We met for a coffee at café Buci on the corner of my street--the only downfall of living in the best part of town is that you never venture elsewhere. We sipped from tiny cups of dirty, bitingly sweet espressos at a cast iron table. We both grasped madly for understanding, fumbling words and language in a way that only lovers can. Sometimes I wonder if he would have understood if we spoke the same language—part of me thinks it would forever be lost in translation. I loved it this way. I hated it this way.
I arrived in Paris a different person. I don’t mean that I changed throughout my séjour—although I did—but that I was “different” in the sense that I didn't fit the mold of the 20-something American girl looking for her soul mate—especially if he comes with a sexy accent and the dark mysterious stare that all foreign men have mastered, a stare that seams to effortlessly capture helpless, painfully gullible American women.
When we grew tired of translating, he suggested a walk. Still not accustomed to the French practice of injecting oneself with an hourly dose of caffeine (it’s as if this is the only respectable French pastime besides smoking and cycling in the Tour de France), I thought a walk would sweat out some of the nervous, caffeine-induced jitters.
The sky threatened rain, but because the Parisian skies suggest rain nearly every day, it is never commented on. Perhaps this is why there is a café every five steps, and why they are never empty—the Parisians need a place to duck out of the rain and drink dirty coffee and Beaujolais.
As we walked he took my hand in his. My palm was damp from humidity and sweat, but he didn’t seem to mind, or perhaps he was too polite to say anything. He seemed perfectly content just to walk; however being the anal retentive American that I am (and always will be—even 6 months in France couldn’t change my ways) I insisted we pick a destination.
A friend of mine had suggested I meet him around 5 at the Panthéon for a special exhibit commemorating those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. I phoned him to let him know I’d be joining him and then had le francais steer us toward the landmark.
Leisurely, we strolled past the movie theaters, talking of the films we had been meaning to see, past the McDonald’s where the line snaked out the door, and uphill past the Sorbonne where I had been taking an orientation course.
We turned a corner and the monumental building seemed to spring from the ground, towering over us in all of its grand glory. Suddenly, he turned to me, breaking the silent language barrier. “It’s beautiful, no?” he asked. I found it odd that he didn't ask this question in French, the language of love and beauty and all things spectacular.
“Yes. Yes, it is beautiful.”
Just then, it began to rain. Droplets the size of cherries fell on our foreheads, splashing at our hair lines and trickling down our faces like freshwater tears. Clumsily, I fell into him, the tips of our noses kissing as we leaned against a building in search of shelter from the overhang. In the time it took for our gaze to wander from each other, the rain had penetrated our beings, melting away all inhibitions.
“Si j’étais un vrai français, je t’embrasserais maintenant.” He whispered.
Translation:"If I was a real frenchman, I'd kiss you right now."
I wondered what he meant by this. All afternoon I had teased him about the French men and their charming ways. He pulled out my chair and I snickered, he paid the tab and I shook my head. I told him that real romance is wasted on me. It embarrasses me. He seemed to think I was lying, that what I really wanted was for him to try harder.
I smiled and turned to dart across the street and into the Panthéon where he held my wet coat and told me about the famous “vrai français” who were buried in its tombs.
Our moment outside in the rain had escaped us. So instead, I let him kiss me on the stairs of the metro station, as his cigarette burned a whole in my jacket.