Entry 0015: An American Bookworm in Paris


LP: Bonnie and Clyde by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg

2009 4 Men With Beards 4M178

Favorite Track: Everybody Loves My Baby


The plan was simple: arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport, purchase a phone, call the renter for the keys to the apartment, call my parents to let them know I was okay. Let’s ignore that I don’t speak French. Or that the airport is larger and busier than I could ever imagine. An hour or two at most and I’ll be sitting in an apartment above the Boulevard du Montparnasse in Paris, my dream vacation, with the whole day and night to myself sans parents.

Let’s do this.

Finger pointing gets me the phone. I find a rail that will take me to the Jardin du Luxembourg which is conveniently located nearby the apartment. I tear open the package and pieces of phone spill out. Self-assembly. Instructions only in French.


Okay, it is just a phone. Okay, I am no engineer. Okay, I just spend twenty Euros to learn something that I already knew: I’m not handy with technology.

I get off the train, navigate the wide street past fresh fruit stands and delicious fresh bread to the apartment. Partial success. Except I can’t get inside. Back to the phone. Maybe there is a store nearby. There is a post office. And they sell phones. And a very nice and helpful man assembles it for me and explains how to dial French phone numbers. I get a hold of the renter and he is on his way. One burden lifted.

Now time to call my parents. In Italy, they bought a phone. I wonder if they had the same problem. Their number starts with 33, the same country code for France. I dial the number and get nothing. Two, three times. Rien. I go back to the post office and ask the guy for more assistance. He tells me that 33 is the French country code. I try to explain to him that it is a cell phone purchased in Italy. He gives me the Italian country code but it does not work. I start regretting that I took Spanish in High School and College.

I abandon the phone to explore the Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne, the Pantheon, and the sidewalk cafes. I get my first glimpse of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. I am here living my dream. No problem except my parents don’t know if I’ve made it. They like to worry. I am not the fretful kind, however, I found myself in a unique experience: alone in a large metropolitan city. A scene from Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud played in my head: strikingly voluptuous Jeanne Moreau walking the Parisian streets, a funereal expression on her face, set to the improvised jazz score by the one and only Miles Davis. I found myself in a unique experience: I was in a film. The cell phone did not work. Was it a horror film? Or the most hackneyed rom-com? In the distance, a celebration was raucous with student chatter and the pounding footsteps hustling here and there.

In the morning, it was easy to spot my parents in the crowd by the station. Even here in beautiful, gay Paree, my father looks like Chevy Chase. The Voroboks have made it to Paris. We probably should have informed the American Embassy. How many international incidents were we going to cause?

Last night, in Cincinnati, a girl confessed to me that she was afraid to travel even though it is her dream to do so. I told her this story and was about to tell her the next story but she had to leave. Traveling can be scary and it can be safe and it can be rewarding and it can be disappointing and it can be every bit as interesting and dull as your normal life. That is the fun about traveling: expectations will be met and missed, planes delayed or canceled, baggage destroyed or loaded with unexpected gifts, headaches cured with fantastic red wine. You don’t know what is going to happen so don’t worry about it. I think when people refer to being afraid of traveling part of their fear is that they are putting themselves in a position with a lack of control.

The thing is you are never in control. Life is larger and more grand than one human. We are in its reins. I am not speaking of Predestination. We can control how we react to life and we can control what we want to do. But life doesn’t listen to our pitiful pleas for obedience. Look how much time has gone by in your life. Never stopped for a moment, did it?

I had made it. Finding it had been a task as certain streets of the Latin Quarter twist and turn like a labyrinth. The Shakespeare & Company was tucked away with a simple facade and large wooden bookcase outside by the entrance. I felt the vibe of history immediately even though it is no longer located in its original location. Then again history had been punching me in the face every time I turned a new corner in Paris. I smiled and went in.

My father probably rolled his eyes when we were planning this trip and I said the most important place I wanted to see in Paris was a bookstore. All our trips have included bookstores, mostly because I ran out of books to read and needed more. The store was cramped comfortably with books and shelves, little rooms on film criticism, an upstairs with a reading lounge and a piano. In a small room whose walls were tacked notes and poems from tourists, I added my own poem about love. Some people may remember the lines “In school, they taught me that love is like a red, red rose. / For me, it was a kiss at a STOP sign.” Toward the rear of the store, I found a copy of Neuromancer by William Gibson, a cyberpunk classic my brother introduced me to in high school and a book I did not own. I went to the cashier who asked if I wanted the official Shakespeare & Company stamp. I said Oui and hoped that I didn’t sound like some yokel.

Then everything changed.

I almost missed it.

But, on my way out, I saw a poster for a literary event starring Robert Coover, one of my favorite short story writers, Nick Flynn, one of my favorite poets, and Ben Marcus, one of my favorite I don’t know who you ares. The date: tomorrow. I had not missed it. I had not known about it. I had not ever conceived in my head that writers I would recognize would happen to be in Paris at the same time as me although with it being such a large, fashionable, and literary city, you might say Adam you sir are stupid.

So I came back and sat on a wooden chair with about forty other people and listened to the writers read their craft. The store handed out free red wine and people mingled with the authors outside in the warm evening. I am not sure my feet touched the ground. Then I met everyone at Le Grenier de Notre Dame where I enjoyed a very delectable vegetarian meal.

There is no reason to fear traveling. Things will go wrong. Things will go right. Just like everyday life.

But with traveling you obtain memories to share.

Also, digital cameras have made taking pictures so easy it is bordering on ridiculous and now I have to sit for four hours every time my parents go any where.


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