The First Time I Saw Paris

This blog entry is adapted from a guest blog I did for the lovely author Nina Malkin on her website. For Nina's blog, we were asked to write about our "First Swoon." The story of my first swoon is in, many ways, the story of how my novel FRENCH KISS came to be! 

So read on, and enjoy, preferably with a chocolate croissant in hand...

The First Time I Saw Paris 

I didn't want to go. I was fourteen, it was winter break, and I was counting on hanging out with my best friend and dissecting high school thus far. Paris did not figure into those plans. My older sister had been living there since September --and had the chic new haircut and cute French boyfriend to prove it -- and had invited me to join her over the holidays. Anyone sane would have jumped at this opportunity, but I clearly wasn't in my right mind. I thought the world started and ended in New York City, my hometown.

Over the course of one magical week, that opinion would be changed forever.

But first I had to grumpily board an Air France flight, brood into my hoodie as I soared over the Atlantic (I can never sleep on planes), and sourly trudge into Charles de Gaulle Airport. My sister and her boyfriend (I resented his mere existence) were waiting for me there, and my sister handed me a paper cup of cocoa, my welcome gift. The drink was piping hot and very sweet, with a thick chocolate skin. Even through my haze of jet lag, I registered that this was probably the best hot cocoa I'd ever tasted.

That was, I think, when Paris first whispered to me, when I began to wonder if this hadn't been such a bad idea after all.

We drove to the city, and in the gray afternoon gloom, the outskirts of Paris looked ordinary and dull, no different from anywhere on earth. I dozed until we arrived at my sister's pied-a-terre, an ancient-looking apartment with chipped walls and a claw-foot bathtub. Sort of charming, I thought before passing out on her futon. When I awoke, it was nighttime, and my sister was watching me in her patient way. "Let's go out," she suggested.

And it was love at first sight.

The city was lit up on all sides, like a golden-flecked globe. The streetlamps were wrapped in white Christmas lights that twinkled through the light drizzle. There was the long, lacy Eiffel Tower, much prettier than in pictures as it shimmered from top to bottom. There was the Pont Alexandre III, a bridge festooned with gilded angels and nymphs. Even the people on the wide, windswept avenues seemed illuminated--the women in their spangly dresses and sparkling scarves knotted at their throats, the men with glowing red cigarette tips dangling from their lips, the boys with their bright, mischievous gazes. Gazes often directed at me.

Flat-chested, tongue-tied, curly-haired me, who, back in America, didn't garner very many gazes from the opposite sex, unless you counted that dorky boy in science lab. What was different here? Somehow, in my rain coat and the beret my sister had lent me, breathing in the scents of coffee and perfume that permeated the air, I felt almost...alluring. Beautiful. Maybe my sister had felt the same way when she'd met her now-boyfriend. French boys appeared bolder, more inquisitive, more willing to take a chance on girls than their American counterparts. It was an exhilarating thought.

It seemed to me that my sister and I walked the length and breadth of Paris that night, only stopping once at a café for a delicious dinner of steak frites . My sister let me sip from her glass of wine, and the drink left my cheeks flushed and my heart racing, like the side effects of a serious crush. But there was much more of the city to see, and as the week unfurled, I stood on my tiptoes to see Mona Lisa smile at me at The Louvre, I bit into flaky, buttery croissants, I bought my own filmy scarf to knot at my throat, and a little vial of perfume to spray on my wrists. And, at a whirling night-club one night, I got kissed by a navy-blue-eyed French boy, who told me I was une belle fille and I wholeheartedly believed him.

Is it possible to swoon over a city? I think so. As much I still love my native New York, and various other places I have taken sleepless flights to over the years, nothing makes my pulse race like Paris. It's a cliché, I know, crushing on this most romantic of cities, but I can't help it. Paris not only seduced me that first night, but it also opened the door onto my adulthood, onto the me I would slowly start to become. And for that reason, the city holds my heart.