Motion can be a myth, and you ultimately want to hope that it is. The waning desire to travel May be based on an excessive amount of time spent in the train, or maybe because the last time in Paris no conclusions were reached.
Love, for the record, shouldn’t be desperate. It shouldn’t be selfish, but it shouldn’t be 100 percent selfless either. Giving up everything gets you nothing, but then so does giving up nothing.
You were supposed to be writing a novel about Paris, you remember, but have been so overcome by everything else. Birth and death tend to supercede everything else, and it’s hard to remember specific cups of coffee when babies come out into the world. But let’s try, lest the 100 bucks have been spent in vAin. A cafe in Montmartre where a tartine cost 2 euros and the butter was salty sweet, the baguette crunchy, and the waiter slightly overweight in the middle but sexy in a salt of the earth way. Winding streets that change their name beltway downhill, and ruelles that lead to ivy-draped courtyards. Names of military experts and Marshals in battles, artists and writers and you wonder what someone has to do to get a street named after them in Paris. The rose in the Bastille, the delicious rose and you wish you could remember olives because they would have paired perfectly but you actually think you had no food, that was the night you ate crepes and nems and finally fondue, meat fondue, and French onion soup, and you’d like nothing more than that right now. The crisp of the burned cheese on top, clinging desperately to the bowl, not terra cotta but something earthy and made of clay, bread soaked in onions and garlic and salt; Veal stock, or maybe beef stock. A carafe of Sancerre. Decadence. The sans Domicile Fixé in the metro stations, the Lamark Caulaincourt station on the 12 line.
Traipsing through the Marais with your shoes, formerly sexy teacher red, now rained and muddied to a deep crimson that you like better and wish you could somehow make stay that way. Why do things that happen in the rain always seem amazing or horrible? Nothing neutral ever happens in the rain.
You see people lined up outside the American Diner in the Marais – Parisians trying to get a taste of the food they’ve seen in movies, American study abroad students trying to pretend they’re home, as though home fries really mean just that. Although is there any kid who grew up in the United States who doesn’t have the Diner as an essential part of their formative years? Isn’t the diner the American dream incarnate, from the decor to the jukebox to the immigrant’s fateful tale, working the way up, owning a business, the newcomers starting at the bottom and climbing the ladder, learning kitchen English and eventually street English, and maybe, one day, for some, school English.
The desserts, larger than life and exploding with sugar, always in a rotating display case looking way better than the ones that end up on your plate. The sugars, the syrup, the milk. Table condiments vary in every country. In Mexico, the requisite trio or quarto of salsas. France gives you nothing, or in some cases salt and pepper, cafes have sugar cubes that they disperse as they see fit. Is there any country in the world where the main meal is sugary, and the children are given savory things for dessert? Or is that a ridiculous notion? What part of our brain is wired to think that sugar and happiness are intertwined?
Denfert Rochereau and the skulls, and the McDonalds where you used to check your email. The hospital where you went when you got your finger jammed. The day of the crepes. Rue Mouffetard. So many memories made away every day and you realize how little they all mean. You feel so disconnected from the person who lived that life, you can’t even refer to yourself in the first person. Paris. You feel at home, but you don’t feel at home at home, so it doesn’t mean anything. There’s no place where you can feel comfortable except New York because that’s the one place you can fail and it doesn’t matter. You can’t get kicked out of your home. You could sit in Father Demo Square all day and be connected to the past versions of yourself, from inside the womb and onward, which have sat in Father Demo Square before. You run and you feel nothing, you write and feel nothing, and so you went to Paris hoping to find something stronger than whatever you find the Father Demo Square but came up empty handed. Not only was there nothing, but there was no Paris, not tangibly anyway, and you know then and there that the place is irrelevant and the people are not. You’re with your brother, yes, but it’s a protective love, sibling love, which encompasses the irritation and for the first time you long for Westchester. You want to feel magic again. You want to see newness again, but you don’t know where to look or how to do it. What will make you scared? What will make you throb? Falling in love, obviously, but with what? With a city, a sport, an art? None of these things. There’s something missing, passion, maybe, a story? Where can one look?
The chocolate crepes ended up on the ceiling and we all ended up in our beds with other people, having sex with teeny peenies for the sake of the story and love of the game. Sex wasn’t about pleasure but about squealing afterwards, and loudly, over cheap tequila shots in grenadine-rimmed glasses that promoted James Bond. Write about Paris for days, about wandering up and down the Rue de Rivoli, in and out of the stores that were pretty much the same stores as back home but with better-styled mannequins, smoking cigarette after cigarette like it was going out of style. More than that – like they were taking cigarettes off the market. We got clothes for dates, H&M clothes from the sale rack, ridiculous outfits that were flimsy and cheap and never made it back to the States. Shopping and beers, and this was before camera phones were as innovative so most of the time we didn’t take pictures unless it was a trip, and I do remember being fancy on the Mont St. Michel, drinking sparkling cider and eating the butter cookies, or maybe not even eating the butter cookies but seeing the packages which I’d since a long time ago been seeing at home and thinking I ate the cookies.
Paris was Chinese food, and the Sacre Coeur, and mecs. It was the ability to be foreign for the first time, at least the first time when it mean something. It was cheating on guys and living it up, and taking the late train. Paris, if nothing else, was being awake for many hours of the night, and being asleep for many hours of the day. No drugs. Just pure energy. White cupcake tops of churches and stain glass that leaves watercolor streaks on the already watery sky, a blending of colors that bleed together as the sun goes down and the city turns on. People frame nights with lights, and the chair broke the first night and that was the night when gold boots became important, when bathtubs were chairs, and drinks were on fire, and we were on fire, too. There was a time where we didn’t give a shit, when we were living to live and not thinking about anything but this given moment, and this is called youth. You never think you’re going to die, and you try to kill yourself every day to prove yourself right. Drink up, smoke it, snort it, and push your mind body soul to the limit. Do you have morals? Let’s find out. Do you have money? We don’t care. Whine or wine and wine and whine but this, me, I am my art. I will not analyze, I will not empathize, for there is nothing but this. There is nothing but the ankle pain I feel when I’m walking on uneven cobblestones. There is nothing but the twinge of pain in my chest when I inhale the cigarette you just passed me even though I just put on out on the back of my hand to prove a point, the point being that flesh is indeed flammable. I have so maybe scarves I could open a store, and I want me to be my story. I want to kiss like my tongue is twelve feet long and that with every undulation of the muscle I’m learning something more about you, and telling you something in return. I want to share Quick burgers with anyone who has a craving for salt because fast food isn’t depressing of you’re eating it with friends and there’s a fountain behind. Paris is for lovers. Paris is for smokers. Paris is for people who don’t have enough money to get to Beirut. Paris is for people who think the Spaniards have a messy way of tying their hair back. Paris is for people who love wine, and also people who love duck confit. Paris is for people who want to be seen, and for people who want to hide. Lay on the banks of the Seine because you want sun, or because you have nowhere else to go. Cry if you want, walk through the Jardin des Plantes, or the flower market near Notre Dame. Pretend you’re Hemingway. Pretend you’re Marie Antoinette. Pretend you’re Jean Genet. Pretend you’re dead and see if anyone stops. Pretend you’re alive and see if anyone cares. Eat gelato, and ask to try flavor after flavor. Amerena. Fraises. Framboises. And wine should be drank whenever cigarettes are smoked and vice versa, because if ever there was a place to be cliche, this is it. Strapontins. Carrefour. Saucisson sec. Montparnasse and the movie theaters. Nems again. Grecs and turcs and the various Gare de whatevers, getting back at all hours of the morning and a cloud of smoke to see everything hazy again. Nothing is good when it’s too clear. The image over Gare de l’Est of all the train tracks and electric wires crossing in a disaster of over-symmetry, and the lines lines lines leading to the same place. Some of the lines probably even lead to Rome. L’eau gaseuse. Extra bread. Holding doors and the window displays that take your breath away with their simplicity and the sheer outrageousness of the price tags on plain black sweaters. But this is quality, they say, this is Paris. This is Place Vendome. This is Porte de Clignancourt. This is were novels were written; this is where history was made. This is where I bought my knockoff Chanel bag from an African hustler. This is where I stopped wearing bathrobes as clothes. This is where I grew. This is were I got an education. This is where I learned how to lie. This is where I learned how not to cry. This is Paris.