I have decided to title my blogs, Playing Hide and Go Seek in the Dark, after a collection of stories mentioned under the tab, Art of the Book. From time to time the stories and observations from the book will find their way into this blog page amongst my other musings, announcements, or events of note. There will be no need to make an announcement when I do so. I think you will be able to tell the difference. Because it is so close to Christmas, I have decided my first blog should be a Christmas Story. And yes, it is one of those stories.
What is Christmas without a surprise or two? Sitting at Gare du Nord on Christmas Day, a shadow crosses my open journal. I look up and lock eyes with an old man wearing a black beret. We quickly learn our repertoire in the others language is limited to just a few words. Nevertheless, in a few minutes, using mostly gestures, we establish a rapport in which he learns I am on my way to Amsterdam and he in turn, lives alone in Paris, a short distance away.
More gestures and I learn he would like me to enjoy a cup of coffee with him. Tentatively, I accept the invitation and we walk out of the train station, his hand on my arm into the cold greyness that is Paris in winter. Over more like a bowl than a cup of coffee, I receive my first lesson in French while he in turn, receives perhaps his first lesson in Anglais. Pointing to my watch, I indicate I have a train to catch, and escorting me back to the station he points to a later departure time and beckons for me to follow. I throw caution to the winds and walk with him through the doors of the station, leaving the warmth and safety of Gare du Nord behind.
It had never been my plan to share Christmas with a stranger, but I suddenly realize how far away I am from home. We walk a short distance to a nondescript building near Notre Dame and climb a narrow staircase to his simple garret apartment. Motioning to a chair, he begins to pull a feast from his small refrigerator. Frommage, un petit jambon, and fruit; all that he has, soon fills a small table along with two bottles of vin and a baguette. It is indeed a feast as only could be enjoyed between two lifelong friends. Many a toast is proffered as I receive a second lesson in french, learning the word for everything on the table and writing them down in my journal. We toast our good fortune with a cordial of pungent green liqueur which we drink through a sugar cube. Was it absinthe? He writes in my journal, Chartreuse.
A hand shakes my shoulder and I open my eyes. I do not remember following asleep in the chair. Panic strikes briefly as I quickly check my inside pockets for passport, wallet and ID; all still there. He points to his watch and indicates it is 5am and time to return to the station and continue my journey to Amsterdam. I take a deep breath in relief and stand, reaching for my backpack, eager to leave.
At the train station, he holds both of my arms in an embrace and kisses me on each cheek. Then he is gone, the snow swirling around me on the platform. I turn to look at the empty track. My train had left five minutes before our arrival. I don’t care. Amsterdam would have to wait one more day as I set off to explore Paris.
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