I fell in love when I was nine, or at least what I deemed the ultimate true love at that dreamy age, where I was growing into my features and everything on my face was like a Monet painting. From afar it looked as if I was a normal kid, but up close, none of my features seemed to match and some looked out of place. Despite the mismatch of facial geography, the un-tamable hair and gangly arms with legs that looked as if they were loosely attached to my body, my mind remained determined to declare that what I was feeling was true love indeed.
It began quite innocently as I was flippantly tossing around my fathers travel magazines for fun. Yes, the extra-curricular activities in my time consisted of using imagination and being outside burning ants with my magnifying glass (a special occasion type of activity). Most of the time my evenings and weekends consisted of faffing about and irritating my older sister for fun. Let me digress so that you can get the full dimensions of how evil a nine-year old can be. My lovely sister would honor me with the grand gesture of letting me accompany her to the ‘Mall’. Oh what a treat to watch your older sister ignore you as she would bat her heavily mascara infused eyelashes at anything cute and groomed, all whilst having some sort of crazy x-ray vision into stores spotting candy colored assortments of tube tops and hoop earrings. She was like a secret agent with permed hair, an imaginary pre-requisite to work for ‘fashion mission impossible’. Shaking my head and proclaiming out loud that I would never love fashion or buy non-functional clothes (insert hearty laugh) I would walk five steps behind her and then run up to her, then run backwards five steps and then run back to her. The more flustered she got, the more I gleefully repeated it, until a bunch of very cute boys were making their way in our direction. I innocently pranced up to her, slipped my hand in hers and yelled “Mommy, mommy, I love you”.
As I lay there tossing magazines into the air debating whether I should put toothpaste on the toilet seat for her as a nice surprise, a magazine landed on the floor and I noticed big bold letters that exclaimed PARIS! My eyes were immediately glued to the pages and like a sponge I absorbed every single word, even the ones I didn’t understand and filed them in my mental rolodex to research later. The images were breathtaking and it was my very first introduction to the Eiffel tower. Mesmerized, my heart began to race, my face was flushed and I felt this need to hop on a plane and say, “Hey! We’ve never met, but I know I love you. How? Why? I don’t know, but I do, I do! My hearts all a flutter and wow my cheeks are super-red. Oh Paris, give me the time of day, let me love you”. I kept the magazine and stared at the pictures dreamily on a daily basis, using my imagination and some armchair travel to what I think is the worlds most sensual and beautiful city.
A few weeks later…
It was a quiet afternoon as I lazed about, twirling my pigtails, belly down, under the giant windows of my living room, basking in the sun and watering an oversized plant with some of the remaining grape juice in my glass. I heard the clanking of my mother’s bracelets as she emerged out of the kitchen, which really ought to have been called her office because that’s where all the decisions were made. She leaned towards me, picking up the glass, spatula in hand, with the rich fragrance of food wafting around her. “Minelle, your father and I have decided to go to Paris”. My immediate thought was ‘Great, they’re going to leave me with my sister that doesn’t like to cook? I’ll starve, or she’ll sell me for a suitcase full of tube tops and pointy shoes’. However, she smiled at me and told me that I was coming too. My sister was a model and was heading out of town which meant that there would be no one to tell me to shut-up in my sleep or suffocate me in an appliance and make-up infused bathroom. I wondered what the French world for yippee was? Le yippee?
I’m not sure if every nine year old has moments of apprehension and reluctance to visit such a romantic city with their parents, but I certainly did. That evening, as I listened to my parents inform me that my uncle and other members of my family would join us I couldn’t help but think that this may intercede with my love for the city. How could my parents possibly understand that? I needed some alone time with the city I loved and that would never happen without the risk of possible abduction or voluntary wandering. I figured I had little control over the trip itinerary as I went to the library to sign out some French dictionaries, suffering slightly at being four feet tall without too much of a voice.
It wasn’t long before I was on a plane, clutching my favorite and tattered stuffed bulldog, experimenting with tomato juice and celery salt on Air France, listening to the mix of chatter on the flight competing with the sound of big engines. The only mishap I faced on the perfect journey was not being able to reach the oddly high lock on the bathroom door and having an old man open it while I was peeing. Le mortifying. Pressing my nose against the window, attempting to forget the incident, I looked at the oversized clouds wondering what the next week would be like. My great love and I would finally meet and I wondered if I would be welcomed with just as much romantic reciprocation. Turns out I was welcomed with much rain and watching my uncle freak out as his wallet got stolen. That certainly was the zeitgeist of that particular trip because it happened twice to him and once to my father.
One thing that I knew right away as I set foot in the city, it was so apparent to me even then, was the sexuality of the women. They had more than allure and I was bewildered as to what it was that they encompassed. I felt it. I don’t think I quite understood it to the full extent as I do now, but it was a sexy, heady, heaving city that left me feeling rather quiet and a little bit grown up. Understanding sexuality through the eyes of a little girl was like reading the ending of a great novel without the journey through the pages. I thought about it, supposed that I would understand it more as I grew up and shrugged knowing I would have a lifetime to explore it. For now, I was content with my eye on a yellow bunny with a rainbow on his tummy, cheating on my bulldog with that purchase and clutching it feverously as I went to the top of the Eiffel tower. Clenching my Mother’s hand, beaming in glee with Mr. Bunny I hoped that I wouldn’t topple off and be French road-kill. I entertained the delightful thought of luring my sister up here and squeezing her beloved curling iron through the netted view, watching it topple as she would give out a predicted blood curdling scream. One can only wish. Looking down at a city that had once housed the greatest artists, designers, literary geniuses, and royalty, I fell even deeper in love; the kind of proclamation that makes people’s eyes roll right up to their sockets and accuse me of being a wistful dreamy romantic. It was as if the French translation dictionary had exploded in my mind when I set foot on Parisian soil. Words were reeling all around my head like a fierce wind and at the same time there weren’t any words, in French or in English to describe the way I was feeling. In my own naïve way, I understood the value of the history that decorated itself around me like a fabulous and exquisite necklace.
Years later when I returned, necklace still on, I understood immediately all that I had been trying to put into words. A language unspoken, unformed, had now surrendered it’s meaning and just seeped its way into who I was. A language that told me where I could find my Joie de vivre, my sensuality and embraced my je ne sais quoi that I pleasantly discovered was my best accessory. The love is still eminent, passion and all. It is almost as if everything became decoded as I got older. Eventually the bunny and I parted ways and the bulldog remained. My sister suffered the toothpaste on the toilet seat and I went back to tossing magazines in the air and finding ways to torture her. I still have that magazine, and cherish the fact that I could dream, arrive at the destination and say with all its worth that my love didn’t disappoint me, that it enabled me to find even more love, within a glittering majestic city and within myself.