“New York is always hopeful,” Theo, our new Parisian friend, reads off the brightly lit iPhone he is holding in front of him. He has recently befriended my roommate, Ashley, and is in the process of making it official by scrolling through her profile photos, thus indicating that they are Facebook friends as well as real-life friends. The Dorothy Parker quotation was recently used by Ashley as a profile picture caption.
Over-thinking in the way I do after a couple of drinks, I find myself wondering if New York really is hopeful. New York is cynical, I think. New York is competitive. New York is downright mean. We judge people, and we especially judge tourists. Tourists wait for the walk signal when there are no cars coming. Tourists take pictures of the hot dog stands. Tourists smile in front of the 9/11 memorial.
I am having a conversation in broken English outside a bar with a man named Matthieu. (When someone you just met ten minutes ago asks you if you want to have a smoke outside, always say yes.) He brought up the attacks before I did, which is good, because I was terrified to bring it up, and not even sure if I should. “You are from New York, so you understand,” he explained. “They said only 150 people died, but I feel like everyone knows someone who knew someone.” Suddenly I felt ashamed of smiling in front of any Paris landmark. I want to say something comforting, but he keeps talking and I like the way it sounds. Sometimes, those who speak English as a second language struggle to find the right words for things, but in doing so stumble upon poetry. I tell him I am a teacher and he says he thinks it’s good that I am “growing people.”
“I like Paris,” I later explain in text message. “I like cities which are all one color. Vienna is like that also. Beige.”
I’m sleeping on the floor of our small apartment, taking turns with my friends as to who gets the bed in our reasonably priced rental.
My face and my phone light up with the response, “I know exactly what you mean.”
Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore where writers used to be able to live for free as long as they were producing writing and helping out occasionally at the shop. Upstairs in the poetry section is a metal mailbox where you can deposit a note or a poem and it will be slipped into a book and someone will just find it. I convince my roommates to come back a second day in a row, so that I can find time to sit in a leather armchair by myself and write about monochromatic cities, accidentally slipping into a brief discussion of the diversity I observed in Paris and the contrast it presents with the stratification found between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The poem isn’t good, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ve already forgotten the words.
What I do remember are the words I read as I poured over the books from the poetry section. Rilke. E.E. Cummings, Saul Williams.
“She stuck a bookmark in my heart and walked away.”
Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.