Michel and I cross paths at the billiards hall sandwiched between a popular outdoor café and a government nursery, down a little dead-end alley across from where I’m staying. Neither Michel nor I has WiFi at home, so we come here to get connected; he to online poker, me to email and apartment-hunting sites.
Michel and I talk a lot now. When we first swapped this-is-my-life stories, he proudly offered me photos of his smiling, blue-eyed grandson, and explained that he’s estranged from the baby's father, his own son. Why? I asked. I'm Jewish, he replied, and my son refused to have the baby circumcised. “I’m not religious at all,” Michel insisted in kilometer-a-minute french. “But this is tradition that goes back to my father, and his father, and his father, and so on. It breaks my heart to know he’s breaking that tradition.”
I kept my own opinions about religion, tradition, and circumcision to myself.
“Will you ever make peace with your son?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Yesterday, San Francisco-based friends Diep and Jim came to town after a visit in London, before heading off to Amsterdam and Berlin. We spent the hot, sun-drenched day hopscotching from one tourist attraction to the next: Pere Lachaise, the Marais, Notre Dame. We split up at 5:00 with the plan to rendezvous later for a boat ride on the Seine.
I left the apartment at 9:45 and pedaled off toward Pont Neuf. It was probably 80 degrees. Riding along the left bank of the river, I passed a group of tango dancers gliding around before a live band, mobs of teenagers straddling bottles of Champagne, families picnicking beneath a pink sky, and lots and lots of tourists strolling and speaking loudly in English, Italian, and Spanish.
At 10:15, the three of us were sitting aboard an open-air boat, staring at the cityscape from a totally novel perspective. The moon was full. Everyone was smiling. The Eiffel tower was as beautiful as I've ever seen it. It was, to use a cliche, "magical."
p.s. The best part of the evening might've been the part where I didn't get run over on my ride back to the Bastille. It's the little victories.