There’s a certain stillness in Paris on any given Sunday – but on Easter Sunday, this was not the case. The last few Sundays I had spent in bed with my Frenchman. I did not consider it a waste of my limited time in Paris, for lying in bed with him for hours on end was as culturally immersive an experience I would ever get. But this Sunday was singular in that I was alone. My French host family had gone off to their country home for the weekend. They entrusted me with their beautiful Haussmannian apartment in between the seventh and the sixth. Since they left, I’d spent every day traipsing around the place, singing French songs, reading by the window overlooking the courtyard, and pretending that this life was truly my own.
But it was Easter Sunday. Even though I didn’t feel particularly lonely, I certainly was alone. I had not spent much time alone since I met my Frenchman and I truly did miss the splendid silence of solitude. However, it was Easter Sunday and Paris was abuzz with spring – if I truly wanted to benefit from my semester abroad, I know I couldn’t spend it watching television in my underwear.
After a concerted effort, I got dressed in my Easter best so that I could balader dans les rues like a true Parisienne. It was springtime in Paname and I was in the mood to be inspired. I had originally intended to head toward Montparnasse so as to imagine taking my place as an American expat in Paris’ rich literary history. Instead, I found myself heading north to the Luxembourg gardens, thinking perhaps I could set there and read.
The gardens were packed with families and tennis players and tourists alike. I had just found myself a chair facing the palace and took in the warmth of this glorious day. But, keeping with the Paris tradition, I had scarcely reached into my purse for my book when it started to rain.
I, along with the rest of the crowd, scrambled for my umbrella. An exodus followed – all of us in a lazy panic, rushing to take shelter in one of Paris’ many cafés.
I felt myself getting hungry – for it was nearing la pause quatre heures. In New York, it is not at all uncommon to see people hunched over books and laptops, eating alone in crowded restaurants. The sacred communal meal time in France – I wondered whether or not I could find a place where it was acceptable to enjoy my cappuccino and pain au chocolat in solitude.
I settled for the Paul on Boulevard Saint Michel. Maybe it was very American of me to seek out a commercial coffee shop chain in order to feel comfortably alone and anonymous.
It turns out the only people who spend Easter alone in coffeeshops are old Frenchman and me. There was the man in the corner, nose buried in a book (Politics? Conspiracy theories?), whose skin faded into his cashmere sweater which faded into his khakis – all yellow-brown, all the color of desert sand. His eyes were small and black as dung beetles. As I scribbled into my notebook, I could have sworn there were times that he knew I was watching him; whenever he looked up, his beady little gaze would lock onto me.
And then there was the old man seated at the table diagonally across from mine. He resembled a nervous turtle, wrinkly and bald, a thin red scarf dangling from his stout little neck like a half-assed noose. The moment he sat down he absolutely devoured his tarte aux framboises. I glanced over once to see he was pouring his Minute Maid orange juice into a cardboard cup. The next time I looked up the orange juice was gone and the turtle-man was craning his neck to watch the passerby down on Boulevard Saint Michel. I thought then he seemed too jittery to be a turtle – more of a jackrabbit perhaps, or a canary.
I could have spent another two hours likening people to animals in that coffee shop. But the rain had stopped and the sun was shining – outside, Paris beckoned to me.
So I left (the beetle man watched me leave, as if to say that he knew exactly what I had done and he was complicit in my little acts of espionage). I continued down Boulevard Saint Michel, thinking perhaps I would be a good Catholic for once and attend the 6:00pm Easter mass at Notre Dame. Then I saw the monstrous line circling around the square – you would think it was for a Beyoncé concert. So I decided I was far too agnostic to wait; and, no matter how magnificent the cathedral, today was far too beautiful to spend indoors chained to a parish pew.
I walked alongside the Seine. Past le Pont Neuf, under le Pont des Arts. I thought about how once the river was once full of shit and how Notre Dame wouldn’t still be standing if not for Hugo’s imagination (and dear old Quasimodo). I thought about Hemingway: “All you have to do is write one true sentence.” I thought about Simone de Beauvoir and her beloved Chicago man and how they forwent love in favor of their work and their respective cities; then I thought about my Frenchman and what they could possibly mean for us.
I was blinded by cliches and I thought about how Paris is hands-down the most magnificent city in the world (and how when it rains for five days straight – or when, god forbid, I get pickpocketed a second time – I would find myself eating my words). I thought about changing my return flight, and how much I’d like to stay here for the rest of my life (or until I drain my bank account or the presidential election begins or my visa expires).
I thought about what people must have thought of me as I walked past – who is that girl who traded in her leather jacket and scuffed shoes for a new trench coat and Italian leather boots?
Then I looked at my reflection in the Seine, which today is far from the cesspool it used to be. And I thought to myself: damn – that lucky bitch is me.