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I know something about crazy ladies, let me tell you, and Andie wasn’t crazy. She was habitually unpredictable and could be downright weird, sometimes running up behind a complete stranger, tapping him on the shoulder, crowing, C’est toi le chat, then sticking out her tongue, and running away. I never could tell if it was sticking out her tongue or saying Tag You’re It that gave people the bug-eyed look they get when they think there’s a loony on the loose right in front of them. Of course, going up to a self-conscious girl about her own age, saying, “Pardon, could you lend me your tampon for a minute? Mine’s sprung a leak,” could also pass for apprentice-level loco. But no harm to herself or others: she wasn’t crazy. If she has survived, she must be a middle-aged lady.
Andie was on the tall side for a French girl, olive-skinned with piled-up black hair that always looked as if she been sleeping in a wind tunnel. She had a rangy walk that made her look rubbery as she loped along the streets, usually a step or two ahead of me or behind, almost never at my side. Her ears stuck out, and her constant grin was slightly twisted. She always wore a blue skirt that was too long. I thought she was cute.
I couldn’t have had a better guide for my first visit to Paris. A suburban girl, she had been sneaking into the city on her own since she was about ten, knew her way around pretty well, was absolutely fearless, and loved to walk, which made my heart beat a little faster. It was from her I learned how unimportant it is to carry a map. No matter how lost we managed to get—she had no sense of direction, and I was being American and assuming streets that seemed parallel actually were and would remain so—I discovered that it is an eternal homage to the genius of Haussmann and the logic of Paris that if you just keep walking, you’ll come to an avenue or boulevard or chaussée you've heard of or where you will find a Métro station. I also learned from her that if no one stops you forcibly or if the door is not locked, open it and walk right through.
Together we found flower markets and men selling pets from wagons, obscure private courtyards with geraniums in pots and one where girls were taking tap lessons on the cobblestones and making a wonderful racket, junk stores, an itinerant knife-grinder who let us try out his wheel, an abandoned rowboat—so we agreed—that we rowed across the Seine, bars we had no business going into let alone coming out of in one piece, pinball machines on which she taught me how to cheat and run up the score for free games, concerts in churches, everything that pleased. We found Paris in a sunny time when living was cheap and people smiled for no reason at all or so we were convinced and I am to this day.
Andie the instigator was constantly changing direction as we headed down one street or another, often enough shoving me toward something that had caught her eye or walking up to a passerby and asking for directions to a non-existent street. With all this going on all day long—including occasional trips to respectable museums and churches—she was never at a loss for words or ideas or lost her poise, with one exception. In a street strewn with whores, one of them tried to embarrass Andie by telling her she was worth dix milles balles or about twenty bucks at the time. She succeeded, and when the girl laughed at Andie’s dropped-open jaw and said that would be good for something worth a little more, I think I had to explain. Andie was silent for a good ten minutes after that. Then she asked me how much more.
With her I learned to spot the one café in a row of three or four that we could afford, which place was likely to have a real toilet, not un trou à la turque, to smoke Parisiennes at about ten cents for a pack of four, and what time to show up at the street market near my hotel to get fruit for nothing. A bonus was that after only a week or ten days with Andie, I was thinking in French. I realized this when we met her much older sister, Catherine, and not, I’m sure, by accident. Catherine was pleasant and complimentary and skeptical. But I was holding my own with her with more agility than I had imagined I had simply because I was not having to translate for myself. This perhaps made Catherine more skeptical because she suspected I was a little too slick for her goony little sister. But Catherine did not stick around too long, and Andie and I went off perfectly happily.
Then... then she brought me home one evening out to the suburbs not far from the pet cemetery, but we were too late for dinner, so we got something to eat in the kitchen. Afterwards, we made our way to the salon where I was to be thrown to her father. Andie puzzled me, saying she was going to bed. In the most correct possible French, including a couple of imperfect subjunctives, papa interrogated me. “You are a university student?” Yes. “Was it necessary that your parents made sacrifices in order to send you to university?” Only a goat. “Do you play sports?” Basketball, track, sumo. “What profession do you intend to follow?” Whatever yours may be. “Have you come to Paris to perfect your French?” No, I came to sleep with French girls.
I think he had been tipped by Catherine who, correctly, trusted me as far as she could throw the public swimming pool by the Seine where Andie and I had rented bathing suits and gone for a dunk, which Catherine thought was low-rent. Papa took in my own self-incrimination, added it to the prior accusation by big sister, offered me a poire liqueur, and politely threw me out. I said goodnight, thanked him for the food and drink, and walked out the door. Andie was on the next corner. She had climbed out her window. We walked to the station and got a late train back to Paris.
After I left Paris, we wrote back and forth for a while, but phone calls were too expensive in those days and there was no e-mail. About four years later, I got a call. It was Andie, at the airport, telling me that the man from New Jersey she had come to see had not shown up, and when she called him, he told her he couldn’t meet her, sorry, but his wife didn’t want him to go out. Oh. Wife. Oh. So I went to the airport and reeled poor Andie in. I told her on the way that I had just got married and she was about to meet my wife. “Oh,” she said, “you too? I was counting on one of you, you know. I must be crazy.”
No, not at all. Unpredictable, more fun than a sideshow, and this time unlucky. I hope she’s well.
Photo by Klikk
- City Segway Tours are great for seeing Paris in a different light. You'll see more, have more fun, and not feel tired at the end of it. These are highly recommended and truly a great thing to do during your stay.
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