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The city spoke softly to me in cool, cosmopolitan tones. It invited me to explore each avenue full of boutiques. It dared me to bite into each warm, fresh croissant from the boulangeries that I passed. It pulled me through the bustling streets where native Parisians walked by hurriedly with a slightly exasperated air and where tourists stopped to unfold their enormous paper maps, only to be unable to reassemble them. It took me underground on the Metro, following each colored line of stations with magical names like Alesia, Miromesnil, and Mabillon, and whisked me out on the other side of the Seine. And as I gazed up at the Eiffel Tower, it seemed to draw a deep breath and whisper, “There you are.”
I was in Paris, on my school’s French Exchange for the third time. Only now, I found myself standing with the teachers instead of the other students. They were about to embark on a treasure hunt, taking them all over the city, but I had already done this treasure hunt and knew all the answers. Instead, I would be going to lunch and a movie with the two French teachers.
Only a few months earlier, the Head of the French department approached me and asked if I would participate in the Exchange again, acting as a guide for the younger students. The school would pay my way, she said, and I was only too willing to begin helping out in any way possible. In the months leading up to the trip, I recruited participants for the exchange, glowingly describing my previous experiences. Once the group was formed – one freshman and eight sophomores – we held a meeting, and I gave a presentation in French about what to expect from the trip. As I told them not to be afraid to speak in French, and not to pack too many summery clothes, so many memories flooded my mind. The Nutella oozing from a freshly made crepe, the music of accordions in the Metro, and even the rain forming Parisian puddles around my feet –they all came back to me.
Such puddles were forming again as I waited near the teachers on that March afternoon. We watched the students scurry off in their groups in search of the Madeleine or the Arc de Triomphe or the nearest Metro station, and we began to search for a restaurant for lunch. As Mme Roucher-Gudwin and I huddled under one umbrella, Mme Ciani rested under another, saying, “Becca, you are about to learn a secret.” I raised my eyebrows expectantly, and she continued: “Madame Ciani smokes.” I couldn’t help but laugh since this was hardly a well-kept secret. Still, she had never smoked in front of the group of students. As she tactfully exhaled downwind, I felt oddly privileged. This small gesture seemed to say that the teachers considered me to be one of them, one worthy of their little ‘secrets’.
We then went to a small, cozy restaurant in the 7th arrondissement, where I ordered in French, as my teachers, born and raised in France, looked on proudly. I felt like a true Parisian – no camera around my neck, no jogging pants or brightly colored T-shirts for me. The rain was pouring down outside, but I felt perfectly comfortable on my red leather seat, breaking off a piece of baguette and leaving it to the side of my plate, the French way.
After lunch, we made our way over to the Pagoda, a nearby cinema. A few minutes late, we quickly purchased our tickets and were ushered into the dark theater. As we settled into our plush seats, 8 Femmes, a musical murder mystery featuring many famous French actresses, including Catherine Deneuve, began. Somewhat unaccustomed to French movies without subtitles, I nevertheless found the dialogue easy to follow, and soon I was laughing along with my teachers. As we sat there in the dark, watching the enormous figures on the screen dance and sing, I felt completely at ease. I settled more deeply into my chair and thought to myself, “There you are.”
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