So 20 years ago today, a dissolute, heartbroken young man with no particular direction in life sits on a train bound for Paris. In the bar car, he strikes up a conversation with a woman who is also heading to Paris for her final year at university there. They talk. They laugh. They smoke. They drink. They share a stale baguette.
Once in Paris, the two spend a magical but chaste afternoon seeing the sights while still talking, laughing, smoking, drinking. A brief kiss is exchanged when they find themselves in too close quarters on the steps leading up the spire of Notre Dame. It is nothing. It is everything. A promise of future happiness. (Too much foreshadowing, you think?) She begs the young man to remain in Paris for just a couple days more. I mean, she really, really begs. But he can’t. His Eurorail pass is about to expire and he has to get over to England for his flight home. Or something like that. In hindsight, he thinks he could’ve used a little dose of impetuosity. Really, dude. Improvise! There’s a French girl who looks a lot like Julie Delpy asking you to stay with her for a few days in Paris. What we’re you thinking?!
At the Gare du Nord, they share one last Gitane and swear fidelity and a promise to write. He departs with a long longing look out the window back at her. At least, he’s pretty sure it was her. He vows to himself that someway, somehow, by hook or crook, he will return to Paris (á Par-ee) and win the love of the girl (la femme). He’s as sure of this as he’s been of anything in his life.
He doesn’t. Shit happens. A series of dead-end jobs. Too much drinking. A four year drug problem. OK, 7 if you’re going to count the handful of relapses and escapes from enforced rehab. Life got a little busy. No longer that young of a man becomes preoccupied.
Ten years after the initial encounter and now somewhat straightened around, the man rashly decides to head back to Europe and retrace his steps. Surely, the woman who he hasn’t exchanged so much as a word with ever again is thinking the same thing and they will meet up, somewhere unbelievably photogenic. It is destiny. (I said he was ‘somewhat straightened around’.) Just like a movie.
Except that it isn’t. Maybe that one magical afternoon ten years earlier wasn’t as magical for her as it was for him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s been accused of harbouring delusions. Still, this one felt different. So much so, that he tries it again, five years on, 15 after the original encounter but to no avail. Clearly, she wouldn’t recognize him if they ran smack dab into each other on the claustrophobic staircase of Notre Dame. He’s not even sure he’d remember what she looked like.
But maybe the third time’s a charm as they say, probably, in France. (Troisiéme temp est la charmant.) So here we are, back in Paris, 20 years later, looking for that one that got away. This time around, I’m not some faceless nobody. I am a renowned municipal blogger read by tens a day. Surely one of them on one of those days has to be her.
And if she doesn’t show up this time, well, I may just have to consider it a lost cause although… 25 does have a certain ring to it. Never say never. (Jamais dire jamais.)
With me on this trip Urban Sophisticat who hasn’t been to these parts for a little while. It might be good to have some company if things don’t work out, and his facility with the language will be a boon at restaurants where I never seem to get the meal I think I’ve ordered.
So things will be quiet for the next few days here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Our regular Friday feature, Meet A Mayoral Candidate, goes up as usual á Vendredi. That’ll have to tide you over until next week. Á semain as I believe the old French kiss off goes. And here’s hoping.
– Gaulishly submitted by Cityslikr