29 March, 2011

Rights of Passage

This week handed me both, one of the best moments I have ever had and one of the most disturbing.

Oh how to eloquently share with you what I witnessed? Let’s get the disturbing bit out of the way.

I prepared to go for a run in the garden of the beautiful Palais Royal, I laced up my sneakers and secured my key to my belt buckle with two knots. Then I was off. As I circled around the cage of the lift I could see movement on the floor below, the floor I was about to reach. With each step I took more of the scene was revealed to me and along with it my growing horror. A man, a crazy eyed man, sat with his back up against my landlord’s hand carved door. His black eyes and greasy hair aren’t what took me by surprise. Instead it was the fact instead of pants he was wearing ladies nylons. He wasn’t bothered by my presence, as it didn’t deter him from his task. I will allow you to fill in the blank here. Yelling, “Mal, tres mal” I hustled quickly past making record time getting down the 6 flights of stairs. The insides of my skin where crawling and the imagine disturbing my thoughts even now as I write these words. My run that day was faster than usual; I was running from the memory. Perhaps it is a right of passage when living in a city to witness something like this. This is what I will tell myself at least.

To make up for the intruding thoughts of that occurrence Paris handed me a beautiful moment that is forever imprinted in my mind and heart. It was a magnificent Saturday on the streets of Paris and so my friend Leo and I set out to enjoy the sunshine and a sandwich on Ile St. Louis. We walked with purpose hoping to reach the shore of the island before we lost any more sun. The clouds in the sky were like nothing I had ever seen – half of the sky held gray, the kind of gray you see right before it snows. But it was nice and cool out. The sun was poking through and danced on the dark waters of the Seine. Half the sky gray the other half sunshine, a complete contradiction that left me wondering what the day had in store.

We found a place to sit, feet dangling towards the water, and unwrapped our sandwiches. People sat on all sides of us enjoying the dwindling sunlight. The birds circled the sky perhaps trying to listen to the lone man quietly strumming his guitar. As we finished our last bites my bare feet began to get cold. The clouds were winning, the sun didn't stand a chance.

Ile St. Louis is the smaller of the two islands that are the center of Paris. We sat on the banks of the island which are often lined with locals snacking, laughing, and sunning. It has quickly become one of my favorite places. The tiny cobblestone streets above are filled with tourists every day of the year even the coldest days. I put my shoes back on then we climbed up the cracked cement stairs to walk. We walked along its winding streets in hopes of finding gelato, hey – when you want stracciatella you must have stracciatella! Everywhere you look people are walking along with ice cream even as the temperature dropped. Soon Leo and I would be joining them. We hopped in a line that began out on the street and waited our turn to duck into the little shop with ancient wooden beams covering the ceiling. This is a staple in Paris and a dead give away of the buildings age. I have come to love this as it can be seen in hundreds of places throughout the city.

I ordered my gelato and enjoyed a bite before even walking away from the counter. Perfection.

We then went to stroll among the crowds while savoring every bite. As we met the street again the clouds finally broke. A little at first, small droplets falling on our gelato. Then the downpour. Everywhere people were huddled in doorways lined up on the narrow streets. We followed suit only briefly to have a few bites without rainwater. We stood there leaning up against the cream colored walls of a building before deciding to brave the storm. We walked on. Only after I realized some of the cream color was coming along with me, had I not read the “Wet Paint” sign that was posted there?

We walked then through the growing puddles, our hair saturated along with our clothes. I was shivering, soaking wet and not dressed properly for the sudden cold. But I didn’t care.

The streets got quiet.

Walking along I captured the moment in my minds eye, the green of the trees blowing in the breeze, the puddles that soaked my feet, the rainwater dripping down my face, the gray sky, the smell of wet cement. I will go back there to that one place in time over and over again in my life. Getting caught in the rain in Paris...,perhaps another right of passage.

I feel so lucky.

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