Moments before Brad and I were to leave home for Paris–we are attending LeWeb–I was still coatless. I hate to shop. Half-hearted attempts left me with two old light coats layered atop each other, the way people used to layer Izod shirts in the 80s. My Paris style.
I stood in the entry way next to packed suitcase. Brad was loading the car.
“Take my mink!” said my generous mother-in-law, who had flown in to watch the kids while hubby and I went to Paris.
I demurred. “It will get rained on,” I said.
“The minks wore it rain or shine,” she replied.
“It’s so pretty, and so expensive. I’m afraid it would get ruined.”
“It’s made to be worn!” she exclaimed. “I never wear it.”
Brad was starting the car.
I said yes to the coat, and thanks.
Hours later, I found myself in line for passport check at Charles de Gaulle feeling self-conscious. It took a few hours for that to transform into confidence. When it hit, I looked in a darkened window and saw myself costumed for Paris.
I wear the mink on the Metro. To LeWeb. I drape it over the metal door of stalls in bathrooms. I toss it on chairs at bistros. I stroke it. Brad said others on the subway were stroking it, too, but it’s so thick I didn’t even feel it.
Living in Paris for a week feels like finally getting your childhood wish to sleep overnight in Disneyland. You promenade through sumptuously lit ancien regime monuments, luxuriate in the superabundance of the Louvre, jog past La Tour Eiffel still fizzing straight up into the sky. It’s history, this nook of Paris in the 2nd & 9th arrondissements, but with the centuries of contradiction and violence scrubbed clean.
So now, consider this. It’s four days into my trip. I no longer notice the mink, or feel like an impostor, or a goddess. I’m at the Nation Metro stop. I have just kissed goodbye my friend Beatrice, whose talk at a local university I have attended. I am alone, but of course not alone: Paris’s unwonted snow yesterday shut down the streets and drove every last person underground. The metro car is literally body-to-body. I can feel the shirt buttons of the man behind me pressing into my back. I am trying not to inhale a woman’s hair as I breathe.
My stop. Auber. The door on the other side of the car opens. I begin to move forward toward the door. A man crouches down in front of me. He lingers a moment, blocking the door. People begin to curse. “Excuse me, excuse me,” I say in English, flustered. I’m pinned, can’t move. Hands push me over the crouching man. My body juts over him. My purse stays behind, right hand barely holding on. I hear the doors rumble, as they do before they slide close. I am stuck. Then a wave of exiting passengers surges forward and pushes me out, like a wax plug dislodged by water. I pop up into the air. My right leg wedges down into the gap between the car and the cement platform. I give a cry of surprise and pain. I feel my purse being separated from my hand. I yank with the tips of my fingers. Seated passengers outside the car gape. A runnel opens inside the car. My purse yo-yos from the center of the car toward me. I hoist myself out of the gully. In a second, I’m on my feet, purse in hand. Shrugging for the crowd and escaping into invisibility.
My Parisian souvenir: a 4-inch pink gash above my right knee. Strangely, I really like it. It’s unsentimental. An American in Paris wanders outside of her little wedge of FantasyLand. The city grabs you by the mink and holds on.