My friends are busy all day and I am meeting them in one hour for dinner. To pass the last bit of time and rest my aching feet in their cheap sandals, I sit in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, taking in the views and the crowds and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. A man asks me to take his picture, but after I have taken the picture, he sits next to me, too close, and tries to strike up conversation. In half-English/half-French we talk, but he is too close to me and then he is touching me — flipping my arm to see my tattoos, stroking my back. I tell him to stop touching me. He asks me to get a coffee or dinner with him. I say no, I don’t want to go with him anywhere. An interminably long time passes; he keeps talking, I keep shutting him down, he finally leaves. I am still polite and he leans in for bisoux and his are not the right way, he fully kisses each of my cheeks and it is wet, and he tries for my mouth but I duck out of the way. I get up and move away through the crowd, closer to the church. Minutes later I see he is following me, not far away, and no matter where I move, he is not too far. After some time I cross the river and walk towards the street where I am meeting my friends, it is still too early, but the view has been ruined for now and if I join this group of loud American boys, college boys they seem, maybe he will stop following me. Maybe they are worse than him, who knows — you never know. I lose him eventually and find a dark, quiet bar with a big tattooed barman. It is hard to see in, but easy to see out. I drink a gin fizz and read my book and feel angry and also scared, which makes me more angry.
I am walking in Montmartre up to the Sacre-Coeur. There is a curving pedestrian path that goes up to the first set of stairs and there are a dozen or so men there, trying to scam people into paying them for bracelets. I know this scam — they grab your arm and start braiding the bracelet right there, on your wrist, and then when you are trapped and it is finished, they force you to pay them for this thing they have done that you didn’t want. I know to say no and keep walking. But that is not enough apparently, there are too many of them and they are all around me, several of them grab my arms, one is pulling on me even as I am walking, I say in English, in French, no, j’ai dit non, don’t touch me again, stop. They drift away as I finally reach the bottom of the steps. I am shaken but there are steps to climb, so I climb. At the top I sit in front of the church and drink some water and look out over Paris; it is another hot day.
In Gare de l’Est someone is playing a piano, beautifully, energetically, and a crowd has gathered around her. I am across the station, looking for directions on my phone, but I look up with a smile on my face at this pianist. A man catches my eye, he thinks I am smiling at him, but I immediately wipe my face and scowl, I’m not looking at you. This smile is not for you. He is coming towards me anyway. As he reaches me, I walk towards the crowd around the piano, and I stand next to some beautiful girls, maybe teens, maybe older. Soon he is next to me again, too close. I turn and ask him if he needs something. He says yes, and I say, I don’t want to talk to you, stop following me. I stop looking at him, but I can feel him looking at me. After the song ends, I briskly turn, I will take the escalator down and get on a train. I see his reflection as I get to the top of the escalator, and he is right behind me. Before stepping on, I stop and turn. What do you want? You get on, I will not let you get behind me, go wherever you’re going, get away from me. He looks around, slightly embarrassed, maybe, but with a little smile on his face, like this is all amusing. But he only goes a few feet from where I stand. He watches me descend on the escalator and starts to get on as I get off at the bottom, but I walk over to the police that are near the ticket machines. When I look back that has scared him away. I run to get on a train, hoping that I have lost him in the crowd. But my stop is just one stop away, and when I get off I don’t feel invisible yet, like I want to be, so I go to a brasserie across the street. I order a glass of wine and the waiter seats me in a closed off corner where I can’t be seen but where I can see out. He is doting and charming, gray haired and in his 50s if I’m guessing, and even though I haven’t told him what happened, he takes such good care of me, that I feel like maybe he knows and that is why he has put me here in this quiet corner. Or that maybe lots of women alone come this way, trying to take a break from the lechers of this painfully beautiful city.