Candles give light to the dark apartment, and shadows of Italians and Columbians doing the salsa dance along the wall.
They move their bodies in a way that mine may never move. For most of them it’s in the blood. One girl from Brazil moves her body in such a way to Brazilian music that we all sit down and stare. She shakes every bit of her body, turning and jiggling, never missing a beat. An exceptionally tall and voluptuous Italian, dressed in short black shorts and a pink silk shirt, dances solo, mimicking and singing in such a way that you can’t help but love her. I find her nothing short of amazing as she tangos herself around the barren apartment, flinging her arms in disco-like movements.
These people are all body. They love life, and it’s obvious. A quiet evening in a small, starving artist style apartment, was transformed into one of love, song, and dance. Every few minutes someone was hugging, kissing, or clinking glasses for the nth time that evening.
I was embraced into this group by two old Columbian friends I met in the South of France three years ago. These young men are my height, with dark hair, strong looking bodies and handsome faces. They are passionate, open hearted, and party harder than I ever could. They tell me they consider me their little sister, and having known me when I was fifteen, they gasped when they saw me and declared I’d become a woman.
We had what was in their opinion a calm evening, since the dancing lasted until four or five in the morning, rather than eight like most nights.
I knew my friend had matured when he offered me his bed and slept on the sofa. Years ago he would have insisted we share a bed, his hands never taking no for an answer.
After a five-hour sleep, I went home, showered, and took off to a giant flea market. There I wandered, slightly claustrophobic in the mass crowds; only finding calm in a huge antique section. There I found some of the most beautiful and absurd antiques I’ve ever seen in my life. Everything from a giant lock, to some strange farming instrument made for buffalos, to stunning classic Parisian lounge chairs.
I spoke at length with an Algerian man who sold printed t-shirts-which he exclaimed was his brilliant idea-with random things like ‘Your ass stinks’ on them. “The tourists love that one,” he told me. He told me that his brown eyes turn green when he’s in Algeria, because of the sun. He told me that his daughter is dating a Canadian policeman. And when he suggested we be pen pals, I told him to print his letters on t-shirts and to send them to me. “For you, anything,” he answered.
Afterwards I took off to Montmartre, towards the steep stairs that lead up to the Sacre Coeur, which has attracted ten times as many tourists since the scene in Amelie.
The view at the Sacre Coeur is breathtaking, I stood watching it for a long time, a Mexican belting out “No woman no cry…” while he played his guitar in the background.
And then I met Yeliz. As I was staring out at the city a young girl approached me She asked me if I spoke French, and upon knowing I did, told me that she saw me and felt she had to talk to me. “I was sitting with my brother, the one up there, and he thought you were beautiful, and so did I, and I begged him to let me talk to you.”
“I think you’re beautiful, too,” I told her. "Merci," she answered, with the kind of confidence that let you know she thought so too.
She proceeded to invite me out for a drink at her family’s restaurant. This young 12-year-old girl, is one of the most forward, self-assured people I have ever met. I loved her right away, and followed her and her brother down to their family’s Turkish restaurant for a drink. A drink became a dinner of couscous with them as well, followed by tea, cigarettes, and napkin folding for tables in the restaurant.
“Promise me you’ll visit Turkey one day,” the brother said to me, “the people are open hearted, they’re very giving, and they know a good person when they see one.”
I told them that this was obvious. That their generosity was exceptional.
I went home with an air of love around me, as well as the young girl’s number, and a promise to see each other soon, as well as frequently.
I think my new best friend is twelve.
On the metro I exchanged smiles and a wave goodbye with a small Mexican girl, her smile cutting right through me.
And as I headed towards my room, the normally overly polluted sky, revealed a smattering of stars to me.
I have become a part of the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris.
My sunglasses may not be Chanel, my handbag anything but Dior, and my flip flops far from three inch heels, but I’m one of the women here.
I stand with all the other nannies and mothers outside the school gates, waiting to pick up my children.
I too, carry chocolate cookies and drinks for them, and take them to the park, my eyes racing around violently, trying to keep track of them.
I shop at the local grocery store, and roll the family’s food down the street in a small carrier with wheels.
I buy a baguette everyday, ripping off chunks for the children that scream at my waist.
I punch in the password to my apartment, and then squeeze into the miniscule elevator.
I take off on the metro, recognize all the stops, and hop on and off easily.
I go see French films, and I laugh at all the jokes, cry in the sad scenes, and leave walking down the street with my heels clicking on the pavement.
School started yesterday and work has begun.
The family is wonderful. The Madame has become a friend to me, and I feel more like a person than an employee around her. In fact we get along really well. We talk everything from fashion to travel, and I secure my jaw as she tells me about her job offer for Louis Vitton, or casually mentions her friend who writes for National Geographic. I try not to triple take when I see at least two pairs of Dior heels in the shoe closet.
The kids…are kids. And part of me feels I can’t do this kind of thing.
The young girl yells at me when I’ve done nothing, and tells me to stop imitating her when I try and be playful with her. Out of all the young girls that have loved me, I don’t know how I ended up with one that glares at me.
And then there’s trying to make meals. Everything I love, fruits, vegetables, spices and flavor, is being replaced with pasta, rice, and simple dishes. I’m doing what I can, trying to be creative, and rejoicing in at least having fresh baguette every day. And if they don’t eat my salads, I will. But even the passion for cooking fades when you have a limited time space to prepare the food, and have to buy your groceries from a discount grocery store down the street.
I keep telling myself I'm strong, as every part of my body, soul and mind feels weak. I want to do my job well, and I crumble every time I feel I’m failing.
But there is hope yet. Madame called, she has gotten off work early and I have the evening off.
After a day of small children screaming and groping at me, an evening on my own is a breath of fresh, heavy, Parisian air.