Keep your eyes to yourself. Try not to notice countless, almost infinite, instances of beauty. Even if you are resigned to raise your head and look around you, up the off-white walls and iron balconies, ascending five stories of perfect Hausmann-ian architecture, up to the dark-grey, steeply slanted tin roofing that defines the city skyline. Those former servants’ quarters, somehow then the least desirable, must now be penthouses, silhouetted against potent purple sunset. Look at the warm light glowing from inside the windows. Imagine the comfortable couple living inside; or the passionate adulterous affair — now stop. Heaven forbid you consider your walk along these streets amidst the essence of luxury. Couture, cuisine, indescribably attractive people everywhere and all seem to understand too well the power of a fleeting pleasure — this is evident with each drag from each cigarette, every kiss upon the cheek in greeting.
Especially important: don’t compare the feeling that this gives you to its absence, and the drab suburban thoughtless sprawl you came from. Forget the months of long anticipation built before you hopped up on that plane to take this trip. You’re here now, and you’re staying focused on your studies. French letters; take notes on Rimbaud and Rousseau, Sartre, even Raymond Aron. From the colonies: Camus, Fanon, Césaire. Great men. Don’t think about the girls hidden beneath the surface; diligently walking between classes clutching books, inspired by the stone designs, statues and scriptures chiseled in around this monumental courtyard. Cobblestones with grass growing between. And then you see a pair of shiny black medium-high heels moving, briskly tapping. Looking up, a skirt swishing around the corner.
Don’t get distracted in the classroom, in the streets, and seated at the table on the sidewalk as you enjoy daily leisure, café service, and imbibement. So many beautiful things, and people all around you, impeccably dressed and holding themselves high, worthy of the city.
Don’t notice the one who always seems to catch your eye, then quickly glance away, though not quite from shyness. She seems she simply knows, and she’s waiting for you to catch up with her. Before long, she’ll join you for the bistro and the glasses of rosé, the picnics in the park and the walks along the riverbank. Her company will take you later and later into the evening, over empty beer glasses, and then eventually, cups of coffee in the morning.
You’ll take her to museums. Avoid thinking about the history of art. How nearly every great painter and writer on the continent became inescapably magnetized to this city. Wonder how it must have been, in those times. On the streets and in between them — in the alleys, parks, and paths along the avenue– creative passion palpable. Here, somehow, a man seems to move in between the generations. Never allow yourself to get caught up in romantic time-travel.
You don’t know if you were dreaming or still floating in that semi-conscious state amidst the linens — almost drifting off, but awake — when you thought you heard her whisper in your ear I love you. You did not say a thing back, in fact, I don’t think you could have been said to react at all. It was as if it had been nothing. You were probably asleep, only able to form the memory in retrospect. Why would she have uttered such a statement, anyway? It’s not like the two of you had been a proper couple. Maybe it was just a figment of the mind. Or, sentiment successfully avoided.