As many writers have often observed, the truth is stranger–and more wonderful–than fiction, and there are some stories that just can’t be made up. This is one of those.
5 days ago I arrived in Paris after visiting the incredible cathedral of Amiens. The original plan was for me to stay in a hostel for a night while I waited for a couchsurfing host in the city to let me stay there. I also had some friends who I met ages ago when I began walking the Camino de Santiago, and was hoping that they could take me in a for a few days. I found a hostel in Montmartre, in the shadow of the Sacre Coeur.
The last time I was in Paris I really enjoyed seeing the city by night, and when a girl with a sweet smile and streaky blonde hair walked into the dorm of my hostel I realized who I wanted to see the city with this time. Lizzie was from England and had just arrived in Paris that morning; it was her first day of a three week trip around Europe before heading off to India for a three month sojourn. When she said that she really liked to walk places I knew that we were going to have an awesome time, and I suggested we buy some wine and walk around Montmartre.
At the top of the hill beneath Sacre Coeur we met two Algerian guys named Idris and Mo, and when I told them I knew who Zidane was they were pretty excited to hang out with us. Into the wee hours of the morning we found ourselves in a seedy district near the famous Moulin Rouge, and when our Algerian friends became embroiled in a fight–or maybe a standoff is a better word, because words were thrown but punches were not–we decided it was time to head back home. For a girl who was only 18, Lizzie was incredibly mature and well-read, and as entered our dorm I asked her if we could go out again the next day. She acquiesced and said she would book an extra night in the hostel instead of taking the train to Brussels, which was where she had felt like heading next.
The next day we decided to walk into the center of the city and go for a stroll along the Seine. We found Rue Montorgueil, a bustling street lined with cafes, bakeries, fish and cheesemongers, and decided to make lunch for ourselves and eat it in a park. As we sat down to eat, a light rain started to fall, but we were too satisfied with our tomato, cucumber and chevre sandwiches to care. After our meal, we stared at the sky and made idle chatter when I made my move. When a girl has pretty eyes it makes kissing her all too easy–I told her I thought her eyes were beautiful and then we were kissing in the cold rain.
After that we did some pretty quintessentially touristic things: I took her to Notre Dame and explained some of its history to her, as well as the architectural subtleties that many visitors miss. We took the metro to the northern suburb of Saint Denisand visited the quiet basilica there, where the Gothic style was born.
Things escalated pretty quickly once we returned to the hostel, and we did what any passionate lovers in Paris living in the 21st century would do: the next day we booked a gorgeous apartment near Place de la Republique using Airbnb, and we spent the past four days there in between wandering around the city.
It was all so Parisian: We would wake up late, make tea, then go out for a walk, stopping by a market in search of fresh vegetables to cook for dinner, or a good baguette to enjoy for lunch. Our first morning in the new apartment found us momentarily disappointed when a visit to the Picasso Museum was thwarted by an ongoing renovation. So instead we walked into the city center and checked out several art galleries, ambling lazily between photographs and paintings, occasionally munching on a treat picked up from a nearby patisserie.
On Rue Rivoli, not more than a few blocks from the Louvre, we entered an artist collective and toured the open studios of some incredibly imaginative–and for the most part talented–painters, sculptors, and mixed media designers. One of them seemed to have an especially macabre taste for cartoon characters, the more disemboweled the better.
Lizzie played a willing student to my professorial side (yes, double entendre noted) and I took her south to Chartres to see the incredible cathedral there. As the late afternoon sun broke through clouds and illuminated the ancient nave, I had to ask myself if the girl I had spent the past three days with was actually real. It didn’t seem possible that things could be any better, but the way life works, they did.
The next day we were wandering through the bohemian neighborhood of St. Germain des Pres, sitting in a cafe and reading, browsing art galleries, and people watching. We were getting hungry and asked for the nearest boulangerie, which was up the street from us. On the left side of the street was an assuming sign that said “Used and Second Hand Books” — in English. A store called San Francisco Book Co beckoned to us with neat stacks of books in literally every corner of the store. As we bookhunted to our hearts’ content, I smiled at my incredibly good fortune. There was nowhere else I would rather be, nor would I rather be there with anyone but her.
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