Le 14 novembre 2015
I’ve never written to you before even though I think and talk about you all the time. Strangers hear you in my voice and ask. So I tell them. I tell them our story, how you were my first, and perhaps, my only true love.
I was a foolish boy when we first met, hardly eighteen, somewhat courageous and completely naïve. You were much older, but it wasn’t your beautiful face with its distinct features – a thin, straight nose that turned up ever so slightly, a small mouth that would pout while at rest but often transform into a brilliantly generous smile, lips that were always painted red and contrasted against porcelain skin, and eyes too mysterious to understand, let alone describe – that gave away your age, it was your patience with me.
In the beginning, many of our days were spent in comfortable silence because I didn’t speak your language and although you spoke mine, you refused to indulge me. That infuriated me to no end until I understood why you would only speak to me in la langue de Molière: to truly understand you, to fully know you and to utterly love you would only be possible if we spoke with the same tongue. And since my journey brought me to you, that tongue would have to be yours.
I remember our first lessons together. You would meet me in the courtyard of La Sorbonne with that red-lipped smile and a soft bonjour, your hand would look for mine, and before I could formulate the sentence in my head to tell you how beautiful you are today, we were off on our way to the le Jardin de Luxembourg. As we walked your streets, you would tell me about your past, the people you had met – kings, queens, peasants, poets, painters and philosophers, the wretched and the rich, the young that died too soon and the evil who would not die soon enough – and the things you had seen – fame and famine, bloody revolutions and peaceful protests, war and devastation, birth of ideas and death of ideologies. I felt so insignificant next to you and your stories. And just as I was ready to let go of your soft hand, you would hold mine tighter, as if to let me know you would fill my life with heroic tales to tell one day. The truth is that I held on to your hand not because I wanted stories to share, but simply because I was falling in love with you.
Our days and nights together filled me with ideas and emotions I had never known. You introduced me to art in all its forms and to your friends in all their forms. You showed me hidden streets and forgotten treasures, exposed me to delicacies I would never dare to try and to wines that made me forget I did. The more we kissed, the more my R’s began to role like yours. I wanted so very much to impress you by learning to speak just like you, for you. Late nights in my chambre de bonne at 7 rue Massenet, the tip of la Tour Eiffel my view, were spent listening to Piaf, Gainsbourg, Aznavour, practicing, practicing, practicing so that the next day I could show you just how far this étranger had come. I was madly in love with you, willing to do anything for you.
The days and nights turned into years together. 7 rue Massenet turned into 117 Boulevard Ney because I wanted to see all of you, to know your other side, the less dazzling side that some try to ignore. And as our love matured, so did this naïve boy. But never once did I love you any less. In fact, that is when I loved you the most. That is when it was my turn to hold your hand tighter, caress your face and tell you Comment tu es belle et parfaite in a français sans accent. In my eyes, your Friday evening on Rue Myrha was just as enchanting as your Saturday afternoon on Rue de Passy. The images, sounds, smells could not be more different and yet equally beautiful. They say love blinds you. I disagree. Love makes you notice every imperfection and wish you had more imperfections to love.
I saw you on television last night. You are just as beautiful as I remember you during our last night together over 10 years ago. You haven’t aged at all, your eyes mysterious as ever. Your lips still colored red and revealing your generous smile. That image reminded me of the answer you gave me on our last night to my question: “Why are your lips always so red?” Do you remember what you told me? Do you remember how your answer made me cry two tears, one of sorrow and one of joy? You answered: Mon amour, mes lèvres sont toujours rouges parce que beaucoup de sang a coulé dans mes rues à travers les siècles.
For nearly nine years I was a cliché: An American in Paris. But now and forever, you will be in me.
Paris, je t’aime!
– Christopher Troy
What often caught Hemingway’s eye from the Lilas was the impressive bronze statue of Marshal Ney just forty feet from the café, standing dark and tall atop its stone pedestal. What often caught mine from my apartment window looking over the Boulevard Ney nearly eighty years later were the weatherbeaten whores, standing on the outskirts of Paris, speaking a French as broken as their dreams.
What are your memories of Paris, the sights and sounds you'll never find in a guidebook?