p a r i s

[Triomphe] On the TGV to Paris from Geneva, I sat next to a middle-aged woman dressed in an expensive Chanel suit whose black-lacquered fingernails were at least an inch long. Ignoring me at first, she became talkative when the tape in her walkman broke and she started banging the thing on her tray table. It turned out she was an "astrologue" and was very interested in what sign I was. Suddenly thinking this was turning into a bad 70's experience, I changed the conversation over to whether she'd ever been to America. She replied no, but she had spent a lovely week on a few beaches in Brazil. While I puzzled over her sense of geography, she announced she wanted to take a nap and put her walkman headphones back on, without a tape. I fell asleep soon after, lulled by the gentle back and forth motion of the train. After a few minutes however, the woman shook my arm and told me to look out the window. We were passing through the mustard fields of Dijon at what seemed to be an incredible rate of speed. As far as I could see were fields of yellow, backed by lush green hills and small towns in the distance. "Beautiful," I said. "Oui, c'est magnifique," she replied as she put her headphones back on.

A few days later, I was taking a crowded bus from the Champ de Mars to the Louvre, when an older woman sat down next to me. The wind blowing through the window was bothering her hair, so I closed it. She started t o thank me in French, but switched easily to English when she realized I was an American. Originally from Paris, she had moved with her husband to Marseilles thirty years ago. She was visiting relatives and said she always enjoyed coming back to the city. She asked what nationality I was and I said my parents from the Philippines. She told me she had been to California once before, on the way to visit her son in Vietnam. We spoke of how unseasonably sunny the weather had been, usually April was a rainy month. At the Champs Elysees, she told me to have a wonderful time in Paris - exclaiming it truly was the most beautiful city in the world. As she got off the bus, she smiled and waved at me, then walked straight into a glass bus shelter.

Back to the Grand Tour. . . .

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june 1996