January 13, 2011: I had only been living in Paris a little over a week when it happened. Two girls and myself had finally found an apartment in the 16e arrondissement to live in, after visiting several places to no avail. Either the apartments had already been spoken for by the time I reached them, or they offered too little to be so far out of my price range. At last, I had found a place (with FRIENDS, no less) that was reasonably priced, and in a great spot only a few blocks away from la Trocadero. Mme. Renaut, our landlady, proudly showed us the tiny hallway window through which we could see the top of the tour Eiffel. But I was happy just to be able to stay somewhere other than the crowded hostel.
On this day three years ago, Nini, Tori, and I took the metro to our future home to sign the lease for our chambres de bonne. We were going straight from the signing to a cocktail party, and I was wearing my most dangerous 4 inch stilettos. A chambre de bonne is a type of room found in historical French apartment buildings where the maids (or bonnes) used to stay. The rooms are more or less like closets, and the bourgeoisie ensured that their maids would not interfere with their home life by making their rooms only accessible through a back, hidden spiral staircase. The other, real apartments in my building could be reached by elevator. Mme. Renaut wanted us to see the rooms again one last time before signing, so me and my insane heels made the frightful journey up those stairs…very carefully. On our way back down after everything was over and done with, my stiletto missed the narrow step by a fraction of an inch and I came tumbling down behind my landlady. I blushed hard, and we, leases in hand, left the premises to celebrate our new place at the cocktail party.
The party was being thrown by our exchange program, in a fabulous apartment across town. We rushed through the bowels of the metro, me being very careful not to fall again in my treacherous shoes. At last we arrived at the party, only to find it in full swing, with everyone already deep into their 2nd or 4th glasses of wine. My feet were in a lot of pain, so I made the deliberate faux-pas of de-shoeing in the dining room, where I stuffed my face with what remained at the buffet. Folks from my program spoke to me…I remember at least one hipster male making drunk advances while I almost-obliviously circled the food.
We had arrived so late that the party ended not too long after we walked through the door. My new roommates banded together with a few others to return to our hostel on rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Though it was January, the night was nice enough to walk home above-ground, through the city.
Here’s a photo of the original group that set out to walk back to the hostel together. Not long after this photo was taken, the gentleman in the back right and myself broke apart from the pack. I had spoken to him a few times before this, we had bought our phones together and he bought me an eclair once near la Nouvelle Sorbonne on a break from our grammar class. We were friends, as we all were, thrilled to experience our new city together for the first time. We walked across the bridge and then along the Seine. Paris was especially beautiful that night, a city of light refracted on the river. Already, our world was an impression of love.
I was walking barefoot, carrying my shoes, because my feet hurt. Justin didn’t care. Unlike the French, nothing I did was a faux-pas to him. I don’t remember what we were talking about, walking along the quai de la Seine, when all of a sudden he grabbed me and kissed me. The rest of the walk was a blur, us melting into the glints of fire on the river next to us. I’m sure we floated.
Today is the anniversary of that night, and the kiss that changed both of our lives. As I look back on the past three years, and all we have done (lived in Paris, traveled through Europe, backpacked across Thailand, moved in together in New Jersey), I can only hope that the next chapters in our life together will continue this impressionistic adventure.