I don’t know why I went to Paris alone for a month.
I’d never been alone anywhere other than Long Island, so I knew it was an awful idea from the moment I clicked proceed on the Air France flight confirmation screen.
But I couldn’t have backed out. Those haute-couture bastards already had my money.
I don’t like to describe myself as a “Francophile.” If I had to, I could name a dozen philes that would be grounds for arrest. That said, I have been obsessed with everything French since junior high, and in the last decade, I’ve watched hundreds of French YouTube videos and films, befriended French people, eaten countless plates of snails and baguette wands, and learned how to pronounce French brand names and phrases that make you seem intriguing at parties.
“Is that cardigan from Comptoir des Cotonniers? How . . . à la mode.”
I’ve even honed that nasally, I’ve-been-smoking-since-I-was-ten accent to the point that it now sounds near-native.
I guess I do know why I went to Paris for a month.
Absorbing the city of love alone was more disheartening than it sounds. I often dined behind young, attractive Parisian couples that believed sloppy kisses at streetside cafés were more enticing than the beautifully-garnished dishes of confit-de-canard sitting untouched on their tables.
“Vous désirez, monsieur?” waiters would ask me.
“Une petite amie et un verre de Bordeaux,” I’d respond. I’d then wave them off before they could tell me that they didn’t sell girlfriends by the glass like they did their Bordeaux.
Perhaps profligately, I spent hours locked in my hotel room, plucking my acoustic guitar, accruing the admiration of a polite cleaner with a lisp and a long facial scar who passed through the hall every so often. After he complimented my dexterity for the third time, I realized I wasn’t making great use of my time.
So I headed to the Sacré Cœur, a sprawling limestone basilica overlooking the city. I found a comfortable spot on the stairs out front and watched the cloudy afternoon sky give way to a brilliant orange sunset.
It took a while to notice, but all around me were people — French, German, Italian, Spanish, British, American — interacting with one another. Some sang along to the bass-thumping rhythms of Belgian rapper Stromae that streamed out of a beat-up jukebox. Some posed for pictures on the balcony overlooking the buildings scattered along the horizon. A few shared passionate French kisses. Others pecked. Many hugged and talked. Some were alone like me.
I closed my eyes, reclined on the steps, and focused on the tranquil hum of everything. Then I sat back up and let my head bounce to the music, the laughs, the click of handheld cameras. I melted into the city. That little microcosm.
I know why I went to France alone for a month. But I guess feeling alone is a matter of perspective.
*Originally published in The Vignette Review, a literary magazine.*