A Canadian in Paris
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“Bon soir, madame,” said a man in his early twenties who was sitting on the stairs, facing the fountain I was taking pictures of.

“Bon soir,” I responded and continued to take pictures until my roll of film ran out for the third time that day. I had spent the day in Giverny - visiting Monet’s home and the local town. I found out the Louvre was open until 9 pm, so I took advantage of the ride offered by my tour guide and spent the last five hours touring the museum. The Louvre had everything from the Mona Lisa to the Venus de Milo to ancient Egyptian artefacts. If you spent one minute looking at each piece and spent 24 hours a day there, it would take you one month to see everything - so they say.

I had spent the last five hours hitting the hotspots – the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, something with wings standing in a boat – and then focussed my attention on the Greeks. My favourite was Psyche and Cupid. I was proud to be the bearer of both a replica statue and a picture of this famous Greek couple.

  
 
“Parlez-vous anglais?” the guy on the steps asked in a voice that was struggling with French, but wanting to talk to someone.

“Yes, I speak English,” I answered. “Where are you from?”

I learned that he was from California and backpacking across Europe. His name was Simon, which did not suit his football image - broad shoulders, 200 pounds, short, blonde hair that he probably kept in a brush cut during the football season.

“You’re living my dream,” I told him. “I’ve always wanted to travel around Europe - to see Holland, Italy and France, of course.”

“You could do it,” he said. “I’m staying on a campground just outside of Paris, and I take the bus and métro around.”

The métro is the subway system in Paris. You can go anywhere in Paris on the métro. I had only been on it once with another member of the tour group, but unless I wanted to walk home at ten o’clock at night, I was taking the métro home alone tonight.

“I couldn’t backpack across Europe. It’s not safe for women. My mom flipped out because I was coming here alone. She begged me to at least go with a tour group, so I compromised and went on this flexible tour. I was just with the group for one day to see Notre Dame and Versailles, and the rest of the time I can go wherever I want.”

“My mom’s not too comfortable with me being here, either. I have to call her a lot, but you could do it. I just finished college, and I’m travelling for three months. I have to go back and find a job in September.”

“How do you do it? I would have given anything to travel around Europe, or sit in a Paris café for a few months and write a book. When I was growing up, I thought I’d be able to do it when I finished high school, but I couldn’t afford it. And now that I can afford it, I work full-time and couldn’t take that much time off work.”

He asked me where I lived, and I told him I was from Canada and lived in a town called Ajax, just east of Toronto.

“I’d love to see the Rockies in Canada.”

“I don’t live near the mountains, and I haven’t been on the west coast, but it sounds beautiful. I go to Newfoundland a lot to see my father. It’s beautiful when you climb up Signal Hill and see all of St. John’s from Cabot Tower, but Paris is better than I ever imagined. I’ve been wanting to come here since I was five years old.”

“How did you know about Paris at the age of five?” Simon asked.

“My friend gave me a doll from Paris for my fifth birthday. It used to hang on my wall, and I’d stare at it until I fell asleep.”

I told him about having dinner at the Eiffel Tower, going on a boat cruise on the Seine, and going to Giverny. “It’s where the artist Monet lived. His gardens are so beautiful. The flowers cover the side of the house and anything else that’s standing. The tour director said that when Monet was away, he would call his wife and instead of asking about his kids, he would ask how his flowers were doing. Then the tour director took us around the countryside and pointed out churches that were built into the mountains. The wall of the church is actually the mountain. It’s amazing.”

“That’s what I’m interested in. I want to see the churches in Europe. I think their architecture is incredible. Where’s Giverny?” Simon pulled out a map of France and I pointed out the location of the town.

Before I knew it, an hour had passed and we were still sitting on the stairs in front of the fountain. Simon had to take the métro and offered to walk me to the station. I felt so free. I just wouldn’t do this in Toronto. I never even raise my eyes on the subway, let alone allow someone to walk me to it.

“Où est le métro?” Simon asked a couple on the streets where the subway was and then proceeded to get into a conversation with them. They were both from Quebec, so I said I was from Ontario.

“You came together?” asked the woman from Quebec.

“No, we just met here,” I told her.

“We just met each other a few days ago,” said the man from Quebec. “We’ve been seeing Paris together.”

Two people who live in the same province, travel to the other side of the world, find each other, and then spend their vacation together. You can’t get any more romantic than that.

We left the couple on the streets and found the métro stop. We had to part at that point because he was going east, and I was going west.

I have always wondered what would have happened if I had shed the part of me that says not to trust strangers. “Seize the day,” as they say in the movies. We could have walked along the Champs Elysées when the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were lit up. Or I could have asked him to meet me tomorrow, so we could see Paris together, just like the couple from Quebec. Or I could have given him my address in Ajax and said if he was ever in the area to come for a visit.

But, I didn’t. It was the best night I spent in Paris, and I didn’t want anything to happen that would ruin the memory of that night. But I also missed the opportunity to make the next few days in Paris even more memorable.

A few years later, I met someone under similar circumstances. By this time, I had shed that part of me that said, "Don't trust him," and I trusted my instincts. I didn’t miss the opportunity this time.

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