By Rachel An
Over the past three weeks, I’ve been leaving Paris and taking trips throughout France. In these travels, all the interesting profiles I’ve encountered have come to represent those places.
Rena was sitting alone on a bar stool, sipping her morning coffee while tearing up pieces of her croissant and gingerly slipping them between her lips. I put my breakfast down on the table next to her and opened up a conversation in French with a “bonjour.” But after a few exchanges Rena abruptly stopped me and said, “Your French is so bad we’re only going to talk in English now.”
After only twenty minutes of conversation, we exchanged numbers and made plans for dinner. That evening, as we were walking around Lyon, she showed me both her tendency for pricier restaurants but also her generosity, as she insisted on paying for most of my meal.
In a dimly lit bar with velvet couches and stained-glass windows, she showed me her online dating profiles and invited me to stay with her in Lebanon. She didn’t have boundaries, or at least she overcame them very quickly. Only 32, she was already operating her own fashion store, travelling the world scouting for the most up to date pieces.
In many ways, Rena was different from other people I’d met so far in Paris, and refreshingly so. She was open, unhesitatingly recounting her most personal stories, and she was daring, blindly walking around a city we didn’t know at night. She was confident, vivacious and unafraid.
IN A SIX-HOUR CAR RIDE
Two hours into my six-hour ride to Bordeaux, Alec tapped my shoulder and asked me if I would like to listen to some music. Over the course of the next four hours, he acquainted me with his taste in music: a mix of Latino songs, American pop, and French rap. With one earbud in my left ear and the other in his right, I experienced a sense of closeness with him that I had previously found hard to reach with many other French people.
With great patience, he explained to me France’s university system and grumbled about France’s new labor laws. With his limited English, he explained his tremendous disdain of Donald Trump and his mixed feelings about democracy. I had a sense he might have been a closet Communist.
Mia added a smiley face to every other text she sent. She chased after her cats when they ran out into the apartment lobby, and she held them, squirming, on her lap when she talked. When she spoke English, she spoke it loudly with a distinct French-Chinese accent.
Mia was in Bordeaux volunteering for the Euro Cup, but had been in Bordeaux two years prior to study communications. She had just finished a year of college in Belgium and was about to start another year in Paris. It did not occur to her as abnormal that she was transferring universities every year.
The next morning, she joined me as I toured Bordeaux, and everywhere we went, she successfully got free admission by either using her expired student ID card or sneaking in with my citypass. When we met up again at night for dinner, on the terrace of a colorful Brazilian restaurant tucked away in a corner away from the main street, she took pictures of every dish and positioned our napkins, cocktails, and plates picturesquely.
Mia loved to dance, and when the live band started playing Brazilian music inside, she closed her eyes and swayed her body to the beat.
These encounters now color my perceptions of these various French cities. Now, when I think about Lyon, I think about the Vieux Lyon – the narrow, winding, cobblestone streets, with shuttered windows at only 10PM on a Saturday night – but I also think about being there with Rena alongside me, looking for bars together. I see expensive dishes and black Russian drinks and I hear Rena, laughing.
When I think about Bordeaux, I see the scenic long car rides through the French countryside and the interesting discussions inside them. I remember the beautiful view from the city’s highest tower and the scenic bike ride along the Garonne. But most vividly I see Mia’s short body busily running around a studio apartment, reaching for a cat or looking for mosquito cream. And I feel a tropical rhythm and fruity drinks.
Rachel An is a rising sophomore in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.