Hmmm, where was I? Oh, yes, we won. She's going to bed like a charm most nights. She chucks her animals and she doesn't get them back, and she's OK with that. And ever since the nap a week ago, during which she took off her diaper and pooped all over the crib, she hasn't taken off the diaper again. I guess she didn't like walking around in a cage with her own feces. Maybe this is just like training a dog? Anyway, the poopy sheet is still on the back porch and part of me wants to just throw it away. That sums up my philosophy on housekeeping, I guess.
But anyway, we were watching this movie about Paris. Paris, Je T'Aime, it's called. And it's set, guess where, in Paris. And all these images of the Metro, the classic French cafes, the fountains and the old Victorian apartments have reminded me of another lifetime, the one in which I was a waitress in a pizza restaurant on the Champs Elysees. I tend to think of my life as ordinary, as generally without adventure and risk. But right now I am thinking about that day October 1996 when I landed in Paris, alone, without even a hotel reservation. I can hardly believe it was me. Was it really me wearing that short polyester skirt, serving doughy Chicago-style pizza to Parisians, line dancing through the restaurant to songs from the movie Greece? (Yes, when certain songs came on, we waitresses were required to line up and dance through the restaurant. We practiced our steps and everything. I can't even believe this is true, but it is. Men would leer and, one night, I remember a particularly drunk and lecherous man falling out of his chair as he reached out to grab one of us.) Was that me sitting in a cafe in Aix-en-Provence alone, ordering a Pastis? Was that me sinking into the splendor of a French movie theater, greedy for the release of sitting alone in the dark, letting myself escape into a world less lonely than my own?
Yes, the thing that sticks with me most about those three months is the loneliness. The feeling of being pressed up against other people all the time (the time when a stinky old homeless man rubbed his erection against me on a crowded subway train comes to mind) and yet being utterly alone. The feeling that no one cared about me and, even worse, when they did talk to me, they disliked me. On the most basic level, Europeans just didn't seem to click with me. They didn't like Americans in general. They didn't like my brashness or my privileged sense of entitlement. The restaurant I worked in was truly a sweatshop, and I had the luxury of calling it what it was, because for me, it was just a short stop-off on the path to a better future. For many of my co-workers, especially the Arabs who had immigrated to France from northern Africa, that was not the case.
I was so lonely that I sometimes threw myself at the mercy of the universe just to prove that, if it truly came down to the wire, someone would care enough to help me. Like the night I purposely sat in a bar until after the Metro and the buses stopped running, and walked out into the night with no money in my pocket, miles from home. I eventually found strangers kind enough to share a cab and pay my way. I guess I had hoped that it would make me feel less alone. Instead, it just made me feel desperate. During my travels in the south of France, I got drunk and went home with a man I met in a bar, even though I wasn't the slightest bit attracted to him. I was just so grateful for someone willing to save me from standing alone in that bar, feeling like the most solitary foreigner on earth. Then, when he tried for what I had certainly led him to expect, I was so repulsed that I could not even kiss him. He was a decent person, and he slept on the couch. I took a huge risk that night, and I got lucky.
I was just out of college, and I am stunned at how young and stupid I was then. I never went to a nice restaurant. In Paris! I lived in Paris and I never once went out for a nice meal! I was so closed-minded about food that I never even ordered a Croque Madame, because I couldn't imagine eating an egg for lunch. Aside from one weekend trip to the south of France, I didn't travel. I had come all that way, and I was so worried about money that I robbed myself. I guess I always thought I would go back. I never thought I'd be sitting here 10 years later, wondering when or if I'll ever make it back to Europe. But I guess that's what this life is all about, learning from your mistakes. And I learned plenty on that trip, even if it didn't always look like the European adventure of my dreams.
Lastly, on a totally unrelated note, I have a message to all you non-Jews out there: If you have never eaten latkes, go buy some potatoes right now. I made them last night, and I am here to tell you, that Jews and gentiles alike should experience this. I think they might have been the most delicious thing I've ever eaten.