Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Fiction: Coup de foudre

France

{This is the first in a series of Friday Fiction I’ll be writing, based upon some of the experiences I’ve had while traveling; included along with the story below, are a few photos from my honeymoon in Paris!}

"Coup de foudre literally translates to a strike of lightning. In fact, it refers to love at first sight – one of those moments where you see a special someone, and can’t help but react immediately."

As I descended into Paris, my eyes scanned the horizon and, almost immediately, found the Eiffel Tower in the distance, like a greeting committee welcoming me to the City of Lights. Excitement bubbled over like the bottle of champagne I hoped I’d soon be drinking.

After landing, I waited anxiously while the plane emptied, then grabbed my carry-on from overhead as soon as I could and made my way to the exit, giving a grin and hasty thanks to the flight attendants as I passed.

The airport. It was big, bright and busy with signs all around en Français. Yep. It had officially happened; I’d done it! I’d finally embarked on my parisienne adventure. 

I stood still for a moment, gazing all around. Where to go next? The airport was 14 miles north of Paris, so I knew I had to take a train to get into the city. But where was the ticket counter? What terminal was I in? I began wandering around, scanning the signs and trying to decipher where I was in relation to where I needed to be. 

As I passed an information kiosk, I thought about asking for assistance, then decided against it, suddenly nervous the French I’d learned before coming wouldn’t quite cut it. If I kept my mouth shut, at least everyone could assume I knew what I was doing.

After wandering around, sometimes in circles, for what felt like forever, I located my suitcase and finally realized I had to take a shuttle to a different terminal for the train. I located said form of  transportation, and made my way to another larger portion of the airport, bustling with travelers walking this way and that and queuing up in different lines.

More standing still and looking around.

Finally, I picked a line and waited nervously, realizing this was it: I was going to have to use some French. I remembered all I’d read about the French being friendlier if you made an attempt to speak their language. It made sense. Back home people would probably just stare blankly at someone who approached and started talking whatever language they knew apart from English, or might even rudely TELL them to speak English. The least I could do was make an effort now that I was abroad, even if I didn’t learn nearly as much as I’d have liked to before coming, and even if there was a chance I’d look like a fool. At least I’d get an A for effort! I hoped….

I ran through what I’d say again and again in my mind. Start with “Bonjour.” Then say please. Don’t just jump into the question. You can do this.

Finally, it was my turn. I smiled at the man behind the window.

“Um... Bonjour. S’il vous plait… Je voudrais une billet pour le RER B… et dix billets pour le metro.”

I waited. He smiled. There was a good chance the smile was one of, “you’re totally not from around here. Your pronunciation is horrible!” but whatever he was thinking, what I said apparently made sense; he handed me my tickets, we exchanged money, and that was it! I was on my way!

I let out a woosh of air. Alright, not too bad! On to the next step… where the f do I catch the train? More sign reading, more walks in semi-circles…

“Excusez-moi…es-tu perdu?”

I turned, and came face to face with the most handsome man I had ever seen. I couldn’t think… what is it he just said? I should know what he said. Lost... he was asking if I was lost. What should I say? Words left me.

“Err…” sandy brown hair, piercing green eyes…

He smiled. Gorgeous smile. Porcelain teeth.

“Um…”

A raised eyebrow now; I was making a fool of myself!

“Ou est… le RER B? S’il vous plait?” I was saying it all wrong. I knew I was. I was probably coming off like the rudest person ever.

Thankfully, this handsome stranger seemed to be easygoing. His smile widened, and he hiked the strap of his bag up over his shoulder, then turned and pointed down a set of escalators. Of course it was right in front of me.

I smacked a hand to my forehead. He laughed, then jerked his head in the direction of the stairs.

“Allons-y.”

He headed over, and I followed suit, stepping on to the escalator behind him, which gave me a minute to admire the…view from the back. He wore a pair of—well fitting—dark jeans and a tucked in white button down, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

I was acutely aware of how rapidly my heart was beating because of this man in front of  me, and I willed it to settle down. I was here for champagne and endless croissants and getting away from a man. Meeting one was not in the itinerary, no matter how good looking he was.

Anyway, who was I kidding? He was just being nice and helping a woman who was clearly lost; it was doubtful there was anything else behind it, and thinking there might be sure made me seem like I was full of myself.

At the bottom of the escalators, I followed him as he led the way to the train and was surprised when, instead of stopping at the doors and letting me pass, he got on as well. What were the odds? ...Or was he following me?

Suddenly, I remembered the Paris pickpockets I’d read about. I clutched my carry-on closer, and tightened my grip on the suitcase I rolled along behind me.

He took a seat, sliding all the way over to the window, then turned to look at me.

Was that an invitation? An image of myself standing on a street corner in Paris without a single belonging flashed through my mind. God, I hoped he wasn’t a handsome thief. Still, better safe than sorry.

I gave him a smile and a wave. “Merci!”

Then I moved past him, walked up a few cars, then took a seat by myself. As the train began to move a few minutes later, I kept a firm grip on my luggage.

I looked out the window as the train rattled on. Apart from the sight of the Eiffel Tower, France was giving me a pretty dreary welcome: it was cloudy out, and raindrops splattered against the windows. Gazing at the scenes that passed by, things didn’t look much different from home: rainy spring days – we had those. Same kind of foliage. Buildings that reminded me of Florida, with square shapes and pale colors.

I let my mind wander as we traveled, trying to forget the handsome helper three cars back. I thought about some of the sights I wanted to see first: The Eiffel Tower up close, Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees for some much needed shopping, the Louvre… so much to do, so little time! I knew my week-long stay would fly by, and I intended to make the most of it.

The 50 minute journey passed rather rapidly as my mind made lists on lists on lists of things to do, things to see and oh-so-many things to eat. Visions of macarons from Pierre Hermé, caramels from Jacques Genin, Bordier butter, a crisp croque-monsieur, crêpes, chocolates from the likes of Jean-Charles Rochoux, pastries from some quaint corner bakery—excuse me—patisserie, ALL THE CHEESE, wine and champagne, and perhaps, if I was feeling truly adventurous, even escargot.



When the train rolled to a stop at Saint-Michel/Notre Dame, which I knew from my research was the stop nearest my hotel, I could think of almost nothing but French food and libations. My stomach was in the same boat, and started growling at regular intervals.

I stepped out into the rain and automatically glanced to the right—just in case—but the handsome man--le beau homme-- was nowhere to be seen amidst the crowd of fellow train-goers. Oh well!

My attention now turned to one oh-so-important-fact: I WAS IN PARIS.

In an attempt to keep from being one of those stereotypical tourists who stopped in the middle of the street to look around, causing a roadblock for people walking behind them, I stared while strolling, hardly noticing the rain, taking in the architecture, the people, the cars… I was officially an American in Paris! I wanted to squeal.

Instead, I kept my excitement inside, glanced at my phone to figure out what direction I needed to head to reach the hotel, and kept walking, grinning as I went.



Feeling my sense of adventure increase, I shoved aside the nerves I’d had when I had to order the tickets, and decided to try my hand at conversing in French again; I turned toward the coffee shop I was about to pass. A warm café au lait to go would be just the ticket on this dreary afternoon.

In front of the café sat a few empty wrought iron tables and chairs. Pink flowers spilled over from the pots they sat in that hung on either side of the door; a bell chimed when I opened it, and the sound of music there was no other way to describe but to say it was “French café” music reached my ears, mixing with conversations in French that were going on around me by the occupants of the five dark wood tables that were scattered about. The place was warm and cozy, and the chill of the day stayed outside.

I approached the counter, and blundered my way through an order. Once again, I was given a smile in reply that seemed to say “Non, tu n’es pas Francais. Nice try though!” but the cashier was friendly enough, and she gave me my change and told me to wait at the end of the counter for my drink (I only knew that’s what she said because she gestured as well as spoke).

As I headed over to the designated area, I was suddenly confused by the sound of a voice that didn’t seem wholly unfamiliar and, in the next instant, the handsome stranger from the airport stepped through a door I could only assume led to the café’s backroom.

He was laughing at something someone must have said out of sight, tying a red apron around his waist. Really?! I stood staring at him and, almost like he felt my gaze, he looked in my direction a moment later and froze when he saw me. A slow smile spread over that handsome face, and he gave me a wave.

I answered with a wave of my own and then, suddenly feeling very shy, I tucked a piece of stray hair behind my ear and looked down. I took my phone out of my pocket and busied myself by looking at the map I’d left open, happy to see my hotel wasn’t far up the road.

“Madamoiselle?”

I glanced up to find him holding a drink out to me. He looked at me intently. I smiled warmly, hoping to convey through my expression everything I wish I knew how to say—thanks for the help, I think you’re gorgeous, I’m happy I ran into you again, want to get married and have babies?, just kidding, ok not really, ok thanks for the coffee bye.

“Quand je t’ai vu pour la premiere fois, c’etait le coup de foudre.”

He said it softly as he handed me my drink, as though the words were meant for me alone. I swore silently, and wished with all my might that I knew what he said. But alas, no magic came and suddenly made me fluent, and the meaning remained lost.

Our fingers touched as I took the cup, and tingles shot up my arm.

I gave him another smile-I-hoped-said-more-than-I-knew-how-to-say, said “merci beaucoup” then turned, walked out of the café and finished the journey to the hotel, sipping my warm drink as I went and thinking, if the start was any indication, this was sure to be one adventurous week in Paris.




***

Little did she know he'd quietly told her, "The first time I saw you, I fell head over heals." 
If only she'd taken more time to learn French...



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