On July 14, 1989, I was in school in Paris. The Sorbonne was running a 4-week summer course called "French for Foreigners". The opportunity came up for me to choose Cannes or Paris; I chose wisely that year. I had taken a similar course in Germany two years prior, which was two months long. In 1987, I spent three summer months in Germany with friends' families and in school in the Black Forest. Both of these summer abroad experiences were extremely eye-opening for me as a person about who I am and what I'm capable of doing. These periods also slung me into my deep interests in traveling, languages, cultures, and people in general.
The summer of '89 happened to be the Bicentennial of France. The celebration commemorated the time 200 years before when the French stormed the Bastille
). France, and in particular Paris, celebrated for the entire year, but most focused that July. There were things going on all over the city that would either not happen again for a while or never again solely because it was the Bicentennial (in the 80s). For instance, many, many, many countries had entries in the parade that went down the Champs-Élysées
. Of course I don't believe that for all the other years before or since, the celebration has been nearly this huge.
Friends of mine and I found a pretty decent spot to watch the parade, but we had to stand. I remember seeing the Russian, Swedish/Norwegian, US, and British troops and floats. The Russian float in my opinion was pretty interesting with three huge clocks set on an angle with people in strange costumes walking and dancing around on the clock faces. We didn't take any pictures of the parade, but while I wish we had, our spots weren't conducive to good photos. If we had had digital cams back then, we surely would have! Plus, we were forewarned about taking anything truly unnecessary with us, like cameras. Pickpockets abounded during the entire month and we heard of fellow students (who were alone in decent neighborhoods) getting mugged or assaulted for their money or belongings. So, we had minimal cash and our metro IDs all in our front pockets.
After 2 hours of standing watching the parade, we decided to get a quick bite and then head over to watch the fireworks from Pont Alexandre III
. Most all traffic routes in Paris at this point were pedestrian zones. If they weren't set as pedestrian zones, there were substantial blockades along any route in the city center where we were. Even though the best options for getting anywhere in Paris were walking or using public transport, even those options were PACKED. People on the metro were pushing other people onto the packed subway cars - just like in Tokyo!
We got to the bridge I had suggested for us to see the fireworks - Pont Alexandre III - about 45 minutes before the fireworks and had to stand, of course, for that as well. We could see the Eiffel Tower (100 years old at this point with a lighted marquis on its side for the entire year), the Grand Palais
and the Petit Palais
(museums across from each other), and Les Invalides
, the military school complex. It was a very historic location for an historic celebration, indeed.
About 15 minutes before the fireworks, a very handsome, rustic Frenchman pulled up on a motorbike and parked his bike to the side of the bridge. I watched him pull up, park the bike, get off his bike, take off his helmet, and stride strongly up the side of the bridge - to us. He saw me looking at him and noticed me watching him the entire time he pulled up on the bike. My heart and stomach were fluttering the entire time and got worse as he walked up toward us. He shyly stood to the side of us somewhat behind to the left, so that his bike was always in his sights.
The fireworks started and the crowd went crazy all around us. Each time I glanced back toward him, he either quickly moved his head to "check on his bike" or acknowledged my glance with an awesome side grin and head nod. I nodded back and glanced him up and down.
"BOOM!" A burst lit up the crowd around us.
Within 5 minutes, I summoned the courage to talk to him and said nervously in pretty elementary French, "If you want, you can stand next to us; we're closer. Put your hand on my shoulder if you want," which was supposed to be, "Si tu veux, tu peut te tenir à côté de nous; nous sommes plus proche. Places ton main sur mon épaule si tu veux.") and I put my hand on my shoulder. Unfortunately, I really said, "s'assois", meaning "sit yourself" instead of the construct "se tenir". Alas, we had just started learning useful reflexive verbs.
"BOOM!" The crowd went crazy.
He said something back to me very fast, which I didn't quite catch, and motioned for me to stoop down. So, I naturally stooped for the increasingly hot French biker man responding to me. He suddenly put his wonderful left thigh on my left shoulder. Then hoisted his wonderful right thigh on my right shoulder. Suddenly, this man I had watched park his bike and stalked while he took his spot on the bridge to watch the fireworks was sitting on my shoulders!
"BOOM! BOOM! Ba-BOOM!" Our faces lit up.
Of course, throughout the next 15-20 minutes as I slowly started sweating bullets from the weight of him, I had to stabilize him by holding onto his great thighs. He kept his hands on mine and held on. Once in a while, I scratched my back, which understandably
made me tap his butt behind my neck. I kept picturing his jeans on my shoulders and neck and was certainly not really watching the fireworks, though I "commented" on them for my friends, who were equally as confused about the whole misunderstanding as I was. But, I was enjoying the result much more.
He noticed that he was getting a little too heavy for me after almost 20 minutes, so he told me to let him off. He got off my shoulders and back down on the ground. He stood there for a few minutes more with his right forearm on my shoulder. Then he tapped my shoulder. I turned around to him. He grabbed my head, planted a kiss on both my cheeks, then a quick one on my lips, and looked into my eyes for a second. He turned and walked like a jock down to his bike. Once on his bike, he looked back at me, threw up his thumb, and drove off. I never got his name nor saw him again.
Of course, the end of the storyline in my head culminated in something that ultimately and unfortunately didn't happen. What did that interaction teach me? It taught me that if I try to speak to a hot guy in his language, I might just come away with a lifelong fantasy. For some reason, none of my friends with me asked me about the kiss; I suppose they all thought, "Ah, those Frenchmen...".