It was only during this past year that it slowly dawned on me that I’d been subconsciously surrounding myself with happy people for years now. Not that I’m placing a moral value on anyone’s happiness, but it clears up a lot of questions I’ve had, the main one being: why is everybody I know addicted to cocaine and yet unemployed? Sure, some of them were trading sex for it, and some of them were involved in outright prostitution, but in general, even this was done more for the sake of experience than by necessity.
I had nearly fainted in a wine store–all eyes were on me as I collapsed, something about the air–and as we rushed back through the rain I mentioned ‘I may be the craziest person I’ve ever met.’ She replied ‘everybody thinks that about themself,’ which was when I realized oh my, she thinks I’m one of them. What do I know about them? I know that about six months after I left town a monstrous bout of herpes spread like the plague through all my old haunts, and when we drew diagrams we found we could trace it back to her. I’d never been so happy to be celibate. I knew that they all fancied themselves poets, and that they all had stories of mystical pasts that sounded like Waste Lands built on the wikipedia entries of Kerouac and Jim Morrison, and I knew that all of them had become pudgy and puffy and shiny with sweat in the time since I’d last seen them, their scars were showing up deeper and more permanent, they all looked and smelled like Venice. The truest sign of happiness was the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in French. Getting an English degree means you can pursue a job in any field but you’ll never find one; getting a French degree means you’re not suitable for a job at all and yet you’ll never lack one. And so far, I haven’t met anyone who actually likes Paris. The French are nasty, they hate Americans, they’re proud and arrogant and insulting, one feels alienated in Paris, its only redeeming quality is its cafes, but gawd dan, i dint had to leave Biloxi to know dite shyit!
I travel differently than i used to teach people to when i worked at the travel agency-–that’s because I survive on the generosity of my friends, their friends, and their families, the promises I keep receiving that I won’t be let to starve, the fact that I can wash dishes very well, and that I don’t have enough common sense to make wise decisions. I’ve gotten discounts just for looking pathetic. I took a job working for the Republican party right up through the Democratic victory, so I can thank Senator McCain for sending me to France. I also took a newspaper delivery job for less than $2/hour, which turns out to be perfectly legal in Massachusetts, you know, to be denied a contract and paid a quarter of minimum wage in unsafe working conditions. But these things happen when you have a dream, and my hollywood life wasn’t complete until I made this trip and took part in the most beautiful romance the world has ever known.
Paris: never in my life have I felt such comfort in a city, and not once in all the time I spent there did I experience even a hint of rudeness–in Paris, where even Parisians warned me that everyone lives ‘fast’ and wouldn’t bother to look me in the eye, I experienced nothing but patience and politeness. I go faster than Parisians, I’m colder than they are, I clench my fists sooner, and I don’t apologize nearly as fast. Dammit, I’m an American! I followed two rules: don’t speak English; despite being a vegetarian, taste everything that’s placed before you and called food. And every morning, as I longed desperately to be back in a cafe, reading, I swore I wouldn’t do anything in France that I could do just as well in the US. So, off to the trains, off to the streets, the coldest months of the year, record snowfall in Paris, the evening news mocking people who slip and fall, to wander, miles and miles, trying to reach every street, trying to come to terms with a city I couldn’t understand, trying to make it in some way a part of me, coming home in the evenings to Nathalie or Celine looking at me like I’m a bit crazy for daring to walk alone between Pigalle and Clichy near midnight. But it was there–the road between the two, Clichy being beyond the city of Paris, that I began feeling comfortable with Paris, truly comfortable. Montparnasse, it has its charm, but charm doesn’t make up for lost color, and all of the places once haunted by the heroes I worship, they’ve been reupholstered in the past eighty years, and
they charge nearly $7 for a teabag, and if an atom remains of their former glory, god knows that atom is hidden in the dankest nethermost crooks. What slight pleasure I had in visiting the cafes was all but eliminated the moment I saw a balding man with a smile and an expensive camera photographing the cafe below where Brassai once lived. There’s only one way to absorb the city’s ghosts, and that’s by walking it. And in walking I began to remember the people who have walked, Virginia Woolf in London, Wordsworth across the Lake District, Dino in Charlottesville…and, oh, right, Baudelaire to find sex, Rousseau to find vehicles for simple philosophies, Henry Miller to find a meal, everybody’s walked in Paris. I walked, I walked and walked, I walked so much I thought my legs would fall off, I walked until I didn’t feel like I was seeking something anymore, I walked until I learned how to blow my nose in public, I walked until I felt comfortable pushing the beggar-mafia-women who would approach me and ask if I spoke English (Celine said it would be a bad idea to suggest I’d give them money for sex), I walked until I knew how to carry a baguette at 7pm without it touching anyone else, and I smelled like goat cheese and cleansed my bowels with coffee and when Americans asked me a question, if they didn’t precede it with ‘pardon, monsieur’ I just stared at them like I’d seen the French stare, and I learned to frown like the French and to make puff sounds with my lips and to acknowledge things with frequent ‘mm’ blips deep in my throat. In the evenings I would head back to Nathalie’s and we would discuss our dreams in English. In the end, Paris didn’t make me ill, but Florida did. And I write this now, with the intestinal hell that is Florida, Florida, Florida. Paris, I like you very much, and I miss you frequently, in fact, I miss you more than I’ve ever missed a city in my life, all those smart rich kids who don’t know the value of a nickel, they’re idiots to hate you so, they’re idiots because they visit the grave of Jim Morrison and don’t even bother to shed a tear over the fact that maybe Abelard never really loved Heloise.
But who cares? I’m in love!!