Romance on the Metro
In my mind’s eye, the metro ticket is wrinkled and blue, but when I find it in the scrapbook, it turns out to be smooth and green. It is stuck to the back of the only photo I have to prove I once had a French boyfriend.
It was the summer of 2000, and I was 19, studying abroad in Paris. My fellow students and I lived in a hostel that had some sort of connection with a convent. The rules of separation between the sexes were strictly enforced, much to the dismay of a young college couple who were also in my program. We ate communally, hung our laundry in the basement after using the sole washing machine (there was no dryer), and shared a bank of four phone booths for all our calls. In the mornings, we took our classes. In the afternoons, we were supposed to engage in purposeful sightseeing, with a goal of checking off around 30 museums, neighborhoods, and other unique Parisian landmarks by the end of our stay. I relished the sightseeing, but over time began to look forward just as much to the unstructured evenings, when we would venture out to eat and drink and generally entertain ourselves in the city.
On one of those evenings, my friends and I went to a Bal des Pompiers, a public “firemen’s ball” traditionally held by the main fire station in each Parisian arrondissement each Bastille Day. I was dancing with my friends, and then suddenly I was also dancing with a slim blond Frenchman with striking blue eyes. I told him I was from California, even though my family hadn’t moved there until after I left home, because I knew that French people love California. The metro ticket was all we had to write on. He scrawled his number on the back.
I worked up the courage to call him from one of the shared pay phones in the hostel. He was 23, a disaffected economics student at the Sorbonne, from a well-off background but struggling to find his place in the world. We spent hours upon hours wandering the streets of Paris. My journal from that summer is a litany of the metro stops where we met up or said goodbye, and the landmarks where we kissed in between. At his insistence, we spoke almost exclusively in French. I learned a lot, but also found much of it mysterious. Had he really told me that he couldn’t see me one weekend because he was taking his sick brother to visit the Pope?