Another day is upon me in this City of Love. I bundle up on a cold and rainy Wednesday to start my journey, as usual, down the 7 flights of stairs to the eager street below. As I descend I circle around the ‘out of order’ lift, around, around, around. There is a man inside of it that is here everyday, (except of course Sundays), and he drills, hammers and greases away. But we still have no working elevator. Instead I am forced to circle him like he is a caged animal when in fact it is I who is at his mercy.
Finally I board the metro where I quickly fit into the mosh of people on their way to whatever the day may have in store, each person with a different story. In this we are all the same as we rock back and forth on the speeding train.
My story today takes me to the American Library in Paris – which is conveniently located somewhat near a landmark that Paris is known for, la tour Eiffel! As I climb up the stairs from the metro I half expect to see the tower just outside, waiting there for me like a lost puppy. Instead I find another perfect Paris street lined with cafes and shops. So I walk.
I round a corner and there it is: the giant tower peaking out at me from behind the Parisian stones. And I lose a breath, two breaths. Suddenly I feel so much more like I am actually in Paris than I have since moving here.
I keep walking looking for Rue General Camou, the street where the library sits. Now, 11 days into my Paris life, I feel more comfortable finding streets and I am beginning to understand how the twists and turns really work. (Of course I really couldn’t do it without my handy Paris Arrondisment guide that the locals assured me I would need. They were right!)
Finding the library I slip in from out of the cold and into a heated chamber filled with the comforting smell of old books. I instantly feel at home in this “house” with so many old friends: Anais Nin, Dostoevsky, Henry James, Stephanie Meyers, J.D. Salinger, the list goes on and on. I hear around me the familiar tones of my first language. As I approach the librarian it feels odd to openly ask for something using English. But she is English and we ARE in the American library so I follow the example of the Anglophones ahead of me. I learn that I will not be taking the books I have chosen with me today. The 100Euro fee for the year has deterred me. So I set out to spend some time with my Paris instead.
The air has gotten colder since I last exited the street and I rush to cover my head with my knitted hat, shield my face with my scarf and my hands with wool. I follow the looming sight of the tower to my destination suddenly content with looking like a tourist. These are pictures I will sacrifice my pride for!
The quite walk which brought me here has suddenly turned into a bustling tourist attraction. The voices are in English, French, Chinese, Arabic. It is the melting pot of Paris. I walk directly underneath the grand structure as I feel the overwhelming truth that I am in fact HERE! I take it in, all of it: the sounds of the carousel, the movement of the crowd, the droplets of rain, and the warmth I feel inside my heart.
But I have another mission that I move on to fulfill. I walk directly beyond the tower to the glory of the Seine. The wind whips around my face and invades the warmth beneath my coat. But I don’t mind.
I meander along the shoulders of the river letting the rain drench my face. I look straight ahead to see a bridge – maybe this one will be my favorite. But instead of walking on her I nestle beneath her walls in the dryness she provides. I sit down, open my bag and pull out a letter I have been waiting to read since before it even reached my doorstep. Right as I take the letter out of the envelope that has just traveled over 5,400 miles, an Albanian bum decides he needs to confide in me.
He is hungry, he is alone, he lives on the streets…he explains. He doesn’t know anyone and his home country is in massive upheaval. His worn hands are freezing and he has no scarf to keep the cold from his body. I feel sad. Then I immediately feel so fortunate and wealthy - a feeling which surpasses the guilt I feel for possessing the thoughts in the first place. I shake his freezing hand and wish him well. But in that brief few minutes I learned so much about the world. Such a simple encounter, only 5 minutes out of a life made up of billions, but it forever changed how I feel about the different fortunes I have been given. Including this letter I still hold tightly in my hand.
I watch him walk away carrying only his little red bucket and shame. With a prayer I then look back at the lines I am eager to read. I revel in every syllable written for me. I stop to let the air bite my face while listening to the slapping of the river upon the stairs where I sit. I am overwhelmed with joy and the knowledge that the truth and beauty of love really does exist.
It is with this feeling that I leave you for now...