Je suis American

We get off the metro and walk around the corner, not entirely sure where we are heading. It’s been a super-long day and my feet ache. In the distance we see it, more impressive than the pictures.

“It seems so stable,” I say to Katie.

She laughs. “Who says that?”

“What? It just seems very…”

“Stable?” She laughs again.

“Yeah.”

“The Eiffel tower,” she says, her head tilting almost straight up, mouth slightly open.

We sit on the lawn and watch the clouds move past the top.

“It seems like it’s moving, doesn’t it?” I prop my bag under my head and lie back looking up at it.

I’m traveling with my friend Katie, another one of the teaching assistants in Dublin. We arrived in Paris yesterday.

We board a bus that we think will take us downtown. We had hoped for a cab to our hotel from the airport, but we seem to be farther away from downtown Paris than expected.

The bus costs seven Euro and takes about an hour. Along the way, I study the few pages of our travel guide with a small French-to-English dictionary. There is a certain excitement about not being able to speak the language. Dublin seemed too much like the states, and I wonder now, on the bus to Paris, how much that had to do with the language.

Here in France, I am immediately a foreigner and it is exciting.

We find a cab and slowly explain where we want to go. In the end I hand the folded-up notebook paper where I wrote the address of our hotel across the consol. The cabbie immediately knows where it is.

“Looks like we’re going to make it,” I say.

Our driver weaves the cab through traffic circles and small zig-zagged streets. I notice the billboards are high tech and constantly shift between ads.

The hotel that we arrive at doesn’t seem like the picture we saw when we booked, but the address of the building matches the piece of folded-up paper. We get out of the cab and enter the hotel. It is the wrong hotel. Somehow, I wrote down the wrong address. Katie is angry.

“What are we going to do now?” she asks.

I don’t know. “We’ll figure it out,” I say. “It’s an adventure.”

“I wish you would stop saying that,” she says.

The clerk speaks as much English as Katie speaks French. But eventually we communicate, and she tells us that our hotel is around the corner, a mere two blocks away.

We walk over and find it without a problem. “That was lucky,” I say, laughing. Katie doesn’t say anything. She shakes her head.

We check into the room, which contains two double beds, almost touching each other with about a foot of space to the wall, a TV on a stand close to the ceiling, a tiny bathroom and a large window that looks out onto the hotel’s dumpster. We burst out laughing.

“The pictures make it seem a little bigger.” Katie says.

I fall headfirst onto my bed. “An adventure.”

At dinner, the waiter humors me and listens as I butcher his language trying to order, then asks me, “Would you like anything to drink?” in English. I wonder if everyone can tell that we are American.

We sit outside at a small table and watch Paris. The French are fashionable. They wear dark clothes, hats and smoke cigarettes. The city is quite beautiful at night.

We head back to the hotel and realize that we have no idea where we are. We head in the general direction, but it isn’t too long before all of the streets start looking the same. We don’t have a map and we don’t remember the name of the street the hotel is on.

“We are very lost,” I say finally.

“Oh, don’t say that,” says Katie.

“We’re confused.”

It’s getting late and I wonder how safe the area is. I don’t mention it.

Katie asks an old woman to help us. She seems very nice. Though she speaks very quickly, I’m unsure whether or not she knows where our hotel is. She calls a young girl over.

“Do you speak English?” the young girl asks me. My heart leaps.

“Yes!” I almost shout.

They walk us back to our hotel. We are an odd group. Two lost American tourists, an old French woman, a young girl and her boyfriend.

The small room feels like a haven and we are happy to be there.

The next day, we get a map and make a list of the places we want to see. We venture onto the metro, which is a lot like New York’s, except nicer.

We see Oscar Wilde’s and Jim Morrison’s tombs in the Père Lachaise cemetery, which I find quite amazing. There is a huge crowd around Morrison’s grave, and a bunch of guys in Doors T-shirts playing guitars. There is a guard to make sure the fanatics don’t deface the surrounding head stones. I wonder if he listens to the Doors and specifically asked for this detail.

We have lunch at the Bastille before heading to the Louvre. The ceilings are amazingly painted and sculpted. In some rooms you can’t tell what’s real and what is painted. We see the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo.

We walk to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. A priest is giving a sermon; the stained glass reflects onto Katie’s face. There is something very creepy about being inside.

By the time we make it to the Eiffel tower, I’m exhausted. After standing in line for 20 minutes, we grab a cab and head back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we leave for Amsterdam. I check the hotel address twice.