I’d dreamt of going to Paris for as long as I could remember. My grandparents were Canadian and while their French was nothing like the language I would come to know and love, I was smitten with the idea of it. I watched An American in Paris, Funny Face and Casablanca with my father and promptly became a francophile. I took French language courses in college and enjoyed as many buttery flaky baked goods as I could find. When I was 30, I met some San Francisco women married to Frenchmen, and francophiles, like me. We eventually started a French study-group of sorts which turned into Wednesday nights drinking wine, eating cheese, and talking about the children and men in our lives. Rachel, Meredith, Nancy and Hajdeja became staples of our girl’s night out for the next 10+ years.
After I finally got a job that paid a decent salary, I decided to take a solo trip to Paris for my 32nd birthday. I booked a little hotel by Montmartre and the night I arrived, I made my way to the hill for my first view of the city and Sacre-Coeur. Which is where I met Guillaume Denis…
“Avez-vous un autre caske?” I asked.
“Avez-vous un autre caske? Shit, am I saying that right?”
“Oui, yes, you are saying it right.”
Thankfully, he spoke English.
“But I’m confused as to why you’re asking me if I have another helmet.”
And had a sexy French accent.
“Well, I was actually wondering if you’d take me for a ride. Show me the sights.”
Did I say that out loud? Had I left all discretion at the hotel? He smiled. He was dark and handsome. Mischievous, I could tell.
“You don’t look like a tourist. Actually, I thought you fit right in here.”
“Wow, you couldn’t have given me a nicer compliment.”
Wow? I had the guts to approach a total stranger but I couldn’t seem to find better vocabulary to express myself.
“Yes, and your French is perfect.”
I thought he was sublime. Actually, I wasn’t thinking that. The beauty was, I wasn’t thinking at all, I was just doing. I was looking at this man, feeling free, in Paris, asking for what I wanted, and receiving it.
“What are you writing?” I asked.
“Oh, this? Well, it’s a musical.”
Shit. Merde. He’s gay. Of COURSE he’s gay, how could I not see that? Handsome, well dressed, albeit with the starving artist look about him.
“Oh. A musical. How nice.”
“Do I detect a note of sarcasm? It’s hard to tell with my limited English.”
“OK, you speak perfect English and understand it as well. Sorry, it wasn’t sarcasm, maybe disappointment, that’s all. Anyhow, what’s the musical about?”
“Disappointment? You had expectations already? My god, we just met! Ay, American women!”
“What?! What is that supposed to mean, American woman? How many American women approach you and ask, in French no less, if you have another helmet so that you can take her for a ride on your motorcycle?!”
He smiled again. Funny teeth, but not awful funny.
“The musical is unfinished and I can’t talk about it until it is, but suffice to say it’s about the love of one woman and conflict between brothers and…”
“Sounds like True West. Oh, sorry. That’s a play by…”
“Sam Shepard, yes, I know. I’m writing a musical, it’s a pretty good guess that I’d know a bit about plays, yes?”
“Yes. Of course.”
I looked away for a moment, reminding myself that I was in Paris, twinkling lights of the city below me. Finally, I’d made it to this place of dreams and love and passion and romance and history. The place I’d dreamed of coming to for years. And I knew when I got out of the train station that I would be hooked forever.
“What’s your name?”
“Guillaume. Et toi?”
“Christine. Je m’appelle Christine.”
Guillaume and I chatted for another few minutes until I could feel the jetlag setting in. He offered to take me for a ride the following evening but the whole thing suddenly felt impulsive, so I thanked him for the conversation and went back to the hotel.
The following morning, there was an envelope under my door. Inside was a handwritten note (that I still have) from Guillaume.
“If you still want to make a stroll in moto, it will be with pleasure. You can find me at the place we met yesterday evening. I’m certainly already there. – Guillaume.
If I do not see you this evening, I shall return tomorrow morning around noon.”
We met that evening and he did indeed give me a tour of Paris by motorcycle. It was magic. He even showed me the secret vineyards near Montmartre. The following night we went to see a bizarre avant-garde play. And the night after that we saw what I remember to be an incredible performance of Romeo et Juliette at the Opera house. It wasn’t a ballet per se, it was a completely new adaptation, very modern. We had drinks after at a small bar inside the Trocadero. I felt like I was living inside one of my daydreams.
And then of course, we said our goodbyes. I think we both knew instinctively that spending time together was romantic but not intimate. Guillaume was in the middle of something with someone, and I was, too. He married a beautiful woman a few years ago and has a little girl now, according to Facebook. Coincidentally, one of our conversations that first night was around advertising and marketing – an industry that we both found ourselves working in years later. Its strange to think of the people who come into our lives briefly – all of the what-ifs and the might-have-beens. In this case, though, it was perfect timing. I saw him again briefly a year later when I returned to Paris with Jackson and Richard in tow. For some reason, the language barrier was more difficult the second time around. Maybe it was because we hadn’t been practicing. Or maybe it was because the first time had an air of possibility surrounding it, as opposed to the second time when I brought my real life along with me. Regardless, I’m forever grateful to Guillaume for helping me to see Paris for all that it is.