My Cherry Amour

continued (page 2 of 2)

Parisian winks come in different forms, but they all share a delightful feature. They are accompanied by a pleasing new taste, which acts as a mnemonic device, keeping the memory vivid, more like a tableau vivant than a photograph. When I am 16, the wink is a tutelage on the definition of the verb “to linger,” along with the sweet-tart I-am-lost-in-a-fairy-tale flavor of the fraises des bois, a fruit I had only read about in books.

This is my second memory of Paris, and it is my own. The year is 1984, and I am 16 years old. It is July, which means the city is bubbling over with tourists. I am sitting at the edge of the Fontaine Igor Stravinsky, a folly of mismatched water sculptures by the machine-haunted Jean Tinguely and the exuberant Niki de Saint Phalle. The fountain is a large rectangular pool that borders on the Église Saint-Merri, which is 16th-century Gothic and decidedly unfazed by the spectacles floating inside its new neighbor, among them what appear to be the remains of a film projector after a fire and a brightly painted reclining woman with water squirting from one of her sizable breasts. Already a week into my stay, I am an eager student and am practicing the lesson that Paris teaches me. The fountain, opened just the year before, attracts a youthful collage of tourists and Parisians who have eschewed the crowded, beachlike expanse in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou for the relative calm of dancing water and contemporary art that does not take itself too seriously. I sit among them and am slowly allowing my eyes to wander and spark and flirt and skip across the water’s surface, from spectacle to spectacle, body to body, face to face. Here is the knowing part of the wink: As I people-watch, which is really one of the finest reasons to linger in Paris, people are watching me. I’ve come from Houston, where if you look up the definition of invisible, you will find a high-school photo of yours truly, and I am not used to the reciprocity. Honestly, I am drunk on it. At first I think that there is something on my face (crumbs from the sandwich I am pretending to eat?) or that an attractive woman must be sitting right behind me (should I turn around and look, too?). I am light-headed, a bit more so each time I realize that neither of these possibilities is in fact true. I need sugar, my stomach demands. I put away the sandwich and reach into my satchel for a small paper-wrapped package. Inside is a cardboard boat, the kind that back in Houston would hold onion rings. Here is what I have spent my whole day’s budget on: a small handful of fraises des bois. Not the prettiest of fruits, these blood-blister dots are so delicate that they morph immediately from ripe to bruised. They suggest more of a horticultural afterthought than an ideal. I pop one in my mouth and instantly it dissolves—a fruit, a candy, a kiss all in one—and forever I am 16 years old at the Fontaine Igor Stravinsky in Paris, experiencing a rare moment of bliss.

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