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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Monday, October 02, 2006

Day 2, The Funiculaire and My Old New Friend Heather

Everyone is speaking their native tongue, including me. What is going on? What’s happening to us? Are we about to fall? Can I put some people in between me and the downward wall if we go plummeting down the 45-degree angle? Next to me is the emergency call button. I push it. People are cussing all around me. I understand the French words, but I only know the Arabic speakers are cussing because the littlest kid has his hands over his ears. Looking back up the hill, I see a small figure in uniform climbing down toward us. Slowly. She’s holding a key. Step, step, step. I begin to count out loud in French, and that gets a laugh. The guy next to me, one of the Frenchmen, is muttering obscenities I’ve never heard before.

After two full minutes of stale air the lady arrives and puts her key in some slot outside. Nothing happens. The people inside start barking instructions at her but she doesn’t pay attention. After a while she goes step, step, step all the way to the bottom. I don’t count this time. After several minutes of thoughts in my own head I hear a banging on the outside of the tram. The lady has returned with a younger lady and a ladder. They are standing on the stairs that run parallel with the tram, and the ladder has two legs that are meant to rest on the same lever. They’re putting the ladder on the tram even though the doors aren’t open yet.

Ouvrez la porte, MAINTENANT!” shouts one of the Greeks.

The younger lady bangs on the glass and shouts something about working as fast as she can. I wipe the sweat from my forehead.

Across the park, we see groups gathering and pointing. Flashbulbs twinkle.

Salope de putain de coup de merde,” says one Frenchman, “ils prennent des photos comme si c’est une plaisanterie!”

They stick their keys in the outside slot again and the doors open a tiny bit. Between all the men near the door, it slides open. Before it’s open all the way, the Frenchman and the Greeks are all yelling at the two Metro workers, blaming them for everything, explaining that it’s not just tourists who are hurt by this, but longtime residents as well. The ladies won’t have any of it and continue to ignore them. They tell us to start going down. I stand back to let some women go first, but the man next to me pushes everyone aside and goes down. Then another man. Chivalry--alive and well in the country that invented it.

I wait until everyone is off but one of the Greek men, and he waves me down. When I hit terra firma I’m sorely tempted to kiss it to get a laugh out of the onlookers. I also consider whether or not I should stick around for a Metro refund. Yes I should, but no I won’t. I’m on Place St. Pierre, and I eventually make it to rue Turgot and the Anvers Metro station (line 2-Etoile). I take it back to the hostel, this time getting out at Felix Faure (line 8-Belard)


I'm supposed to meet Heather, a friend from America, for dinner tonight. She just happens to be over on business.

As I enter the hostel I see a young woman with black hair, a pink headband, and a beige sweater. She has light brown eyes and clear olive skin. I immediately think she’s Moroccan.

I fumble for a Euro and head over to the terminal. I haven’t used this thing yet, so it takes some getting used to. Yes, Heather has written me back, leaving phone and room numbers again. I have to try to be at her hotel by 7:30 because that was the plan, and she doesn’t think she’ll be able to check email again before then.

I go upstairs to shower. I take off my clothes, constantly paranoid because of the relative lack of privacy; I have the room key, but that means I’m not supposed to lock the door. I reach in the shower and feel for faucets, but I can’t find any. I take a look, and I don’t see anything. I put on my shower shoes and step in. I can't see a bloody thing. Then I find it: it’s a button embedded in the wall. I push it and, well, the best thing I can say is that at least the water isn’t freezing right out of the faucet. After 10 seconds, the water shuts off. I push the button again. Again 10 seconds. I begin to formulate my strategy.

It’s hard to explain, but after a short while you get used to the pattern. Push, wash, scrub. Lather, lather, push. Push, scrub rinse. It’s like a waltz. Done with that, I begin to use Anne-Marie’s towel, which is more like a chamois for a car than terrycloth, but it sure does pack small. I dress and brush my hair, then go back down to the bar.

The Moroccan-looking girl is still there. The bartender, a man about my age, brings her a beer.
“Goodonya, mate!” she says as he delivers it. Evidently she’s an Aussie...

I sit at the bar and begin to write things down, recording whatever comes to mind. This brand of beer Malcolm introduced me to, 1664, sounds good. As I drink my third, I start to wonder if I’ll have wine for dinner and whether or not that will--Oh, shit! I have to go!

It’s 6:45 now, so I have plenty of time to find this hotel Sofitel. I look in the phone book, can’t find any numbers because there’s more than one hotel Sofitel. When I do finally reconcile the location with Heather’s email I try to call the number, but the three phones in the bar only accept phone cards. Where can I get a phone card? The tabac down the street. Are they open now? Of course not. Julie at the bar lends me her phone card (she keeps it for emergencies like this--she uses a cell phone) and I call the hotel. Of course Heather is out, and of course the guy doesn’t route me to voicemail. Of course that wouldn’t do me any good anyway.

Now it’s 7:00 and I have to leave. I stand up from the phone and head toward the door, stopping when I realize I’m still carrying my notebook, and I’m a bit warm with my jacket on. I put my notebook on a table next to the Aussie girl and begin to rearrange everything. She invites me to sit down. I look at her more closely: wide round eyes and thin lips. Lots of white teeth and a bit of a smirk that I will get to know well, not just as hers, but as that of an entire continent. I look up at the clock and figure I can spare 10 minutes.

I introduce myself. Her name is Nima. She’s starting her first of six days in Paris, and she hasn’t slept since she got off the plane. She asks what I’m doing tomorrow, and what she should do in general. This is the first day she’s ever been off her island, and she’s asking a Yank what she should be doing. Well, of all people I guess I’m not the worst choice. I tell her about the Hemingway walk and show her the map. She seems interested and I invite her to tag along.
As I walk out the door and head toward Félix Faure, it dawns on me: she won’t be going with me on the Hemingway walk tomorrow. From the first instant I could tell she’s the unstoppable type, move move move, wouldn’t want to stop and admire all the details I’d be interested in. I decide to change my tactic a little bit. I’m here for four more days, and I could probably use some company. If I see her, I’ll let her decide what to do. If it’s something I was planning to do anyway, I’ll be game.

I arrive at Félix Faure at exactly 7:25, figuring I’ll be in pretty big trouble if I can’t reach her. I buy a local phone card. 7,50E for 50 minutes. I call the hotel again and I get Heather. We agree to meet above ground at the Balard station at the end of line 8. In 10 minutes. I’m still a bit fuzzy on the metro at this point, so I put in my ticket and find the direction I’m going. Funny enough, it’s line 8-Balard. I hop the train and get out when two train lanes go down to one and people are entering and exiting both sides.

Construction is everywhere as I reach the street. I can’t cross without going back underground. The corner I’m at is dead storefronts with papers slapped over every inch of glass and concrete. Concerts, political rallies, museum exhibitions, ballet, theater, and television shows run in both directions as I look down. Across the wide avenue I see a small parfumerie and a newsstand, both of which appear to be in business. I cross underground and somehow feel safer. I put my hands in my pockets and look on the ground as something about this situation makes me feel like a fool.

“Hey, Marcus!”

Of course it’s her. She’s smiling brightly under her burgundy beret and locks of red-brown hair. She looks a lot better than I remember, but maybe Paris can do that to you. She’s adorable in her khaki trenchcoat and black boots. She’s also never been this happy to see me before.

Heather and I go back a bit, but in several strange ways (Heather, if you ever happen across this, please keep reading. In the end I'm the drunken fool). She worked at some dot-com at the same time I did, when they used to have a party every week and they’d serve beer to all their employees, no ID check required. It looked like a mixer for young models and pharmaceutical reps of the future. I think it was used as a recruiting tool for visiting college seniors, to convince them that yes, they can essentially stay in college after they graduate.

My wife and I attended several of these, but on one occasion she pointed out this small blonde girl who was making out with a guy, in a way that looked spontaneous and first-time and definitely induced by chemicals. This continued for at least two hours. Forever after that we referred to her as “drunk make-out girl”. The moniker stuck, and it seemed a little more respectful than Elaine Benes’ “office skank” (Seinfeld reference), anyway. I never worked close with Heather, but I was familiar with her, and she was familiar with some shitty work I did on one particularly bad project. It never affected her directly, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t get the cold shoulder, but I’d say we would only have smiled politely to each other if passing on the street.

Fast forward three years to 2002, and I was far more successful, having been brought in as the fresh young mind dedicated to test automation for another dot-com. My boss met Heather at a party and they began dating shortly afterwards. It seemed highly appropriate that I be more polite than I had been, and then one night I learned she spoke French. That changed everything, and I immediately began to seek out her company. Her American accent is strong, but it’s obvious from talking to her for one minute that her accent doesn’t matter. She has it all over me in vocabulary and common usage. After she and Mark broke up I heard vague references to her now and then from my friend Ryan’s camping group. Then one day I told Ryan I was going to Paris. He told me she was too. I knew it would be awkward, but I thought there was a chance it could be lovely. So far, it looks like I'm going to be right.

Back above the Balard Metro station, I try to think of something interesting to throw out there. “You know,” I say as we walk a block to the restaurant, “I can truly say that I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d be in Paris--with you... It’s a pleasure.”

She laughs.



Anonymous euroarabe said...

love your writing.

Wed Oct 04, 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus said...

You're so sweet!

Wed Oct 04, 10:39:00 AM  

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