The three bedroom house we had rented had no shower, only a bathtub with a hand held shower. We had to be up so early to go sit in that cold tub and try to wash with one hand while holding the shower head, take the train to Paris, and then the metro, which we soon memorized, to the school for french class. I was in the intermediate class, Hayden was in the beginner’s class. I was afraid to open my mouth and speak french outside of class. I ordered a “Oiel frite”, a fried eye, instead of an “oeuf frite.” While at the cheese shop, I tried to say, “go ahead of me” and said instead “on y va”–shall we go.
What I remember most–though I loved the museums, especially the musee d’Orsay–are the croque monsieurs ( a kind of grilled cheese sandwich) and croque madames (grilled cheese with egg on top) I ordered for breakfast each day. The bread was fried, but it didn’t taste like French toast, and you just can’t get it in the states. I would eat them in nondescript corner cafes with a big bowl of cafe au lait (another delicacy, as this was years before Starbucks).
We wouldn’t be like anyone else: we hadn’t brought cameras, choosing instead to live in the moment. In hindsight, this was a terrible mistake. We were unabashedly precocious.
In class, the bespectled teacher with his grey-brown curly hair asked me who I was. I said in French, “I am a nymphomaniac!’ Everyone’s jaws dropped. No one ever looked at me the same way again. I was, in fact, becoming some kind of nymphomaniac hopelessly in love with a beautiful gay man. We were like Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, coupled yet uncoupled.
“Karen, you’re a gem, ” he would say. He professed undying love for me constantly. I didn’t really know anything about gay men, it was never spoken about. In high school, we would call unpopular people “fags.” We didn’t know it was short for faggots, the sticks used to burn homosexuals while “witches” were being drowned.
A pretty, thin girl in Hayden’s class had a crush on him. She would stand between Hayden and I after school and say she was going on a diet, every day.
My favorite outfit to wear in Paris was a blue dress from the future. I got it on Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. It had a mock turtleneck, and a button on one side. It hung over a short, hip hugging pleated skirt. Hayden dubbed me “the blueberry girl.”
Water was the same price as wine so, as in “The Sun Also Rises”, we ate steak frites and got drunk. I learned to love my steaks incredibly rare. We went to “Le Shok Hitchcok” movies because, being young, we got homesick.
We had befriended an attractive couple from N.Y.U., Tom, and Wendy and their friend Gina. “Gina puts her girdle out to dry on the shower rod,” Wendy told me in confidence. I didn’t know you could even still buy a girdle. Gina would sleep with French men who spoke no English.
“The best position is woman on top!” Gina gushed, and proceeded to explain why in graphic detail.
When I told them the story of the sex abuse trial, Tom got visibly disturbed. He was flushing and fidgeting and looking sick. Finally, he excused himself. I silently concluded that he had been abused…or was he an abuser?
We all took the train out to Versailles, and took rowboats out and had a water fight. We had met Wendy’s friend Hans there, a tall, goofy looking guy wearing birkinstocks. Hans slipped me a note.
“Meet me in the room of mirrors. I want to kiss you,” it read.