Stolen Day in Paris

Translated by Krystyna Steiger


Spitting off the Eiffel Tower didn’t occur to any of us – it wasn’t our dream. Instead of taking the elevator up, the four of us climbed the stairs. In return, even as we reached the first observation deck, we were overcome with the joy of having our dream come true: we were in Paris!

Up at the top, the warm, March wind was blowing; the short, white skirt I’d gotten somewhere, sometime in my life,was flying up over my waist, and I felt like Marilyn Monroe. I’d never had occasion to change into sandals on the Eiffel Tower before. Beneath us, sunny and white, lay Paris in the springtime.

My husband and kids had never been; they stood there, exuberantly taking in the white rooftops of the French buildings and the pink, spring trees. And I rejoiced that they, too, were seeing what had captivated me twenty years earlier. I couldn’t have imagined they’d be on the very same spot with me, or that they’d be exactly as they were: my husband and six-year-old daughter – a pair of unexpectedly identical four-eyes – and the freckled little boy, who’d become the second member of our present-day quartet eight years before, and didn’t resemble any of us.

I took a lot of pictures with my new Canon – an anniversary gift from my husband; I’d wanted a professional camera for a long time. There was my daughter, looking through the telescope, and my son, also trying to see at least with one eye, pushing her out of the way. They always shared their place under the sun; but since they didn’t manage it this time, they started taking turns looking, and sulking. In one shot, the three of them looked like the Bremen Town Musicians – one on top of the other, all of them wanting to have a look at Paris at the same time. With the abundant natural light, the photos turned out beautifully, even without the flash... Once in a while, I’d catch myself looking more at the display screen, than the city. Even as we walked along the Seine, I saw everything in live preview.

«Will you print them, Mom?» my daughter asked, after seeing some of the shots. She’d never appealed to me for anything so seriously before.

«Of course,» I said, patting her blond, wind-blown hair. «We’ll put together an album, called «The Way We Were in Paris.»

I’d flirted with the idea of bringing my family here for a long time. I wanted us to have memories we could share, as we looked at the photos, which were amazing.

We only had a day to tour the city, with two more set aside for Disneyland, in the suburbs; we’d booked a room in a nearby hotel – a special Disney hotel with bonus tickets, so we wouldn’t have far to go. So, having arrived in the morning of that first day, we wandered around with our backpacks until evening, giving us enough time to stroll along the Seine, climb the tower, visit Père Lachaise and La Défense – the Paris business district, which is more reminiscent of New York.

Our first visit, at 9 o’clock, was to Père Lachaise. I headed straight to Oscar Wilde’s grave, which I’d visited once before. But I had specific business with Oscar now – two days earlier I’d finished my first novel, and I wanted him to know. I even left a little note saying this and that, and Oscar, if you can hear me, maybe you could help get it published – well, to whatever extent possible. Then, in case he couldn’t understand Russian, I wrote it in English on the other side.

«You looked funny kissing the glass,» my husband joked, showing me the photo on the display.

Four years earlier, Oscar’s entire headstone was covered with the lip-prints of grateful female readers – from pale pink to bright red. Evidently for preservation’s sake, they decided to clean the headstone itself and surround it with a glass barrier, for the kisses. I don’t wear lipstick, so my kiss left no trace. The only proof of my visit was the photo. ‘Bye Oscar. We’re off to La Défense. In a leisurely gait to not the nearest metro station, through a little garden in bloom.

«I like this city!» my husband said, finding a ten euro note along the way.

I continued taking pictures. Pigeons in one shot. Their gaze is different, not like our pigeons.’ They look... in French, I guess. Then, a group of six-year-olds in numbered jerseys – we’d chanced upon some sort of competition. They were running along a special course, between the trees, covered in big pink blossoms that rhymed with my daughter’s sandals. It’s too bad my camera couldn’t capture the fragrances in the square... And in this springtime city, where the fruit and vegetable stalls were selling green peas in the pod – in March. This called for a close-up... The pod was more like a green bean – so incredibly long, it barely fit in the frame. And delicious! A whole kilo was gone in fifteen minutes, max.

Next, a twenty-minute ride on the metro to my favorite district: La Défense. I’d shown photos of it to the kids and fired their imaginations: they’d go there, too, absolutely. They’d been whining since morning, about going to see the tall, glass buildings.

There’s so much space, it makes you want to fly. But the French don’t fly – they eat. They pour out of their stuffy offices for lunch, sit on the grass and munch on baguettes, washing them down with Cola – or even just dry. They also play pétanque– a kind of lawn bowling, except with metal balls on a sandy court.

We decided to conclude our one and only day in Paris with Montmartre. We’d accomplished a lot: seen Père Lachaise and Défense, climbed the Eifel Tower, cruised along the Seine in a little boat...

But Montmartre is sacred! And not least because of its snow-white cathedral, Sacré Coeur. There was a mass in progress, and we sat for a while, trying to immerse ourselves in the rituals. And before that, a demonstration of miraculous dexterity by a French African, juggling soccer balls on top of a lamp post. I couldn’t have been happier with all the truly candid shots I’d gotten thanks to him: Montmartre, with its panoramic view of Paris, the dark-skinned dude on a pole and his flying ball. I could already imagine the enthusiastic comments my friends would leave when I posted that one.

After leaving the Cathedral, we decided to stroll past the traditional gathering place for artists, preparing to begin our descent and head to our hotel, when a sympathetic woman holding a pencil and paper stopped us.

«Let me do a sketch of your children... »

I wasn’t sure if I should, but the kids were nodding their heads. «Yes-yes, let’s!» they exclaimed, and they sat down, shoulder to shoulder. That was an amazing moment: the two of them, side by side, without shoving each other. I even had a laugh at their expense as I continued the day’s photographic coverage, with the kids as the background for the artist, and their questionable likenesses on paper. And voilà – it was finished! The artist showed her models their portrait, and my daughter immediately scowled: she’d forgotten to remove her glasses...

«Okay, it’s okay, I’ll erase them,» said the artist, and she started looking for her rubber. I watched her rifle through her makeup bag, filled with all kinds of tiny objects – bits of chalk, paperclips, brushes... It all took about a minute. The evening was cool; I turned to our backpacks, to get my daughter a blouse. My camera case stood beside them, empty. It wasn’t around my neck, either.

«Where’s the camera?!»

My husband responded with a look of astonishment and horror. Both of us realized it had vanished, without a trace. And along with it – our chance to look back on the highlights of that happy day. Somebody had stolen our only day in Paris.

We walked down from Montmartre, holding the pencil portrait of the kids – a gift from the artist on seeing my tears. Another ten euros for the piggy bank.

But despite our loss, we knew that today’s Paris would stay forever within us, and nobody could steal it from there.

And Disneyland awaited us, with attractions and blossoming pink trees.

Copyrights © 2015 — 2024
Hope Silver (Nadezhda Serebrennikova)
Publishers:  Evolved PublishingThurston Howl Publications