A Hungry Girl Goes to Paris (or, By Gare du Nord I Sat Down and Wept)

Hungry, but don’t know what you’re hungry for.

That hunger takes you on a plane across the ocean, lands you in the mysterious Gare du Nord (North train station) where every person gives you a different strategy on finding Le Metro, none of them correct. As in the Elizabeth Smart novel, you want to sit down and weep, or at least grab un chausson aux pomme from one of the many patisseries that perfume its dim, labrynthine corridors.

Jetlagged, confused, you arrive at your rented apartement in the 19th arrondisement, deal with the angry young man who rents it to you and think, what the fuck?

But, returning to Europe, my hunger slowly recedes. Perhaps there’s something genetic in the way I feel my body relax into a feeling of being at home. Walking all afternoon through the hybrid, aromatic, polyphonic streets of Belleville in Northeast Paris, I realize I have been hungry: for the wide gestures of arms, the communal culture, the expressiveness, the matter-of-fact preoccupation with good food.

The patisseries bring tears to my eyes. They are like art galleries. In Toronto, I crave good pastry on a daily basis, map movement around my city based on where I can get a respectable croissant with my coffee. Here in Paris, in my early jetlagged mornings, les boulangeries are open and people stroll around at 6:30 a.m. in the grey light with their arms full of croissant and baguette.

People. Take. Up. Space. Differently. There. said the Film Editor before I left. People line the canal even though there are no benches. They are cross-legged on the pavement, they squat on the low walls, they sprawl on patches of grass. They are mostly in groups, more than couples. There is way less smart phone-gazing. As a result, people appear less lonely here.

There is conversation everywhere. Everyone wants to talk! Trying to change money in a bank (don’t even try), a sweet gay men dressed in white linen shirt, white pants and a cleverly knotted blue scarf, offers to walk me to Place de la Republique where there is a money-exchange.

Turns out, it’s a half-hour walk. But he’s en vacance, as of today and happy to stroll. We talk about Pride Day this weekend. He doesn’t go: j’aime pas la politique. Politique? My ears perk up. Turns out we’re both concerned about the ways the same-sex marriage struggle has preoccupied lgbt organizing. In France, same-sex marriage isn’t legalized. One of the reasons lgbt folks want it is that single people are more heavily taxed. Makes sense, in a way. Enfin, je suis contre la taxe et contre la marriage says my new gay soulmate Xavier.

We part ways regretfully. There is no money exchange to be found. I collapse into a sidewalk cafe and end up chatting with Guy, an actor. The sun comes out, hot and yellow. Guy is the star of a French TV drama series, La Toquee, featuring a gay chef. I tell him I am writing a novel featuring a gay chef and we giggle at the happy coincidence of things.

I end my evening sur le canal. A delicious organic white wine, from the Charentais region. An ok grilled salmon with fennel cream sauce. More conversations. I watch as people take their beer and wine to the edge of the canal and talk, long into the evening.

3 Comments

  1. An elegant short story! Nice to hear about the lower #s of phones in constant use.

  2. I love the way you’ve nailed it -or part of it- the charm of simply being in urban France. Not only do they take up space differently there:
    I. take. up, space. differently. there.
    Thanks!

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