It is an affectation of mine to personify cities as they have such an astounding effect on me. I ended up here in Berlin because of Paris – the first place I visited outside of the USA. Now that I am approaching my third year in Berlin, I am thinking of my inaugural debut in Europe and how that sexy town is indelibly etched into my memory though I have not been there since January of 2012, that coincidentally is the last time I left Berlin. I miss Paris dearly, like an old jilted lover who I had a harrowing and meaningful one night stand with. Now that I am having relationships woes with Berlin, I am on a desperate hunt to find either some semblance of closure with alluring and elusive Paris, or return back to my first love.
Here is an excerpt from a novel I’ve been working on for too long that attests to this disposition.
When Josephine Baker arrived in Paris for the very fist time she said, “I want to seduce the whole capitol.” I was feeling the same way just over three weeks ago when I saw the first glimpses of gay Paris out of the taxi window. The driver was busing himself with a map, a cigarette, and putting on and taking off his sunglasses repeatedly, as well as constantly changing the radio station until he found just the right out dated song to play. Chumbawumba I think it was. My first impressions of Paris were cliché, but of course. At first I noticed the Parisian’s fashionable eyewear, accessories and clothing (respectively). It was easy to recognize the tourists apart from the locals, it was something unspoken about the way they looked. As if they were art installations and not actual people.
When we pulled up to the Rue de something or other (I’m better with Spanish, sorry) I knew that we were downtown, in the 3rd or 5th, and that the name of the district was called Marais but I kept defiantly pronouncing it mah-rise because I never liked the language and was frustrated it was something I couldn’t grasp the concept of. To me, French is one of those languages that always sounds better in song, unlike Romanian, which is just the opposite. Having binged on Spanish for so long throughout school and from working in restaurants, I am familiar enough with Italian but still would rather learn Japanese or German before taking up French. I did little research about the geography and culture of Paris, France before the trip even though it was my first voyage to Europe. I figured it would be a true adventure to venture into the unknown, as if it were going to be this great life changing experience. Really though, my expectations weren’t that high. I’m just romantic like that.
I went to Paris as a vacation with my beau and to meet up with friends, two of which were celebrating their anniversary (Tom and Peter) and two others who were sharing their birthdays (Matt and Don). The former have been together since quarter till forever, and Matt and Don are in one of those security blanket type relationships where they are best friends with benefits, the benefit being they can fuck whoever they want and still have someone to do relationship stuff with without having to worry about their sex lives ever going stale. Everyone seemed to be in happy agreement, as many well-established gay relationships tend to be. Michael, my beau, couldn’t manage to get off the entire 10 days, so he met up with us for the last 6 days, just in time for Matt and Don’s birthday.
We rented an apartment that was located above a café (wasn’t everything?) and adjacent to several churches and shops of varying retailers from cheese to high fashion footwear. It is hard to describe the vivid features of the building, it took no time at all to succumb to the monotone, pale gray and beige materials used throughout the downtown district as seen from afar and up close, with intermittent splashes of reds adorning some of the doors. Swirls of bronze and marble also come to mind, but the general visual allure of Paris, for me at least, was how well organized and cohesive the design of the architecture seemed to be. Besides that, the loud hum of the city distracted the mind from paying attention to such details although details showed themselves in very big ways. The first walk alone around the block getting into the apartment after seeing the centuries old statues, monuments and gardens, I was already overwhelmed.
We were on the top floor and were warned several times beforehand by the landlord, but we didn’t mind, we thought it would be worth the views alone. I was last to arrive due to my east coast bad ass mentality of thinking that it was not just for me to have to wait in line for a taxi. Of course I eventually relented and adhered to the order that Europeans shocked me with and I was reminded that I was on vacation.
The apartment seemed very lived in. The living room and dining room were rather large. The living room had a leather loveseat and lounge chairs, both of which were worn but in good enough shape to not care, we were it Paris! There was a decadent marble fireplace in the center of the space, various illustrations and paintings on the walls, the modern media amenities, several French doors leading out to the balcony, and many red, black, white and blue rugs I would come to see quite often by the end of the trip. All of the dining room walls were covered with bookshelves except for one, which of course had another French door leading out to the wrap around balcony, boasting splendid views of downtown Paris, and the north facing Montramontre. I was immediately drawn to the bookshelves as I found a place for my bags, not too concerned with who had already arrived although I heard various voices coming from every corner of this new, temporary home of mine. There were several types of books but mostly they were tourist books and French history books. There were several dime store paper back novels and I immersed myself in reading their spines, my head tilted, straining and squinting my eyes, trying to see what good and bad taste the habitants had before me. There were a few books in Spanish, several in French and a few in Italian and German. Most were in English, and shockingly, my eyes caught wind of a collection of Emily Dickinson poems. I delicately removed it from its non in-order place and read the inscription:
For Mary, the best and the worst thing to ever happen to me. –J
Suddenly I was being hugged, kissed and greeted verbally by Tom (1/2 of the couple) and Matt (1/2 of the birthday fuck buddies). They were asking me how my flight was and how much I loved Paris and if I have seen the view yet and I became even more whelmed. Soon we were out on the terrace, pointing at the Pompidou, the Eiffel Tower, and other buildings I will never be able to spell and/or pronounce. It was all very refreshing to see a new metropolis, a new place, new people, new smells, new food and of course, old friends. As much as this was my new chance to make a first impression, another chapter in the art of my life, a new opportunity to be new, it was at that moment that I realized I missed Philly already.
(c) Louis DeVaughn Nelson – 2014