On Memories of Paris


Perhaps it was the broken signal of the closing subway door — so that the usual New York City tones were reversed, with the low one first — that dislodged us from our usual evening commute and sent us reeling toward the city of light; or maybe it was the pair of women speaking French; and who but a Parisian woman would have worn that wide black headband made of the same dull rubbery material as her coat? Even her long nose and small, constantly pursed lips made us remember the legions of similarly composed women we encountered each day during our years in Paris. Back then — as we did this evening — we always stood next to them on the metro to eavesdrop on their mundane but magical conversations (at least for a little while, until the novelty — as it always does — wore off).

Then there was the letter we received this afternoon from R____, our old friend from Paris. We’ll always remember how young and brash she was in those days; how athletic and blond and gregarious, a perfect example of that certain type of American girl who drives the French crazy not only by saying exactly what she thinks, but by doing it in an accent perfected in the usual way. And what were we, besides being jealous of both her accent and her men? Our official stance was to be oblivious and distracted, as if we had too many verbs to conjugate to consider girlish questions of love and sex; secretly of course we were infatuated with the art-history professor, and spent months failing to drum up the courage to say hello to him, even the time when we saw him par hazard in a bookstore near the Place St. Michel. How we trembled, watching him through the storefront, rehearsing some question about Dubuffet and praying that he would somehow detect us from our hidden spot across the street! Then, purchase in hand, he left the store and briskly walked away into his Parisian life, leaving us with no choice but to trudge home hand-in-hand with our old friends cowardice and despair.

It was an act that may have fooled some people, but not R____ : typical was the time we were riding one of the long escalators on the metro and she considered us with her marble gray eyes: “Mon chere, why is that more men seem to stare at you than women?” This we met with a shrug of indifference; how were we supposed to know? Thankfully we can now respond with more honesty; in our memories we now shower them all with kisses, knowing that if one or two might quicken our pulse, nobody is any longer in a position to break our heart.

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