FROM PARIS VII
Monday, arriving at the Orly airport.
I feel a happy air of tedium moving along familiar pathways, standing, waiting—knowing exactly where to go and what to do. No, not quite a tourist—not anymore. Seasoned with some special something that says, “I’ve been here, I’ve done this. I do this.”
Humbled immediately by the disorganized process of calling a G7 taxi—ah yes, I am reminded that I cannot speak French as my driver and I try to coordinate in broken English. He arrives at long last, nodding politely with a kindly, patient face as he heaves my heavy bags into the car. I awkwardly motion to help him, but end up simply pantomiming the movement of lifting. Embarrassment, as I slide into the backseat and entomb myself within the car.
“I’m home!” I text my friend playfully as I ride through the outskirts of Paris, barely looking up until we’re slithering along the Seine. The light sings summertime to my tired eyes, like a lullaby. I don’t believe in jet lag—it’s just an unwillingness to accept the present. Instead of succumbing to fatigue, I resolve to simply Be Here Now (I realize my iron-clad will only really makes itself apparent when it comes to the act of staying awake—I’m an Olympic athlete when it comes to staying awake).
Arriving at the apartment where I will stay until Friday, the hostess greets me briefly to hand off the keys and warn me not to use the washing machine, though her explanation as to why cannot be expressed through the crudeness of our inter-lingual signing. I haul my bags up two flights of stairs, almost missing my footing once and feeling the prickly heat that comes when you realize you almost met your maker in the most mundane way imaginable.
My friend has invited me for a drink, but she’s on a schedule. I rush for a quick shower—it’s one of those handheld heads you see often in Europe, but I can’t figure out how to switch it on. I attempt to make do anyway, crouching down in the tub to wash everything that matters, like a pigeon in a shallow bird bath. Drying my body is a fool’s errand—it’s hot and I begin to sweat again immediately. Pulling on clothes feels unnatural, but I do so at breakneck speed before grabbing my bag and hurrying out onto the street.
I awkwardly speed walk to the subway entrance. My internal temperature has become volcanic—my feet have swelled inside my sandals like rising bread dough and all ten fingers resemble thick Italian sausages, shoved inside my gleaming silver statement rings. I try to feel sexy, adjusting my gait to become a little longer, slinkier, as I step onto the platform and catch my breath. It becomes apparent that this is not an option, as beaded sweat forms and reforms on my upper lip like a lying politician no matter how many times I wipe it away, and the whole of my white button-down shirt becomes increasingly translucent with moisture.
It’s a ten-minute walk from my metro stop to Le Progres. Half trotting, half galloping, I arrive in a molten mess, but my friend’s dewy face makes it all worthwhile. With my very first sip of Campari spritz, I feel a sense of ease. Now, I have arrived. The pair of us catch up—she shares her romantic trials and tribulations as we watch a parade of 8-foot-tall model boys walk the sidewalk runway, striking the pavement with each determined footstep.
“I think there’s something about this time. My girlfriends are all breaking away from their endless romantic cycles—some more forcefully than others it seems,” I tell her reassuringly as the alcohol begins to slacken my shoulders and overall demeanor.
“I think the important thing is to trust that whatever is meant to be, will simply be.” She nods in agreement and sighs at my somewhat unsatisfactorily zen approach.
A familiar waiter appears at the corner entrance. He smiles when he catches sight of my face in the throng and makes his way over to our table.
“You’re back again! Ça va? Been a long time, yes?” He leans down to embrace me and kiss on both cheeks as I beam up at him, my previous sense of belonging restored in an instant.
“Yes, well, sort of—” I stop myself before I begin, realizing there’s little use in trying to debate whether two months of absence is a short time or a long time. He smiles again and winks, as all the notoriously cheeky waiters at Le Progres do, before making his way back inside the restaurant.
My friend and I drain our drinks—I realize just how dehydrated I am as I suck the last drops of melted ice from my glass and have to restrain myself from tonguing the condensation on the outside. She informs me that her previous plans have changed and invites me to spend the evening with her friends in Pigalle. I respond with as little desperation as possible that I am entirely alone in the city and would be grateful to join in.
At a sidewalk cafe in Pigalle, I eat a burger and watch the sky, marveling at the sun’s refusal to set, even after 9:30 PM. The present company is warm and welcoming, taking great care to pause and explain the cause of various outbursts of laughter in English for my benefit. Around midnight I call it quits, saying my goodbyes to those nearest to me before joining the schools of people swimming along the street like minnows.
I chatter away on the phone during my walk home, for the safety and the company, speaking softly so as not to attract attention to myself as a potential mark for the crime of speaking English. Once inside the apartment, I realize there will be no relief from the heat—my temporary home is an oven, and now, having fully risen, the bread of my body will bake all night long.
Tuesday morning, 7:30 AM—roused of course by the murderous heat.
“I feel like Meursault from The Stranger. I understand why he killed the man on the beach—it really was too hot.” I text a friend. She laughs and begins to discuss the book, but I tell her that’s the extent of my knowledge—I never actually finished it, but I know the key players: Meursault, his Maman, the Arab, the heat. I realize I know a little bit about a lot of things—just enough to arrest suspicion, but in reality, I believe I’m something of an intellectual con. A chameleon, able to blend in wherever necessary, but never really capable of becoming—she knows this about me, but doesn’t mind.
I spend the afternoon writing a piece about relationships. The heat is a dissociative force and I am able to divorce myself from the subject entirely, putting pen to paper as an indifferent observer. After venturing out to stroll the tree-lined streets for a few hours, I catch sight of myself for the first time in a reflective shop window. I don’t like the looks of things—red and swollen, more meat on bones—more weight to carry around in the godforsaken heat.
I head back home in discomfort, stopping briefly at the corner shop for a gallon of water and a bottle of wine. The apartment is hotter than the sun itself when I return, feeling round and cooked like a hard-boiled egg. I sit at the window, nursing both drinks, as I watch people in the street and relish the whisper of a breeze. Glancing around the small room, I realize I’ve rearranged the furniture several times over in less than 24 hours for some reason, pushing the armchair against the roll top desk, staging shoes like waiting sheathes for all my ghosts, and turning the rickety dining chairs to face north, south, east and west in ritualistic fashion.
I’m perfectly at home here and ill at ease in equal measure. A happy hermit, a fish among the school, and a lost puzzle piece, all at once. I sit and I write, just like the time before and the time before that, waiting for the wisdom of the ages to descend through the sun-softened part of my skull like a message from the divine. Though I don’t think I would even be able to hear it today—not over the roar of all this heat.
Nocturnal Spectre on the Beach - Dali
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