My husband and I were talking about Paris this morning, in bed, which is where it seems most people stereotypically talk about Paris. But I’ve clung to Paris in particular because it is where my husband so obviously fell in love with me, and where his dedication to the Romance of Us remains so apparent. We were married 5 years after that fateful week spent along the Seine, in the City of Light, but is not our wedding anniversary he ever really remembers.
Our favorite memory involves the hotel we stayed at, a one or two star spot on the Right Bank that my husband-to-be found by asking some travel desk at the Gard du Nord. I remember being impressed with this; at that time he struck me as a debonair world traveler, gentle with his touch and elegant with his hands in a way that still quietly excites me. I would never have known to ask at a train station about any accommodations, and even though his French was worse than mine, we found our way to a room on the top floor overlooking other 5-story buildings with mansard roofs and beautiful broad windows that seem to be the specialty of city top floors.
Both of us were in Europe as part of a graduate summer program in archeology. We spent most of our weekday time outside a cave in southwest Belgium, digging up early Sapien and late Neanderthal remains. We drank Belgian ale at lunch, lived in the dank, tall-ceilinged ex-rectory of the Catholic church next door, and watched the river Meuse outside our back stoop. Sherman tanks were left on the roads around Dinant, our town, in stark reminder of the battles that took place nearby. I gained a good deal of emotional traction sitting benches built in 1250 CE and knowing that there had been no break in the continuity of history. I was acutely aware, in a conquest that mirrored my own in my family of origin, that in American Southwest, where I was from, a bench in built in 1250 CE was only to be found in the buried ruins of a Puebloan kiva, crumbling and surrounded by a few prayer sticks, corn cobs, and other offerings in the dust. Then came the Spanish, and the long rolling sorrow of European debauchery in the area. Here, in Belgium, I could stare at a 40,000 year old robin’s egg blue blade made from the most exquisite of cherts, and know there was some direct line, however coarse, curvilinear, mashed up, destroyed and rebuilt, between that chert and the bench and the tank and the bustle of a recovered town.
My partner in Paris possessed about him some sort of ineffable stability that I craved, and yet he was not in the least boring. Somehow Paris brought this home. We of course toured the Louvre, and Notre Dame, and L’Orangerie; we made a “pilgrimage” (his word) out of the Eiffel Tower, and ate long lunches in various restaurants around the city. The one near our hotel, where we ate first, had a cobblestone outdoor seating area (“patio” seems a mismatched word for such a spot in Paris), a gorgeous West African waitress, and boudin on the menu, which of course my partner ordered. Our hotel room had bright morning sun, a perfect bed, a little desk and seating area. We were frequently nude, and hoping that others in windows across the way could not see us.
The great joke of this trip was that we came back from our week in Paris with a case of the crabs. My spouse-to-be was struck first, and had to ask our professor to go to a pharmacy to procure the right treatment. He then gave some to me, several days later, when I began to experience the same symptoms. Nothing about our hotel had seemed ill-cleaned, and to this day I think we might stay there again if we could only remember the name. We chalked up the crabs to the vagaries of trying to keep a hotel business sanitary, and I’ve sometimes wondered since why I haven’t gotten other cases, especially after watching several episodes of Hotel Impossible and being grossed out by what the host of the show found.
What we found in Paris was each other. In bed this morning, as my husband recounted where we would have to revisit if we returned, I marveled that at the time it seemed all too good to be true; that I was a bit numb and disbelieving, and that now I could go back with him, happy and more full present, to stroll the river bank, eat croissants made from heaven, find remote frommageries and patisseries, sit on sidewalk café corners, and feel safe with this person whom Paris revealed to me not as some fantasy man, but as the man I knew he was, and would more fully become.