Sunday, August 06, 2006

A windy, rainy day in Paris, in 2002

In the year 2002, I joined the masses of Americans who had been coming to Paris for years, decades, centuries even, for what I thought would be (ahem) a two month stay in Paris. Fresh off the plane at CDG, visions of a Hemingway existence were dancing in my head, complete with hours spent in cafes writing in notebooks and making Shakespeare and Company bookstore my second home (though I wasn't too keen on the whole Hunger Was Good Discipline bit). I decided to enroll in a short fiction writing class. It took place on the second floor of a cafe and coffee was included in the price of the course. How utterly fitting.

A few days ago, going through some old papers, I came across my first assignment with the class. We were supposed to do a ten-minute, freewriting exercise on a recent trip we had taken. Because it was a freewrite, it's choppy and ends abruptly, but as I was reading this, it brought back a lot of memories of my first impressions of the city that I was just setting out to discover.

A recent trip

I arrived in Paris on a windy, stormy afternoon in March. It wasn't particularly cold, but rain poured down very heavily all day. I was relieved to walk off the airplane after eleven hours and very happy it had not exploded somewhere over the Atlantic. (Note: this was only a few months after 9/11, my already strong dislike of flying was in full force at this time.)
My first thought upon driving into town was that the city was gray. Not just because of the storm clouds, but the buildings were gray, the sidewalks as well, even the river was a grayish green color. This was quite a shock to me, coming from the brilliant orange light in Los Angeles.
I wanted very much to have a look at the Eiffel tower, and so after dropping my suitcase at the hotel, I fought back my jet lag and headed out with my dog into the rain to catch my first sight of it. Despite my raincoat and umbrella, I was soaked by the time I stood underneath its arches. The cuffs of my pants were drenched. The dog's fur was dripping. I decided to duck into a cafe to get dry, and see if the rumors were true, that dogs really were allowed in cafes and restaurants in Paris. I found a very Parisian-looking cafe on a little side street and taking a deep breath, marched through the door and waited to be told I couldn't come in with the dog. Instead, the waiter gave my dog a pat on the head, and directed me to a table by the window. The dog flopped down under the table at my feet and began snoozing. I ordered a cafe creme and, holding it between my palms to warm my hands, looked out through the window into the wet street with its rushing gutters and trees swaying heavily in the fierce wind.


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