Ever since the horrific attacks in Paris, I have seen so many Facebook posts showing concern for the French, in general, and Parisians, in particular, and felt rather flummoxed about how I should show my own support. I don’t look good in multi-colored vertical stripes, so that Facebook app thing on your profile picture didn’t seem right. So, I decided to save it all up for an anecdote that I hope bears retelling.
Back in 2001, after the Bush inauguration and before September 11, Karl and I went to Paris for a long awaited vacation there. Back then, I was still struggling with control issues that I have since put to bed (which, by the way, has not been made up today…prove positive I’ve made progress), so I had every day planned out for what we would do. One morning, Karl got up with a severely upset stomach, probably from some bad snails I had better sense than to eat the night before. So, saying he would be better off spending the day at the hotel so he’d be ready for our trip to Versailles the next day, he sent me out for a whole day by myself in Paris. Poor, poor pitiful me.
Off I went to the Musee d’Orsay (I cannot figure out how to get the acute accent on this keyboard, or the grave one for that matter), where I positively communed with Toulouse-Lautrec in an empty gallery of his work. Of course, I was communing with any number of dead folks at that time, which was near the height of my metafloozie days. I moved on to the kind of shopping one wants to do in Paris—the kind where you don’t wonder how completely over it one’s husband is getting.
Arriving back at the hotel to see if Karl felt well enough to go out for dinner, I found him improved but not ready for more food. So, off I went to dinner on my own. Alone in Paris still. Poor, poor pitiful me.
We were staying in the Marais, so I decided to stop for a drink before dinner. There was some confusion about the order of a bourbon and coke, probably the result of my not having used my college French in twenty-odd years, so I ended up with a tall glass full of bourbon and a side can of Coke. What to do, what to do. Gulp bourbon, refill glass with Coke, repeat. Repeat until all Coke and all eight fingers of bourbon are gone.
Fortified and a little tight, I struck out to find the perfect French restaurant in which to pose as a mysterious American homosexual. As I was peering at a menu posted in a restaurant window, trying to read it in bad light through all that bourbon, an attractive young man approached me and asked, in English, “Are you an American?” Thinking my pose was working, I told him that I was. Then he asked if I was looking for somewhere to have dinner. Between the bourbon and the young man, I started thinking that this is getting really interesting. I said that I was and asked if he could recommend a place. He replied that he was joining several friends at a restaurant a few blocks away and asked if I would care to join them.
With too much bourbon on a virtually empty stomach, I naturally accepted the invitation and went off to an evening which, I suspected, would result in headlines reading “American Tourist Found with Throat Slashed in Paris Alley.” Well, I could have had my throat slashed in worst places.
The young man introduced himself to me as Amar as we walked and told me he was an artist. And, there really were a host of friends waiting for him at the restaurant. His friend, Julien, a musician…an American friend of his named Bert…a couple of girls who were music students. No one seemed to think it strange that Amar had brought me to dinner, and they insisted that we speak English so they could practice theirs with a couple of Americans. We talked about the recently elected Bush, American politics, Texas, the coming of the Euro currency…it was lovely. Having picked up an American couple at the next table, we moved on to another bar for nightcaps. We ended the evening with promises to stay in touch. Amazingly, we did.
For the next 10 years I would hear periodically from Amar and Julien, with news of gallery showings and performances. Then, a sad day came when Julien sent me an email saying that Amar had died, too tragically and too young.
I sent Julien an email after the Paris attacks to let him know I was thinking of him, and Amar and Bert, and our one lovely night in Paris. He wrote back, “I feel like they even tried to kill me.” Understandably, as Julien had dinner at Le Petit Cambodge the night before 11 people were murdered there, including an American student studying abroad.
But this will not stand…just as all of the sad things that have happened in this most beautiful of cities do not stand over time. I choose to support Paris with my continued memory of her, of students talking and laughing and giving a somewhat older American a night to remember.
Oscar Hammerstein II said it best, “No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.” Me, too, Oscar. Me, too.