This picture was taken in August 1989, my last day in Paris.
Everyone who sees my photo of this lovely, vibrant couple has different interpretations, fancies, assumptions. They must be in love and happy and this this their “grande amour” and you only get ONE in a lifetime. A slang term for kiss in French is “Bijou” or “Petite Bijou” – little jewel.
Well, here is the truth of that photo:
The man is named Etienne. He is a crepe vendor a block down the street from the Hôtel Cité Rougement in Paris. He and his wife have a large silver street cart decked out with red and white striped awnings, steeped in the loveliest smell of frying batter. They serve up light crispy pockets for fresh strawberries and apples, drizzled with rich chocolate and crème fraiche and powdered sugar.
Every morning I woke up in Paris, I could smell those crepes through my balcony window.
I put myself together and found the source. Étienne deftly whipped me up a small heavenly comestible. It was magic. I was an immediate devotee and my breakfasts in Paris came from nowhere else.
On the second day and every day forward, Étienne would give me a free diet coke. Back in the day, a “Coca Lite” went for about $1.50. He insisted I take it. “T’a bella – no charge! No charge!” It is the only time in my life I literally bought something with my looks!
His wife would shoot me dark looks, but I would shake her hand and be the politest American I could be.
I thanked them both every day.
On the day of this picture, I asked another customer to take a picture of us- Me, Étienne and his wife.
HOWEVER, Mrs. Étienne was not there that day. As I smiled for the camera, Étienne seized the moment and myself and planted an enthusiastic and very abrupt kiss.
So it is in truth – a portrait of friends: A silly, American patroness of the divine crepe and the lovely magician du matin who created them for her. You don’t see the giggling, awkward aftermath or the customer who took the picture snapping his fingers and laughing. Or the 90 shades of purple I turned because Étienne really was gorgeous.
I have kept this picture and I look at it occasionally to remind me. It is my portal to a singular, crazy moment when I felt that the whole world was in love with me and I could love it back. It is my permission slip to be beautiful and fun and even now be that girl.
That kiss swung open the door to return home and leave my Paris. That kiss was the gateway to all that awaited me in my life and everything yet to come. And still, despite age and the demands of an every day, I am still that girl.
Thank you, Étienne.
Here is my poem:
Last night, in the sojourn of starless sky and liquid hope
I dreamed of a kiss
My bare feet driven across velvet, verdant blades
Woven with wild violet and bergamot toward this hanging jewel
This pendant holy gem of joy and desiring
Suspended ripe just at the corner of your mouth
Where dark angels and easy laughter and silent words congregate
Last night, in the journey of unreal hours and libertine night
I dreamed of a kiss
My bare heart transgressing upon wavering, wanton thoughts
Wild to possess and devour this small, perfect particle of the soul
This gift hiding where you curse and bless and call dreams into being
Aching for discovery just at the corner of your mouth
Where hard wisdom and soft danger and loose words sleep
Last night, in crossing empty room and stricken shadow
I awoke from that dream
My bare mind riddling unyielding darkness, searching visions
Wishing to awaken both terror and beauty, both wound and salt,
Both disease and cure, both flame and its quenching
All that is ever created, living, dying, bleeding, singing and breathing
Where old histories and new languages and native tongue collide