August 2003 was a tragic month for France. A heat wave stifled the country. The temperature was in excess of 100 degrees. 100 degrees may be manageable in the US but in a country where air conditioning is a luxury, the very old and very young struggled and many lost their lives. I couldn’t predict the heatwave when I chose to vacation there after getting dumped by my boyfriend via email from England or Switzerland or somewhere. I never actually found out if he moved or if he stayed or he was dating. I just know that it wasn’t me anymore.
As hurt as I was, I still had a problem. He and I had planned a trip to Paris in the summer. As usual we would meet in an exotic location for an 8 day reunion often filled with furious and passionate love-making, more wine that any American should be allowed to drink and a lot of sight seeing. I, however, have a travel phobia.
I’ve had a travel phobia since I was a kid. I’m afraid to leave home for fear of never returning. We left many homes late at night with all of our belongings or all that we could hold packed tightly in a trunk to our next home or, no home at all. We repeated this like washing and rinsing until I was a teenager. I’m afraid that I’ll never go home again.
Then God created Xanax and Vodka.
I was determined to travel without the ex, Hervé. I was determined to travel on my own dime. Through snot and tears I booked a hotel and then a flight and waited nervously for my departure to arrive. I researched everything possible to acquaint myself with the city. I bought red shoes — Mary Janes — so that I wouldn’t look like an American while touring the most chic place on earth. I bought film for my camera, a purse that would carry everything, yet not come close to looking like a fanny pack or anything for that matter that would identify me as a stupid American tourist. I was far less concerned about getting lost, mugged or missing flights in another country. I was so much more concerned with looking stupid; this being one of the second rights to fashionista status. The first? Fashion before pain.
I met Pierric the night I arrived. I checked into my hotel. He was the clerk. He quickly asked about my status, was I staying alone, meeting friends, a lover perhaps? Unfortunately, I planned to sit in my street facing window and smoke cigarettes and drink myself into a stupor and acclimate to Paris time. I sat for a while; I watched the Tour de France revelers pass below my hotel window. After a while, I realized I was watching for Hervé. I watched for him in every man’s face, behind every windshield, in ever café window. I went downstairs and chatted with Pierric. I told him I would go for a walk and inquired if the hotel would close its doors at a certain hour. He told me he would be there all night waiting for me and recommended a local restaurant where I wouldn’t find any Americans butchering their food orders and complaining of cigarette smoke. I didn’t tell him I couldn’t read French very well, however I was sure I could read it well enough to order something edible.
I found a table for one in the crowded restaurant. I ordered a bottle of wine and an ashtray. The wait staff was confused — Americans don’t smoke or drink. This American was doing both and not talking in a loud affected accent to get my point across. It was simple. Show the pack of Marlboro’s for an ashtray and motion a big gulp glass size for wine and you get the whole bottle. The one part of French I did know was, Non Beaujolais. A moment later a menu appeared in unreadable French.
A menu in a language I did not understand, speak or read. I recognized Canard as duck, Poulet as chicken and easiest of easiest, Boeuf was beef. More importantly, I wanted to avoid ordering another unfortunate plate of Foie Gras. Hervé had tortured me endlessly with Foie Gras and oysters. I choked it down over and over again hoping to teach myself to like it or to minimally stomach it for Hervé’s sake. I drew the line at the month old stinky cheese and sardines. Foie Gras was almost palatable in comparison. On the menu were three types of duck as a first course. I had a one out of three chance of getting the correct starter. I had zero chance of getting it translated by the waiter.
I chose wrong.
I choked down the Foie Gras spread lovingly on toasted baguette slices and watched as the chef peered from the kitchen checking on my progress. I choked and nodded. I smiled the fakest smiles and was happy the French don’t believe in large portions. I knew that my stew and my desert would make up for the aftertaste of the foie gras and I could move on with my wine and my charade in again — this VERY PARISIAN restaurant. After dinner, I returned to my hotel struck up a conversation with Pierric who was waiting in the lobby for my report, which turned into the entire night in the hotel lobby drinking wine, until I was drunk and talking in our own very broken language.
I stumbled awake the next day a little hung over but energized and excited. Excited because I was in Paris and energized because I was in Paris. I had to brave the Paris streets, the Metro and the maps all by myself. Hervé wasn’t here to buy my tickets, translate signage and talk to strangers on the street. I laid the city map on the bed; I put on finger on my hotel location and one finger on the location of the first cemetery I wanted to visit. I identified the metro stops and the lines required to get between the two. I gently folded my map in my bag so that I could reference it at any time on my trip without pulling it out completely out of my bag and proving to everyone in Paris I was an actual tourist.
Downstairs I found Pierric smiling and waiting, unaffected by the two bottles of wine.
“Would you like to come outz wiz friends this day?” I corrected him. It wouldn’t be “this day” but “this night.” After our French/English lesson, I walked into the heat.
Everyone in Paris seems more beautiful, more fashionable and more educated than I do. In the hundred degree heat the only breeze was on a moving Metro car. I watched the Parisians very carefully and wondered about each of their daily lives. I imagined much more sophisticated interactions, more glamorous jobs and wondered if I could be one of them, maybe Hervé would have stayed with me. That was the first time I thought of Hervé on this trip. I took note of it and made a tick in my journal.
One thought, let it wash away.
I found an internet café to send my friends and family a note, an account of my journey so far. They understood already that I was in the Mecca for smoking and wine, so no need to account for my hang over. They knew that I was traveling on a broken heart and a slim wallet but they were only worried for my safety and my sanity. I sat down at the keyboard and began to type. As I typed things looked incorrect on the screen. I thought it was the heat but there were z’s where there were supposed to be s’s and stupid accent marks every where else causing my curse words to look incomplete and uncursed.
“I find it difficult to explain that a broken hearted 30 year old single mother of two teenage children was just asked out on what might be a date with a French artist masquerading as a hotel desk clerk. Tre’z Chit’z Noz? Fuc’ng Frenzh keyboard.”
Pierric arrived at the hotel at 7:30 and we left immediately after the required multiple cheek kissing as is customary among those about to be carnal with one another. His friend Daphne and Gaetan (which I could never pronounce correctly) took me to a standard French pub where standard French people hung out and drank pints and smoked cigarettes. This was not a scene out of Band of Outsiders; it was more of a scene from Ireland’s greatest pubs, Book 1. The night wore on and the French grew thick, my ears became more nimble, recognizing certain words. But after three pints and a joint in the darkness of an underground club I could only mutter De rien to Pierric in slurred French and cognac breath. All Pierric could do was push me down into an even darker corner and kiss me hard then harder while my head felt like it was going to explode from the pot and the music. I made out on the couch with a French artist masquerading as a hotel desk clerk.
On the walk back to the hotel, Pierric wore his required leather jacket in the evening heat which crept up into the high 80’s. He would sweat all the time I saw him. He would always wear a white t-shirt with vintage faded 501’s. He looked like he was in a French movie, all the time. I invited Pierric up to my room knowing that I was curious to know how he was in bed and even more curious to be touched and held and released from Hervé. Hervé and I could stay in bed for days and never once would I not be ready physically ready for him. He just had to look at me and I was wet and I was ready. I knew Pierric would be passionate from the kissing and the soreness I was already feeling on my face from his unshaven cheeks.
Pierric and I barely made it completely in my room onto the bed. Our kissing was fierce, wet and loud. The force which he kissed me was almost too much to bear. When he finally forced me onto the bed I knew that I was in for a much different experience than any before him. He liked to play rough, hard and fast. After our clothes were off, I discovered that Pierric who was no taller than 5’10 had a huge dick; enough to make me not worry as to whether or not I would have a good time. Before Pierric and I even started having sex my face was raw from the kissing and my breasts were bruised from the rough suckling. Sometime after we started thrusting against each other the twin beds that had been pushed together began to spread leaving us dangling. Pierric only grabbed me harder, he went faster and pushed me further and further into the head board. The problem with being a little drunk was that it was hard to come. The problem with being high is that it felt like it took forever. The pain from his grip was beginning to take over, I couldn’t hold my thighs steady against Pierric and finally when I thought I could go no longer, the beds finally gave way and Pierric and I hit the floor. Once I had Pierric’s undivided attention I asked him politely and in the sexiest, smokiest French possible, “plus lent mon bonbon.” Slower my sweet. That was the one and only time I have ever spoken perfect, relevant French. We were both covered and dripping in sweat giving Pierric less opportunities to get a good grip on me, which saved me from the continued beating and allowed us to finish having sex without further injury.
When I woke the next morning Pierric was on the single bed next to me waiting for me to wake. I was sore from my head to my thighs. My face was chaffed beyond recognition and my legs and arms were bruised in the shape of Pierric’s hands.
Pierric offered a little story about the events of his day — “this day.” He described how he recently purchased a flat and must meet the electrician because waiting for an electrician in France can take years of your life. He offered to meet me later at the hotel and requested that I leave messages at the front desk because his sister was staying with him and he did not want to cause her to “make a party” for his new American friend.
I let him leave and turned the story over in my head. I took my time in the bath rubbing lotion into my injuries and trying to fix the chaffed patch on my chin. That very patch would burn later that day in the one-hundred degree heat and eventually begin to look like a leprosy sore forming across the southern hemisphere of my face.
The sore on my face did not detour Pierric who dutifully showed up at seven to find me learning more French and using large quantities of Cover Girl to hide my open facial wound. He was not detoured from wearing his leather jacket with requisite uniform as we wandered the streets of the 11th Arrondisment and up and down the Canal St. Martin. Pierric inquired why I travel alone and I told him that I had children and no partner and I prefer to travel alone so I can do what I like which is hang out in cemeteries taking pictures of art. He laughed but his artistic tendencies identified with my own and we talked about art in the US and France for the remainder of our evening.
That very second was the first time I thought of Hervé all day but my skin ached for him and his French accent. I decided that I would be sleeping with Pierric for the remainder of my trip as long as he took my hints to slow down and not physically impale me with his cock.
I knew the sister at home was not his sister and this would not get him any dinner invitations or any art walks through cemeteries or Paris parks but I could use him to get through the night; like I used McDonalds earlier for a cheeseburger and orange soda to get me through another day alone during a heat wave in Paris.