The smoke is already drifting through my baguette-stained hands. Tilting my beret back even further, I’ll look across the Pont Alexander bridge and casually wave at the Norte Dame or some other super-old church and sigh. It’ll be the sigh of the seasoned-traveler who’s been-there, done-that. See one millennial old building, you’ve seen them all. My white and black striped shirt is stained in cognac and steak frites and all is good.
Drawing even deeper on the funny looking cigarette, I’ll start a leisurely stroll down the Seine. Of course, I’ll be stepping over lascivious youth petting heavy along the banks as ancient men water paint scenes from the Trocadéro. The heavy, moist Parisian air creeps across my pencil-thin mustache as the days of tinto vino begs to be expelled upon the cobblestoned streets.
I’ve already fought off a pack of mimes and stared off into the Mona Lisa’s eyes. My calves remember the burning of climbing the Eiffel Tower and I have had my fill of champagne and sole meunière. Specifically, I am stuffed from too much rich sauces and cheap wine. The early stages of gout has cracked my feet but I continue to shovel loaves of piping hot bread down my neck at any opportunity.
This is my France. This is my Paris. And none of this true. I won’t even step foot on the continent until May of this year.
For over 13 years, my wife and I have talked about making a trip to Europe. We’ve fantasied about touring mother Ireland, paying homage to the Holy Father at the Vatican and eating tapas in Madrid. But life has a way of getting in the way. It wasn’t until Christmas time that we had an honest conversation about travelling abroad. Were we going to be that couple who only knows the safety and convenience of the United States? Or were we going to join the ranks of other sturdy international travelers and see the world on our own terms?
Fortunately, armed with a fresh credit card, we became the latter.
Since I was in high school, I always wanted to visit France. My favorite teacher, Mr. Gene Wright, used to take a bunch of kids across the pond and let them run wild in the streets (or rues). Free to drink wine, stare at masterpieces and explore the city at night, Mr. Wright was adamant that Paris was the world’s greatest city. He would have been a great tour guide. I never made the high school trip. The idea of a 17-year-old from Las Vegas boarding a flight to Europe was too much. And the high cost of becoming a world traveler was a little out of my dishwashing budget.
But I always thought that Paris would be the spot for me. I loved the idea that the city is over 1800 years old and history upon history had been constructed upon itself. Las Vegas was founded in 1905—there were bistros twice that age in the Latin Quarter. Between the Eiffel Tower and visiting the Louvre, I was convinced that a week in Paris would turn me from a boy to a man (I had just discovered what a red-light district was). It was meant to be. But alas, I never made the trip.
To compensate for my lack of world travels, I became a pretty good explorer of the U.S. Short of Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, North Dakota and I think Maine, I’ve been to every state. I’ve seen Canada during Canada Day and taken my risks along the Baja California coast in Mexico, but being a NAFTA traveler wasn’t enough. I wanted to see what it meant to go over a big ocean and walk in a street where I don’t speak a lick of the language.
A note about the French language. It’s weird. Steve Martin had a great joke about it: “Boy, those French! They have a different word for everything.” I might be able to read a little Latin, speak a little Spanish and know how to swear in Africana, but my lazy tongue doesn’t want a thing to do with French. They say it’s the language of love but it sounds like a feral pig snorting though a wet potato sack. It’s got a ton of weird punctuation marks and to sound like a native, you need to pinch your nose, cock your head back and breath through your ears. I’m already planning on having a snooty waiter openhand slap me in front of my wife when as I’m presented with the menus.
I figure if you’re friendly and nice, the Parisians will be receptive to my goofy, good-natured behavior. At least I’m hoping that’s true. They say they don’t like Americans. Years ago, I’d say that wasn’t true but after electing Donald Trump and all of the crazy things we’ve done to the world in the last 14 months, maybe they don’t like us. Sometimes, I don’t like us very much either.
I plan on being a good ambassador for the States. I’ll be nice and try to speak their googily language, I’ll eat the garden snails, drink copious amounts of the rosa wine and won’t overly react when I see them give cigarettes to children. I will not remind them that without us (technically, pals of my Grandpa Tom), they’d all be speaking German. I won’t question why they have the can-can dance when every phone has pornhub and will keep quiet when they talk about the finer points of kissing with their tongue. Gross.
We’re not leaving for a couple of months. I figure this will give me enough time to save some Francs, brush up on my conversational French, learn to drink cocktails without ice and appreciate the finer things in life like water lilies and strolling. I’ll try my hand at riding a bicycle with a basket and even try reading a book or two about the place. I hear Julia Child from Pasadena, California made a go of it in Paris, maybe I can too.
Ben Raskin is a writer at USANA and bartender for Keys On Main. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He’s actually really excited about seeing the City of Lights.