Riding the line 10 between Michel-Ange and Odéon. Two boys get on at my stop, sit on the strapontins in front of me. I hardly notice them, and they certainly don’t notice me; all three of us notice the girl in sheer black stockings and a black leather skirt with the thick black mane and complexion of someone who is clearly not Gallish, though neither am I.
I watch these boys interact with one another, hoping to go unnoticed. Watch as a third boards two stops later.
“Oh putain! Stéphane!”
I smile, because I love serendipity, because I love the way that Paris is often better than fiction. One of the boys talks loudly on the phone. They must be newly minted high school seniors; no one else exists with such unbridled audacity and confidence, not here, not anywhere. I can smell their cologne from across the way. One has gelled hair; the other wears a golden cross just barely hidden by the neckline of his shirt. Not that that means the same thing here.
I sought parallels when I first arrived in Paris, parallels between here and New York, old and new. I didn’t find them, not then. I know now that it’s not because they don’t exist, but rather because it’s hard to see the reflection of something when you’re still living it. I can see the world I came from if I look hard enough, a sum of parts here in Paris. I made a game out of finding them with my brother: the 15th as the Upper West Side, Upper East as the 16th.
These are surely residents of the latter: bobo, catho. It all means something else here; you can’t draw straight lines and equals signs when there are so many variables, and yet I can look at this boy’s face and see the clear reflection of someone I knew in another life, a friend of a friend with a popped collar who leaned Republican long before he was old enough to vote. I drank my first Smirnoff Ice off of his parents’ antique coffee table, sitting on an inherited Persian rug, and I watched him and others like him throw an odd variety of citrus from the windows of a penthouse apartment onto an empty Fifth Avenue below, just for kicks, just because they could.
At work, a friend of mine recently noticed an accent in the tone of one of the new interns; I noticed it too, though I couldn’t identify it. She didn’t sound like me or like any of the other foreigners I’ve surrounded myself with since moving here. “C’est l’accent bobo,” my friend said, slightly amused; she’s a bit foreign too, though she’s been here longer than I have and lets the expressions and idioms and gros mots roll off her tongue more easily than I do.
In another universe, that bobo girl, the one who betrays her upbringing and attracts a host of a prioris the moment she opens her mouth, would be me. I don’t think I’m supposed to say that, but it’s true nonetheless. But regardless of the way and place I was raised on that side of the ocean, here, I’m someone else. I might have been raised in Carnegie Hill with a house in the Hamptons, but I don’t have an address in the 16th or a house in Normandy or Arcachon. Moving was like a reset button when it comes to a prioris; my prep school past hardly means anything here, and my friends are a hodgepodge of some kind of foreign, be they French-but-not-Parisian or not French at all. I’m not a bobo here.
The boys get off at Odéon, like I do. I wonder what sort of party they’re on their way to, a party where Pierre is already waiting — I eavesdropped; I can’t help it. Maybe they’ll tap into the wine in the cellar of someone’s parents, spill it on the carpet and blame it on the dog. I wonder what the Parisian equivalent of knowing someone’s doorman is.
Spaghetti with Corn, Tomatoes, Fennel and Shrimp (serves 2)
120 grams (4.5 ounces) uncooked whole wheat spaghetti
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup corn (canned or fresh)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pound raw shrimp
salt, to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, fennel and celery. Season with salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the corn and halved cherry tomatoes. Toss to combine and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes.
When the pasta is done cooking, drain it, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add to the skillet and stir. Increase the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid in the pan has reduced and the tomatoes are tender, about 5 additional minutes.
Add the spaghetti and shrimp. Turn off the heat and toss to combine. Cover for 2 minutes to allow the shrimp to cook with the residual heat. Season to taste with salt and serve.