A Paris evening
A drunk woman is vaguely howling along with the Arabic music pumping from the radio she holds to her ear. The guys she with seem uninterested. African immigrants and refugees fill the shadows, and glass clinks somewhere nearby as the elevated train growls past. An older lady, grandmother to how many?, has taken off her shoes and sits back to relax in the warm air after sunset, a calm smile on her lined face. Next to her a guy looks high, gesturing at nothing with an outstretched arm, until I realize he’s trying to take the perfect selfie. Just like your kids, just like everyone.
He’s black, she’s brown, the singer is white, if it matters to anybody.
The outdoor tables are full, French cuisine on a delicious July night, both the less expensive and the one with interesting architecture. Two nights ago I had lasagna there, alongside the cafe where students spoke of studies, wrapped in melody after melody. On the other side of our grandma an unbearably beautiful French woman is on a date, her legs flawless and long in a black slit skirt as she shifts. The guy she’s with can barely look at her. Lamplight. I know the feeling. Was femininity invented in this city?
Men by themselves, like me, the supposed threat to safety. Kids whiz by on those scooter things, some of them motorized. Two mothers pass in opposite directions, both with cadres of attendant children, do their different skin tones matter to you? They don’t to the kids (who haven’t learned that failure yet). Young toughs roar laughter and victory at the finish of a tense card game, and the little boy in diaper-baggy shorts finally gets to the tennis ball he’s been awkwardly chasing, and the spaniel who’s now lost possession looks at him expectantly. He doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with it. They both watch the ball.
Back home, we live in segregated pockets. White here, black there, poor down below and the wealthy behind their gates. We don’t even see each other, unless it’s on the evening news or in our prefabricated nightmares. But here, tonight, we’re all in one place. In the Stalingrad neighborhood. Only Paris could take a word like Stalingrad, hammered together from blood-soaked concrete, and make it such a beautiful place to spend an evening. C’est la vie parisienne!
The fountains are spaying and jubilant, while the moon is almost full. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, but today was another perfect summer day. Sweating on the metro. Crowds shuffling in the shade between the Louvre and the Opera Garnier. They must have baked in smiles and sunlight on the Eiffel Tower.
Everybody needed a shower after that. The young guys carefully look like they spent no time getting ready, as they obliquely pursue the girls who make no such pretense. Slow aimless bicycle loops, a soccer ball, a man in a motorized wheelchair. Locals who look like friends back home, clearly friends here. A couple laughs together as they wait for a sizable rat to get off the stairs in front of them.
I listen to it all. The weavings of languages, the varied signals of gestures and unified communication of expressions, and that lady’s Arabic radio. And we all enjoy the night together.