monmartre for dinner...four and a half years ago. I left him that afternoon in his apartment promising to God that I would meet him the following day for dinner knowing the entire time I wouldn't. I never expected to see him again...and I didn't until that moment. I was shocked that not only did he recognize me AND remembered my name, but harbored no ill will over my Houdini impersonation.

He walked over to me smiling and kissed both cheeks. The other artists gather around, and he explained that we had "known" each other for 5 years. They smiled and nodded politely. Surprisingly, I recognized two or three of them from my first trip, and it shocked me how well I remembered that first day in Paris. Marco asked me to join him, and we had a glass of red wine at Corcoran's Irish Bar, the first place he bought me a drink. We sat outside smoking, and I smoked the last cigarette I would ever smoke on top of Monmartre. I quickly drank a glass of wine as it was far too cold to sit out here for any length of time so we move to another bar farther down the street.

The second bar was lovely-small, cozy decorated in light warm tones. It was a favorite of the artists-several of them sat inside with their oil paintings and canvases occassionally trying to chat up some of the tourists for work. The waitresses knew the artists by name and addressed them with grudging familiarity. At one point a fellow artist came in to ask Marco's help with stretching a canvas-a task to which he agreed, I'm fairly sure, in order to make a big show of strength and skill in front of me. Afterwards, Marco bought me a glass of wine. He gave me all of his usual lines. In four years, he hadn't changed any of his approaches. He swam in my eyes, my beautiful eyes. He asked me to come and sit for him, nude at first, then clothed, then just a portrait. "Such a beautiful woman it would be an honor just to try and do you justice," he told me. I raised an eyebrow at this, but I'm flattered. I wondered how much I've changed in four years, since that first terrifying trip to Paris. Have I gained weight? Am I sadder? More afraid? Angrier? A family walked by with a little girl toddling towards the light. I smiled at her and Marco asked me if I'm married, if I have a child. I told him no. When he asked me why not, I lied, a well worn lie. "With the life I lead, it wouldn't be fair to have a child, to have a family."

Truth is there is probably nothing I have ever wanted more, but no one ever loved me that much. In fact, most men don't love me enough to pick up the phone and dial my number, which makes it hard to, you know, start a family. The one man who wanted me to have his children...he's married to someone else now and she has his child. I never wanted to be a famous writer until he left. When it became apparent that I wasn't the type of girl that men marry, then I made being a writer a choice, but to me being a writer will always be second best to the life that I wanted. I would still give up everything, all of my ability with words, even my cat, even all my trips to Paris, all my moments of divine clarity, to have that life back.

I probably would not have accepted that second glass of wine if it hadn't been for that question. But Paris is a city of decadence and so when Marco asked, I said yes even though I knew I should say no. Marco asked me why I was in Paris, and I explained that I came here for my boyfriend...and then left him. "What happened?" he asked. And I find I don't have an answer. I opened my mouth, but no words came to my mind. I tried to organize a sentence, but it wasn't a chaos of ideas as usual. It was a void. A blank. Jesus, what did happen? I tried to come up with even one reason why I should have left him...and I couldn't. "Oh you know," I said to Marco, "there were a lot of problems. I realized that it was just never going to work out between us and so there wasn't much point dragging out." It didn't even sound convincing to me, but it was something. He nodded his head. I'm not sure if he didn't understand me or didn't believe me or some combination of the two. He pointed out that I was supposed to meet him for dinner all those years ago, remembering me swearing to God that I was going to return. He playfully pushed me for an excuse, but it's Paris, I'm a woman. This is reason enough not to show up to dinner. Of course, he didn't know that I never had any intention of showing up for dinner, and I knew he also didn't really want an excuse as much as he wanted to get, even through guilt, another afternoon of lovemaking.

The wine worked its magic on my empty stomach. I felt pleasantly buzzed by the attention and the wine. So much so that I tried to explain to Marco how it is only in Paris that I see the interconnected nature of all events. "Why only here" he asked me, but again I had no answer for him. I was hoping that he would have an answer for me, but I should have known better than to look to Marco for anything more than cliche come ons and a few glasses of wine. But with a stomach full of wine answers and intellectual reflection didn't seem as important as it usually did. I drowsily shrugged. Marco asked for a kiss, and I explained that I just got out of one relationship, I didn't want another man just yet. Je voudrais etre seul. (I want to be alone.) But the truth is I'm happy for Marco's attentions, but not so happy that I am willing to repeat the same mistake that I made four years ago when I discovered that Marco was perhaps the most untalented lover in Paris.

Once it became clear to Marco that I was not going kiss him or pose for him or do anything that would allow him even the smallest hope that he could get me into bed, he decided that it was time for him to go outside and get some work as an artist. I let him go easily and took out my journal to do some writing, but was not left alone long enough to actually do so. At a nearby table, one of the fellow painters quickly tried to pick up where Marco left off calling me over and asking if Marco was my fiance. He was better looking than Marco, with those exaggerated French features that shouldn't be as seductive as they are. He was a classically Parisian man-smoking inside even though the waitress kept warning to kick him out, his face pulling into a wicked smile when she walked away unvictorious, and not shy at all about complimenting my breasts, which he thought "beautiful." He alternated between hitting on me and chatting up two middle aged women and a man from the South for a possible portrait. When it became clear that they weren't going to buy, the artist switched tactics and began to wind them up with invented stories of gangland like murders in Paris. I could tell from the look on his face how much he enjoyed their not very well disguised fear. I intervened a bit, chatting with them as well as assuring them as a girl who traveled in Paris alone often, the city was safe.

It was getting late and they decided to walk down to the Metro and invited me to join them. Once out of the cafe, they asked me what I though of the artist-they seemed genuinely frightened of some of the claims he made about crime in Paris. I said to them, "There are some people who enjoy scaring tourists, especially American ones. It's just a petty torture, but it makes them feel better for some reason. I've walked alone all over this city, you're safe. I would just recommend maybe brushing up on more French. If you speak a little French, they are less likely to screw with you." On the way down the mountain, they introduced themselves and attempted to unfold the labyrinthine story of how they came to be here-involving one of them being a stewardess who came here 20 years ago. The women, Cindy and, if you can believe it, Duffy, were best friends and business parters in a jewelry business. The man was one of their husband's, but I wasn't clear whose and didn't care enough to ask for clarity. I could only hope that he had the sense not to saddle himself forever with a woman named Duffy. They seemed genuinely happy to meet me. It made me uncomfortable to sit with them on the metro chatting with them in English on the metro even as the other Parisians stare at us. I could, on my own, look Parisian, but these women with their peroxide blonde hair and obvious accents, they would never be mistaken as anything but tourists. As they neared their stop to go to dinner I could tell there was a hesitancy. I could have asked to join them for dinner, and there is a part of me that even now wonders why I didn't except that I enjoyed going more "native". If people noticed me, it wasn't because they thought I was American. Instead, I let them go. They hugged me, and the husband told me I was "truly a great American." The compliment made me blush a bit, as the women warned me to stay safe.

As if I was the one who needed warning.

Before the first time I went to Paris, my mother told me that she was worried about me. When asked her why, she replied, "Because of the French men." I told her, "Mere, the French men have to worry about Me." Remembering that moment on the train, I realized that nothing had really changed in those 4 years. Both times I had come for an adventure, not knowing what to expect. I had left heartbroken men in my wake, always willing to give up the company of others to find my own way. I found that almost always ended up in the exact place I wanted to be. In Paris I always find again how much I love the world, and myself and walking back to the hotel from the metro, I was filled with the confidence that much like my other adventures in Paris, that there was still much surprise here for me and that I was still very much that hot carefree girl who once walked through Place Pigalle with only a black tank top, a pair of jeans, and a pocketbook-no fears, no plans, no problems.

Back at the hotel, still in the grips of a red wine buzz, I felt beautiful and took a few pictures of myself, including the one above. I thought it captured me quite well-the hint of a half smile, the direct gaze, the eyes that Marco "swam" in all afternoon. I used to love my body, but now I avoid looking at it, but that day I felt beautiful and seductive as I stretched out in the bed for pre dinner nap. I always sleep with the windows open in Paris so I can hear the city even in my sleep. I looked out at the darkening sky and the Parisian skyline; I felt the sumptuous warmth of the bed along with the cool breeze from the window on the back of my neck and thought this is how the great demi mondaines of Paris, Les Grandes Horizontales, like Apollonie Sabatier AKA La Presidente, must have felt on quiet winter evenings in Paris.

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