travelogue: paris - part 2: doucement, doucement

We take the train out to Parc de la Villette. At the boulangerie, we buy baguettes lardons and pain chocolat, eat them on the subway from their paper bags. We have fallen in love with the trains here. The woman’s voice announcing the station stops on Line 2 is beautiful and melodic. I try to sound like her, say Barbes-Rochechouart over and over until you look at me, give me a weary half-smile, and so I stop.

We go to the Grand Halle to hear the bands play, most of which we no longer know, but it is enough that we once did. We are more tired now than we once were, and as the night wears on, our age betrays us. We find a spot to sit down, toward the back of the cavernous hall, and you let me lean up against you. There is a cool breeze back here, with the doors open wide. The stage lights cast a soft glow on us.

It is enough to be here, in this place. It is enough to remember early love, the way we stood in crowded bars, our arms touching. It is enough to see the younger versions of ourselves. To see them happy. To see them standing way up near the front of the stage, damp with sweat and the heat of it, to see them embrace in the crush of people all around them.

On the way home, we talk about the music we know. What it was like to hear it in that giant hall. What it felt like hearing it the first time, what we remember of it. That early summer week spent in Jamestown. The relentless rain on the beach.

Our bodies have not yet adjusted to the time here – we eat, sleep, wake when we can – paying only the barest heed to the clock. It is a dream state here, with you. How like a familiar, recurring dream.

You choose the Parc des Buttes Chaumont for all its man-made pleasures. After the three hundred steps at Sacre Coeur, the ascent up the hill overlooking the park seems nothing at all. We get to the top and we take photos – again the city scape. Again the rooftops. We take these photographs that will mean nothing to anyone but us. As if we are the first to see the dome of Sacre Coeur in the distance. As if we are the first to see these rooftops, this beauty, this light.

We stop on the man-made bridge over the man-made pond. The bridge trembles as people walk across. And when you put your arm around my shoulder, the years fall away and you are a boy: You are seven years old in Geneseo, in the barn behind the house. With your record collection and your stones and your arrows. And I am nine in the apartment in Bronxville, with my dolls and the pictures cut out of magazines. I am thirteen, taping songs off the radio. You are sixteen and your heart is racing. I am twenty-one and my mother has died. You are twenty-three and alone in the city. And all of that places us here, we are here: you and me in this city, this city we have created together.

A man walks past us on the bridge, following after his sons. Doucement, he calls after them, doucement.

There are Halloween games going on in the park. Parents push strollers piled high with sweaters and scarves and bags for candy. The mothers wear headbands with orange baubles and glitter on them, their nod to the day. They hold hands with their tiny witches and angels, their pirates and ballerinas. The smallest devil I have ever seen is crying in his father’s arms, his curled tail crushed against his father’s chest.

The cave is a wonder – a feat of construction – its scale, its detail stunning. In the middle of this park, this cave. We stumble on it and are struck quiet in it. There is a small pool of green water that collects drops that trickle down the fake stone walls. Isn’t it amazing, you say, to have built all this purely to spark the imagination, purely to bring pleasure, and if you mean the cave or the park or if you mean the city itself, my answer would be the same.

Haven’t we made this city anew? Haven’t we remade it for our pleasure? Haven’t we torn away the place where we fought in the shadow of the statue of Charles deGaulle, and on rue St. Honore and the hotel there, where our bed was cramped and cold? Haven’t we illuminated what once was dark here? Haven’t we awoken what had been sleeping, roused it with our own hot breath?

Yes, I am so willing here. Charmed by everything I see. I walk around, eyes wide, grinning like an idiot. My observations are childlike, foolish, giddy.

Voici un homme parlant au telephone!

Et voici une tarte citron!

Et voici un sac en plastique avec des oranges!

It is just a bag of oranges, you say, as you hold it open so I can peer inside. But look, I say, with all the green leaves still on them, see how beautiful they are.

We arrive early for our reservation and while we wait, we read side by side as the sky gets dark. We bought books of poems at the cramped bookstore behind Notre Dame. (No more cathedrals, I had said.)

We sit in front of the park that is locked, now that the sun has set. We can see benches through the bushes, just beyond the gate. But instead, we sit on the stone ledge that circles the park. There with our books and our growing hunger. There in the dark of this city. There with you, with one last night ahead of us. This moment I will remember, even when others fade.

Once inside, we pretend that the language being spoken at the tables around us is not our own. We lean into each other, speak softly, try to block out the sound of the man next to us, trying to remake the menu: “I want this, but with mushrooms.” “I don’t understand.” “Do you have mushrooms?” “Yes.” “Well I want this, but add mushrooms to it.” The waitress agrees, finally, reluctantly. The woman with him orders hers, “but without the egg.” “Bien sur.” We order using only the few words of French that we know, make no eye contact with anyone at the tables on either side of us. Now, the family on the other side of us is arguing over the bill. Don’t we trample over everything. Les Americaines.

The end comes so quickly. We are here and then we are not – we are hurtling our way toward the sprawling airport. We hear news of a possible airline workers’ strike. Perhaps we will not return home today.

At home, snow has fallen. At home, our children are waiting. At home, dawn is only now breaking and we have been awake here for hours.

After our meal, after café crème and crepes dame tatin, we go to Studio 28 – a lovely tiny theatre across from our hotel. These, then are the ways we love, the ways we have always loved, here and at home: In the cool dark of the cinema, your hand on my knee, my head on your shoulder. In the places where the bands play music, standing side by side. Over café crème. Aren’t we building it all up again, going back to where we began? Don’t we love each other so well, here in this city of light.

On the train back to the hotel on our last night in the city, we make plans to come back. And we talk again about the last time we were here. We didn’t know each other then, I say. We didn’t know ourselves.

You say: I didn’t know what was important to you, what was important for us.

The lovely voice over the intercom calls out our stop: Abbesses.

You say: Now, I know. Yes. Now, we know.