A Financier is a small sweet spongy French pastry that usually has a light and a dark layer. This Parisian Financier was just as spongy and dry as a banker should be.
I fell in love in Paris once, it was the real romantic French movie kind of love; the kind you read about in books. And when I left it, I knew it would never happen again and over time I feel ok about that. However, that doesn’t mean that my French family will ever stop trying to hook me up with a French man (though that love was an Italian…) just so they can finally call me one of their own (that and the plus of an EU passport).
I go to Paris once a year to visit my grandparents and the first question out of every relative’s mouth is: “When are you going to get married?” My answer is always “Why rush?” Which they find ironic since the American sentimentality is rush, rush, rush… And of course now that the last of my generation of cousins is getting married, it leaves me as the next youngest left in line for the Huppa.
So the last week of 2010, my Aunt arranged a little dinner to introduce me to some nice young French people and more specifically the son of one of her friends. No matter that he is younger (sure not by much though you’d be surprised at the difference 2 years makes sometimes), he works in Finance and is not ugly (fine by French standards) and drives a motorcycle – oh! and wants to live in America – what’s not to like? I figure it can’t hurt to see a Frenchman, just for the fun of it, for one night in Paris. Plus, Paris is uber expensive right now that the dollar is so low in comparison with the euro, I’ve got no problem letting him pay! Thus, when he called just after the New Year, I said, “Mais! Bien Sure!”
He said he was going to show me the “Petit coins inconnue de Paris” (the little unknown corners of Paris), but then he set a rendezvous at the Arch d’Triomphe at the top of the Champs Elysees– the most tourist spot in Paris besides the Eiffel Tower. It was a little after 6pm on Sunday, January 2nd 2011.
We met on the corner, he carried two motorcycle helmets and was severely under-dressed for the freezing temperatures. I thought right off the bat we were going to take a ride but he hadn't really made a plan. We walked along the Champs Elysees while he contemplated our evening, I did my best to make polite small talk, he mostly wanted to know about how awesome it is to live in New York. After about 45 minutes of wandering in the cold he decided we should take ourselves inside but where, oh where could we go?
He didn't really know but the next best thing to a decision would be a motorcycle tour of Paris.
I'll be honest, wearing a helmet is not hot - you head gets smushed into this giant plastic can, thank goodness the visor goes up so you can breath. It was a fun ride though, speeding through the city, streets lite up for the holidays, whole buildings covered in lights. We stopped briefly in front of the Opera house and I just wondered how it was every built to be so beautiful. We looped around and continued north, jumping the curb to park right outside of the Moulin Rouge.
Of all the places in Paris we could have gone, of all the places I haven't been, we ended up in Pigalle, next to the Moulin Rouge in the district of cabaret dancers and sex shops. We had drinks in an Irish pub, an Irish pub that couldn't have been more American and full of tourists too. I threw my date a curveball when I ordered a Guinness and he ordered a girlie blond beer with peach falvored syrup. In a room beyond the bar, we discovered a night club hosting salsa lessons and dancing and apparently this motorcycle-driving French banker was also a salsa dancer.
We finished up our beers and he picked up the check, I started to collect my stuff to move to the club for a dance lesson when he turned to me and said:
"Do you have 4 euros?"
I looked at him and thought, "Really?" but I said sure in a very nice American accented French. But Seriously? He couldn't pay for a 4 euro beer? I know I shouldn't have expectations, but a certain amount of politeness should be standard - he invited me, he's a French banker, he has euros in his pocket which are worth a heck more than a dollar these days...and it's 4 euros? At the worst his mom, whom I'm sure pushed him to go out with the adorable Jewish American French girl, could have given him the extra 4 euros if it was a problem? Golly.
After we each paid our shares of the beer, I dipped into the ladies room and said I'd meet him in the club for dancing. On my way to meet him, I was stopped at the door and asked for the 10 euro cover charge. I said I was sure my friend paid already but when my French date came to meet me at the door he said he'd only paid for himself. I just smiled and nodded "ok" then pulled a 10 euro bill from my wallet reluctantly.
I'll say he was a good salsa dancer though much to serious, I couldn't stop laughing at how ridiculous we both looked. I used to like salsa dancing, I used to be good at it, back when I danced with the Italian.... But my date this night was insanely rigid in every dance move trying to be perfect and I was like a bouncy ball being pushed around, trying to be relaxed. We both realized how unaccustomed I am to following someone else's lead. It could have also been that he wasn't a very good leader, so worried about his own movements that he couldn't guide mine, he laughed at me once and blamed my ineptitude on my American mentality and a need to be in charge - he wasn't entirely wrong there.
I tired of dancing and I think he tired of my hysterical laughter. We went back to the bar and he ordered two glasses of wine - included in the 10 euros entrance fee we paid for dancing. Keep in mind we were in an Irish pub that had salsa dancing, the only wine they had to offer was a house red that tasted as if it'd been shipped from the US (no disrespect to American wines, but we were in France after all).
At 10:30 I had to call it a night to make it back for curfew - staying with grandparents has it's ups and downs - I figured my date could give me a ride so I wouldn't have to spend an hour on the train. But no, alas, after a short walk past some sex shops, we hopped back on his motorcycle and he dropped me at Opera, a good 45 minute metro ride back to my place. We said goodbye the French way, with a kiss on each cheek, but in such a way that it seemed colder than a handshake.
In the end, I gained the experience of riding a motorcycle through Paris, a reminder of how good I had it with the Italian and an unbelievable sense of pride in myself for who I am now, despite being American and all. Not all together a bad way to start 2011.