every moment of the year.
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near…
The week of Saint-Valentin in Paris, St. Valentine’s Day: flower shops overflow on every corner with pink, purple and red roses; the baker’s window, which only a week ago presented gold paper crowns and petite porcelain figurines, tempts the passerby with heart-shaped breads and strawberry tarts; and the book shops have moved metal revolving card stands onto the sidewalks, where women wearing pink scarves debate between a card with miniature fingerprints shaped like red hearts or one with a pencil sketch of a hand offering a rose.
Near the carousel in the Luxembourg gardens, two six-year-olds exchange green plastic rings over chocolate ice-cream. The boy is three quarters of an inch shorter than his sweetheart, who, while leaning down to give him a kiss on his right cheek, drips chocolate ice-cream on the toes of her pink Mary-Janes. She cries. The six-year-old girl, who can’t even read the Valentine her chéri’s mom picked out for her, is getting more action than I am.
In the last four years I have been dating someone exclusively in the month of February. I have yet to have a date on Valentine’s Day.
In the U.S., on February 14th, those without “significant others” are shamed and ridiculed. They are confined to the walls of their apartments in order to spare themselves the embarrassment of being seen alone in public, where they are sure to collect pitying looks from couples who hold hands. Alone and sad, the guy delivering their Kung Pao chicken is their only link to the outside world as they devour Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice-cream and watch Sleepless in Seattle (before dinner).
It is virtually impossible to turn on the TV on Valentine’s day without catching a glimpse of a romantic comedy-which only perpetuates the depression, reminding singles across America (who for one day only would gladly lower their standards and settle for a date with a “convenient stranger” if it meant dinner at a restaurant with cloth napkins and salad forks) that they will not be meeting Tom Hanks at the top of the Empire State Building tonight.
Each year, I am hopeful for a romantic rendezvous with my respective sweetheart. But despite the fact that on Valentine’s Day I am not single, Cupid curses me–with long-distance relationships and snow storms keeping my boyfriends in Oakland airport or JFK, or stuck in traffic on their way home from skiing in Tahoe. There was one boyfriend with whom I broke up the week before the 14th; he called me on Valentine’s Day to apologize for not taking me out due to the three-minute silent student film in which he was starring. He later went on to become my most successful stalker, as he had contacts in the mail room at my college dormitory.
As a result of Cupid’s curse, my last four Valentine’s Days have been spent with my gay best-friend, Myke, who by 11 p.m. is passed out on my couch after downing a $3.50 bottle of André Champagne bought at Cal-Mart while delivering a barely comprehensible speech about how Cary Grant was a homosexual.
Where was my boyfriend this February 14th? San Francisco. Marc is interviewing for jobs in the internet…or is it on the internet? As I have broken two cell phones in the last three months and am still trying to hook up my speakers to my computer, un-technically inclined as I am, I have no idea what Marc does for a living. All I know is that he is interviewing for jobs that are 5,000 miles away from me and that he chose to begin the interview process the Tuesday after Valentine’s Day. To Marc’s defense he did send me a beautiful arrangement of fuchsia orchids and purple long-stemmed roses, which, I am told by his brother, he picked out in person before he left, though I am still waiting for the card.
My hopes once again dashed, I put in a call to Myke, but he was unable to come to Paris to watch old movies and pass out on my couch this year as he is in a “healthy” relationship and opted to celebrate the holiday with his boyfriend whom he “loves,” leaving me with Laura, who was less than thrilled to be standing in for the gay best friend. But, as she had no other plans, we agreed to meet in front of the Odeon métro on the 14th at 6:15 pm.
It’s 6:50. I’m freezing. Where. Is. Laura. A group of Irish guys, judging by their shirts that say “Ireland” and the white four-leaf clovers located in the center of their green baseball caps, are getting closer and closer to me. The one with the orange mullet wig attached to his four-leaf-clover hat starts winking at me…the traffic is crazy. Cars are whizzing by on either side of me with people hanging out of the windows with big signs that say “Tunisia.” There must have been a big rugby game or something… I don’t watch rugby. I don’t have a TV because I’m too lazy to carry it up seven flights of stairs, and feel too guilty about asking my Chinese acrobat neighbor to do it for me– given the fact that a few months ago when I locked myself out of my studio, he climbed out of his window and scaled the building, seven flights up, broke in through my window and successfully unlocked my door. Later that week he bestowed upon me his entire pirated DVD collection. Could I go to jail for having those in my possession? I can’t feel my fingers. Laura!!!
I can’t believe that she’s kept me waiting. By myself. On Valentine’s Day. I’m starting to get the looks of pity. I have to stop glancing at my watch because every time I do, the couple next to me in the matching Diesel jeans keeps giving me that, “Oh, her boyfriend stood her up” head tilt, which is irritating me because my boyfriend not only stood me up but also it looks like my best friend is about to as well. The stand-in is the stand-in because they are dependable, reliable, available, at times when the “significant other” is not.
I reach into my pocket and begin to sort through its outdated contents: old métro passes, Ricola wrappers, movie stub from Love Actually…Isn’t that just perfect– “Laura!” I am relieved. “Where have you been?”
Laura apologizes profusely because she has no reason for her tardiness, she was “just late.” She has promised to buy me a drink at the café and even though I assure her that this is not necessary, I fully intend on letting her settle the bill.
We arrive at downtown Odéon to find rue de Buci packed. Even Armorino’s gelaterie has standing room only. Laura and I are lucky to grab the last table in close proximity to a heat lamp at Les Etages. However, there is only one chair to the table as the people seated to its left have somehow managed to pile five bags on our missing chair without its toppling over. Laura asks them if they are using the chair. They remove their things and Laura and I sit down.
This is our favorite café for a weekend night, because the rosy-cheeked 20-year-old waiter always brings us plenty of candy-covered nuts. The last time we were here, Laura and I ate like seven bowls of toffee-covered peanuts, just so we could flirt with him when he would come back to our table and fill us up. Both Laura and I came down with “stomach flu” the next morning. Where is my much-too-young-for-me crush this evening? Does he have the evening off? Could he be out with a cute girl?
I start filling Laura in on my friend Sophie from home, who told me last night that she now has a girlfriend (two days ago she liked guys), but we are distracted by the table to our left that has too many bags with owners who are now speaking in English with French accents. Strange…as they are all French and responded to Laura’s request for the chair in French and now they’re speaking limited English with French accents?
One of the girls starts talking about how she has this hot date tonight, but this guy is different from the hot one she’s going dancing with tomorrow night. I picture daggers shooting into each of her batting brown eyes.
It’s been five minutes and Laura and I are already out of nuts and since my cutie is nowhere in sight, we are forced to steal from the table to our right. As I make the switch the stout man in the glasses and navy pullover sweater next to the table I stole the nuts from gives me a disapproving look. His date has glasses too. Really thick lenses. She is sitting perfectly straight in her chair with her hands folded on her lap. Will he be getting lucky tonight? Outlook not good. Laura and I eavesdrop –he has a very distinct voice, as if he were performing Hamlet, but their conversation thus far has been about glasses.
Twenty minutes later, the group of people to our left speaking English with French accents has been replaced by two men in their thirties who are not gay and wearing too much hair gel. To my right, the stout man in the navy pullover sweater has asked his date for the 13th time what will happen if she doesn’t wear her glasses…why doesn’t he just tell her that he thinks she looks better without them?! Finally they change the subject–he’s a speech therapist.
I begin my story about my friend Sophie and her new girlfriend again when the straight male couple to our left asks “Where are you from?” Ughhhhhhh! Iif only they had asked us in French we could pretend not to understand, but they have heard us conversing, or rather commenting, in English for ten minutes.
Laura and I are saved by the glasses couple. The stout man wants us to take a picture of them. His date’s smile is sticking to her teeth. He makes Laura retake the picture three times. I’m surprised he didn’t make his date take off her glasses for the photo. They gather their things and leave.
I start my story about Sophie and her questionable sexuality for the third time, when I look to my right to see him: wearing a brown leather bomber jacket and a maroon silk woven button-down dress shirt with jeans; his hair is wavy and perfectly white. He leans back in his chair comfortably and orders a hot mint tea. As he crosses his legs towards us he reveals a newly shined pair of brown wingtips and navy Ralph Lauren socks. He is so dapper. He reminds me of my Grandpa Roland, who is a cross between Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Grandpa Roland is 85 years old and still gets hit on.
Laura and I, using our “talk about the people right next to us” voice, speculate about The Man’s life. Where is his wife? Is she still alive? Was he ever married at all? Children? We decide that we like him.
The Man leans over and asks us in a slight accent where we’re from. At first I think maybe his English is limited, and he’s just trying to make conversation, hoping that he didn’t overhear what Laura and I had said about him.
The three of us talk for over an hour. He tells us about his trips to the U.S. and how much he loves San Francisco; he tells us about living in Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. His English is perfect, as is his Russian, Portuguese, Arab and French. He wants to know if we like Bush and then begins to deliver one political joke after another–he’s witty. He tells of the old Paris…Hemingway, Picasso and Cole Porter–one of my favorite composers.
As Laura and I get to know our new friend better, he reminds me more and more of my grandfather, whom two years ago on Valentine’s Day I accompanied, with my grandmother, to the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles for dinner. The entire night Grandpa Roland wooed Grandma in Latin uttering made-up phrases that made absolutely no sense and probably weren’t Latin after all. Grandma showed me the silver locket that my Grandpa gave to her the first year that they were dating, and Grandpa told me how the locket was originally intended for his first love, Betty Haymaker from his second-grade class. We laughed.
This is the only man I’ve met who emanates the essence of my grandfather, who is dignified, compassionate and confident in his life choices. There are few people who look back at their life at the age of 85 and have no notable regrets. Something in The Man’s eyes remind me of my Grandpa Roland. Or maybe I just miss Grandma and Grandpa Roland and am searching for them in Paris.
It is now 10 pm and Laura and I are half an hour late to meet her friend Carolyn and her boyfriend Antoine. We say good-bye to The Man and he squeezes my right hand as I slide out of my chair.
On the way back to the métro, I think about the friend I’ve just made, whose name I never got, and I decide that rather go to Bar 10 to drink cheap Sangria with Laura and her friends, I want to go home and call Marc.
I kiss Laura goodbye and sneak around the corner for a sucre-banane crêpe, humming Cole Porter’s “I love Paris in the springtime…” but when I get to the lyrics “Why do I love Paris? Because my love is near…” I miss Marc so much I have to stop. And why the sudden tears? What is this wetness underneath my eyes? Why do I care so much? Could I be in love? Omigosh! Yes, that’s it. I love him. I do! I am in love with Marc–oh no, this is not good. Why does this always happen to me? I hate being in love. Now I have to care about what he thinks and will have to compromise because, apparently, that’s what “healthy relationships” are about. I hate that, don’t I?
On the other hand, it has been a long time–maybe being in love is better than I remember. And after all, Marc isn’t starring in a three-minute silent student film, nor does he own an orange mullet wig.
I can’t help but smile the whole way home on the métro…thinking about my métro-sexual boyfriend, who I love! I change my tune to “I left my heart in San Francisco.” Not Porter, but perfect for my Marc.
Kirsten joins Bonjour Paris from Los Angeles, California where she recently graduated from the University in Southern California with a BFA in Acting. Last year she co-wrote the book and lyrics to a new pop musical which expects to open in Los Angeles next spring. Two years ago, while studying at a conservatory in London, Kirsten fell in love with Paris and decided that she was destined to return for some time. She’s thrilled to experience this dream come true.