The first time I visited Paris, I did so as a naive American, at thirty-one a bit of a late-bloomer. I knew the Eiffel Tower, smoky bars and dog-poop-covered sidewalks were there. I’d probably have recognized the Arc de Triomphe if someone had shown me a postcard, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to spell it. It should actually be called the Arc de Traffique.
There’s something magical about experiencing a place for the first time. I’ve been to Paris many times since my first visit, but it’s that first one that sticks in my mind like day-old escargot.
I was on the metro. I was tired from my evening in Amsterdam. I was lonely.
She was on the metro. God knows where she’d been the night before. She was crying.
The worst thing you can do to a woman who’s crying on the train is ask her what’s wrong. She’ll always say, “Oh, it’s nothing.” What she means is “Go away you creepy, overly familiar American.”
“Could you help me?” I said instead.
“Sure,” she replied in a North American accent. It turned out she was a Canadian, gulping down her tears now.
“I want to go to the Louvre, but I can’t figure out which stop to get off at,” I lied. I’m not a total idiot.
“I’m getting off there. I’ll show you.”
We ended up having coffee at a bistro near the museum. She was a teacher. I was a teacher. She needed someone to talk to, and so did I. And then she, not crying anymore, left me at the entrance to the Louvre.
Sheesh, that museum gets hot in the summer. Well, at least it did fifteen years ago. A lot has changed in fifteen years. Did you know that cats patrol the museum at night? Did you know that it started as a fortress, then became a palace, and then became the largest tourist trapseum in the world? Don’t even think about buying a Mona Lisa umbrella. They’re crap.
But fifteen years ago, I was still an unjaded, wide-eyed tourist up for a little culture. Pushing through herds—no, not a nice word, but, yes, an appropriate one—of Japanese tourists on my quest to find Mona Lisa, I found myself face to butt with a stone form that looked magically familiar. Like a Cohen Brothers camera man, I circled the statue: The Venus de Milo (actually Aphrodite de Milos is its name since it’s a Greek statue). The face. The body. It was the girl I’d met from Canada . . . with no arms of course.
I never got her name. I still call her Aphro.
I must be off, Christopher