Michael and I have collected a number of frequent flier miles, and one of my favorite things to do is open up the Jet Blue flight schedule and imagine what city we could go to. My finger follows the blue loop up toward Boston. Nope, been there too often in recent years. I’ve about run out of patience with the Freedom Trail. Then I land on New York City. Then I loop down to points south but Michael is not a heat or beach person, so then I loop up to the Midwest, hitting Chicago and Minneapolis. Usually when I play the loop game, it's either too hot or too cold in the midwest. So then I loop back over to New York, knowing I can always sell a week in Manhattan to Michael.
I sigh. I love New York, but in the past eight years, I’ve been there eight times. I never get tired of it, but I don’t love love New York. What I mean is, it’s not in my bones, that town. I fight the city . I punch back at it when I’m there, coming home happy but exhausted. We have a tempestuous thing going on, New York and I, and I suppose I’d rather just head over to San Francisco and sit down by the Ferry Building and watch the bridge and boats.
The city I love, though, is not a city I can lay claim to. It’s not mine by inheritance or relationship or history. It’s not like San Francisco in that sense, the city where I was born, where I’ve lived, where I went to school. No, my city and I are unconnected. No relatives ever came from there, and I have not one jot of that city’s blood in me, not even by a really good lie.
From the moment I first stepped out of the train station and onto Parisian soil, I knew I was where I wanted to be. I could barely tell the cab driver where we wanted to go—my husband, children, mother, and I—and we weren’t that savvy in terms of navigating the metro (I dragged my mother about ten miles along the Seine). But there was something about the feel of Paris—it had not turned into a city the way London has, the way New York has, the way San Francisco is. The old was still there. In the Jewish quarter, the old never left at all: cobblestones and twisty roads that would likely make me crazy should I chance to have a car in town.
Since that first visit, I’ve spent weeks in Paris. At first, I visited all the sights in the guidebooks, and then I ditched the guidebooks and just moved through the city, finding stores and parks and places no guidebook mentioned. I’ve lived in a house behind a butcherie, opening the door to the house, and landing on a street across from a café.
I’ve sat in cafes in every androssiment, found the secret gardens, eaten at mostly unremarkable restaurants, but bought the most beautiful pastries on the planet. What I would do now for a tarte aux framboise right now, even though the sky is slowly turning from orange to a light gray and night is coming. Give me a table with two chairs outside of a café, a big glass of red wine, and a view of anything, even an old wall. Maybe my lover there with me—or maybe he’s coming later to find me. I could be writing, but likely, I am just watching, taking it all in, this city that does not own me or I it. Let me breathe in the cigarette smoke, taking in so much by the time I leave I will almost start up the habit again. Let me listen to the language that slowly begins to make sense again, enough so that I can eavesdrop on the couple sitting next to me, hear their typical, ordinary fight about him being late. In fact, he was late to find her here, at the café, the one I want to sit in for a long time, for days, maybe, years.
Then, when I am ready, I will stand up, leave my Euros, and walk back to the metro station, get on the train, watch Paris go by. But I’m not going far. No, I will be back tomorrow. I will walk the streets, and walk into the marche in the morning, say, ‘Bonjour, Madame,” and buy what I need, buy what I need in order to stay.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org