Lost in Paris…
I wasn’t sure who I thought might be watching me, but I sauntered down that street. I wanted to show everyone ( where were they?) that I was practically Parisienne. I belonged there. A couple of cars slowed to navigate a roundabout. They seemed to be traveling together. One of the passengers called out to me in French. The others laughed and they continued on their slow drive. I hated feeling exposed but it was a little thrilling to be cat-called in French.
There was a rumble of thunder and a couple of fat rain drops hit the pavement in front of me. I looked around for some potential shelter. Perhaps a cute little bistro? A cafe with a view of The Eiffel Tower?
I turned around and looked back the way I had come. Clouds were building in what I now know was the east, over the city that I could not see from the quiet street. I was underwhelmed. Everything was closed. It was Sunday after all. More thunder. I decided to keep walking and if all else failed I would get a taxi. As I clicked along the hot pavement, the fact that I had only seen two cars and neither of them were taxis was playing on my mind. Mum had begged me to stay safe, to not go off on my own and here I was off on my own and not another human in sight. A few hundred feet ahead I could see a bridge. It had green painted railings and a sweet little statue on the approach. Finally, a little bit of Paris I could get excited about. My pace quickened and I as I got closer I thought I could hear rushing water. I imagined a rushing river, maybe this was my first sighting of the Seine. The little statue was a war memorial, a fresh-looking if slightly wilted wreath at its base commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings a few days before.
Suddenly I could see that the source of the hum of sound was a mostly deserted six lane freeway disappearing into a tunnel. Things were getting grim. A crack of lightning split the sky and a rumble of thunder accompanied it. New large splats of rain hit the pavement and I turned to look for shelter, this time in earnest. I spotted another pedestrian on the other side of the road. He was headed for a bus shelter. Instinctively, I looked both ways along the empty street but it would have done me no good. I looked left and right, when I really should have looked right and left, and ran across the street.
I made the shelter as the rain came down in sheets. In my usual Australian-extrovert way I launched into conversation with the guy who appeared to have a small backpack strapped to his chest. Wiping his face with a surprisingly elegant looking handkerchief, navy with white spots, he turned to smile at me and I saw that it wasn’t a backpack at all, but a tiny baby he had strapped to his body. I had never, ever seen a man carrying a baby in a sling this way. In fact, I doubt then I had ever seen a woman ‘wearing’ one in my conservative town. These days they are fairly commonplace in the more upmarket areas. (Ironic, isn’t it, that the wealthier someone is, the more likely they are to embrace the more traditional methods of child-rearing; co-sleeping, home-made baby food, home birth even.)
I apologised for blethering on in English and greeted him in French. He greeted me in English and we had a brief conversation, raising our voices to be heard over the drumming rain on the tin roof. He was very kind and offered to show me the way to the Arc de Triomphe once the rain stopped. It would exhaust itself quickly, he said, it’s a summer storm. I told him I knew all about summer storms; at home, we had them too. He did the usual thing, asking about Kangaroos and the Outback. He knew of a restaurant, right there in Paris that sold exotic meats like Kangaroo and Emu. I gushed about how I wanted to experience everything Paris had to offer, not sample food from home that I wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole anyway if I was at home.
As the rain petered out after a few minutes, he offered to point out some sights on my map that I shouldn’t miss. I took out the map and he pulled a pen from inside his shirt. The baby hadn’t stirred the whole time but as he circled a few places and explained what they were, the little white-blond head started to move. He patted the baby’s bum and made soothing sounds and the little head lolled to one side again.
I asked how old the baby was. He told me the baby was two months, that his wife had had problems, and she was in the hospital. I told him I was sad for him. He said, she might die. She was very sad, and did not want to live. I felt awful and not a little awkward. What do you say to someone you don’t know who tells you their wife might die, all while they have a tiny baby on their chest. I had no expertise in this area. But then I was getting used to dealing with major life events in which I had no prior experience.