I was walking down the steps of the Sacré-Cœur in Paris, France. It was just a morning walk. I was still a tourist, but I had no money in my pockets and all the vendors were either closed or cleaning in expectation of the great numbers of people that would pass that way. I had gone by cafes full of empty tables and chairs, waiting outside to be filled. Corners that had been filled with artists and musicians the previous evening were now quiet in the morning sunlight. I wondered if this was Paris pregnant, expectant, and ready to give birth to more wonders under her fairy tale architecture.
As I made my way down to the bottom of the steps a slightly built black man in a green running jacket stopped me. He met my eyes, and I was worried he wanted to sell me something. I didn’t have a single euro in my pocket. This morning I went out with the camera on my phone to be a tourist of the eyes. He beckoned with his hand and when I protested that I had no money, he just crooked his finger and motioned for me to do the same. I mirrored his motions and he looped some black, gold, and green string around my left index finger.
I protested again that I had no money, and he told me in his non-Parisian accent that it was no matter.
“Where you from?” he asked me.
“Seattle,” was my reply. “What about you?”
“Afrika,” he said with a brilliant white smile. His accent said the word with three syllables like “A-free-ka.” which is why I automatically assumed it was spelled with a k. “Do you have a boyfriend or a husband?” he asked me as he continued to braid the string that was wrapped around my finger.
“Oh, no,” I told him.
He looked astonished and blinked, “Well why not?” he asked. “Do you not like men?”
I laughed, “Oh, I definitely like men. It’s just a matter of finding the right man.”
He continued to work on the string and then told me, “Come back to Afrika with me. I have a friend. You would like him. Very sexy.”
I laughed again, “Oh really?”
“Yeah, come on, we leave right now.” He motioned for us to go, but continued to work on the bracelet that he then tied around my wrist. “No matter, this will make you have beautiful babies.” He told me with a smile, cutting the threads with a nail clipper. He pantomimed cutting my nails and then I hugged him goodbye as I made my way back to the apartment where I was staying.
I thought back to the place Jean and I stayed in Berlin. Wolf, the man who owned the flat was also an analyst (therapist) by day and after the house concert and a few glasses of wine he said to me, “I’m not an analyst in my off hours but I wondered about why you have a roommate caring for your dogs. Do you not have a boyfriend? You’re a beautiful woman.”
“I don’t,” I said with a wistful smile, “but now I think I’m hearing the analyst.” I had paid plenty of money and spent enough time talking about that topic with my own analyst at home.
Standing in the kitchen with people from the house concert, listening to Leonard Cohen on Spotify in the wee hours of the morning was a bonding experience. Wolf put his arm around me in a hug and said, “Well, I think Luise (his daughter) has a half sister.” I had inexplicably found a family here in Berlin.
Then there was the couple in Hanover who had a lively little two year old girl that was still singing Happy Birthday even after her own had passed. They were teaching her words in German as I sat with them at the breakfast table. I felt like a voyeur into a life with a beautiful child.
In Cologne, there was the couple who had known each other since high school. He said that she had been dating a friend of his. He was not longer friends with the guy, but the rest was history since they had been married a while. They were busy with their careers and were building a new house, but they had gotten us a gig at a local bar by working there that night and also let us sleep in their living room. Maybe these were long lost cousins of mine.
There was a man from Iran who had been in Belgium just a year that had worked with Jean to set us up at a local Turkish listening room in Ghent. Sight unseen, he had set up the show with the owner. Our Belgian couch surfing host happened to also work as a translator which came in handy with the owner who only spoke Turkish and Dutch. He warmed the stage for us with his music and also gave up his bed to Jean and I while he slept on the couch. The next evening we had an intimate concert with some of the same people, and a few new; exchanging music, smiles, and laughter. Staying in Ghent was a lot like coming home.
The couple in Steendam, who opened a cafe just in the last year, let us stay with them an extra day after playing our gig. They lent us their bikes to ride around the lake, opened up their venue for a local song circle, and I got my hands doing dishes when things got busy on Saturday night. When I asked for a glass of wine, he handed me a whole bottle before we went upstairs and said, “You earned it.” We stayed up chatting and talking, and I wondered if this is what it might be like for most people to go visit their parents.
There was the man in the Hague that opened up his home to an international flood of people. All kinds of amazing and interesting food, and English being spoken in all kinds of accents around the table. Even after the concert, it created a moment for a massage train to happen. I got nostalgic for my brother as I remembered how good his were and the man at my back might have given Paul a run for his money. I even wound up making a French braid in a Dutch woman’s hair. It was little like visiting with siblings.
In Amsterdam there was a meeting of musicians with mutual acquaintances but seeing and hearing each other for the first time. The sharing of music was good and afterwards, we turned off the lights, lit the candles and explored the magic of brandy, apple juice, and chewy licorice while talking about making money as musicians. It was a meeting of the clan.
Then there was the British woman in Amsterdam that kept us at her house the first and last night of the tour. The trip started and ended with her. There was wonderful food, restful beds, and good wine. She was also one of the first to tell me, “Well if it’s something you want to do, I think you should do it.” Thanks, mom. 🙂
I’ve been back in the states for less than a week, but the bracelet is still on my wrist. It’s my favorite souvenir. My Afrikan bracelet from Paris. Although, I’m not sure how much closer I am to that “beautiful baby.” I smile at it and I see that maybe it’s just about creating that beautiful family. That maybe it’s about staying in a place as long as love holds me there. I breathe in and tell myself: I’m ready for this beautiful life.