Friday, August 7, 2015

Body and soul, partie 3

A crowd of people roams along the river, migrating in a pack toward the Ile de la Cite. People of scattered backgrounds, destinations, interests who have never met. Our paths nevertheless overlap. It's both warm and dark, the richness of summer in a northern latitude.

In Paris, when the sun goes down things are just getting started. Anything can happen... the night is young! This is the time when the workers of Silicon Valley normally scuttle back home, cozy up in a media room, and fire up the electronics for an evening with Netflix, or Amazon Prime. When Danny and I go for a walk at night, the streets are quiet and lonely except for the dog owners. The houses are dark but sometimes a window is glowing blue.

You have to come to Paris to be with fellow humans. Along the quai, we are illuminated by streetlamp, and starlight. We wait at intersections to cross, en masse. Pass a narrow footbridge over the river where a band has set up, playing with sincerity and without artifice, for tips. People cluster around them. It feels very basic and right, almost primeval.

A guy bumps into me from behind, and apologizes nicely. He blames looking down at his smartphone. I smile, why not? Practice my French, which is just starting to come back. I work for the company making the software for the smartphone that caused the collision. And I'm not proud of it, but my hands go down to my purse to make sure it's intact.

It is.

Thus begins a friendly conversation. French people talk a lot. So much! It's dizzying, rapid fire in English and French. It's that weird language duel where both of you are determined to show off your skills. And this guy has way more practice. I hang around introverts, engineers. We're trying our best to be invisible. We're trying not to know each other. In France, conversation is a competitive sport.

About 10 minutes in, I realize my talkative companion is rather focused on me and this might not be a random encounter. No smartphone in sight. This lovely man, who spends his days wheeling handicapped travelers around Aeroport Charles de Gaulle and his evenings apparently giving informal walking tours of the Left Bank. Yes, he is out for a casual stroll on a summer night. But he's also thinking, the night is young.

He likes to dance. Would I like to dance by the river? His hand goes to my arm and gently whirls me around. I'm off-guard and it's the most awkward twirl ever. But my purse is safe and it's dark and no one knows me here. Still I feel deeply embarrassed, like the geeky girl at the school dance. Everything else about this scene might be different, but I'm still me.

A few minutes later, I let him go. It makes me smile from the inside, and go on smiling, an endless secret smile in the dark. What a cheeky, harmless caper! And how unexpected, a stranger's gift - the gift of being seen in a crowd.

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