Paris: Bienvenue, belle américaine.

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DSC_0013I'm sitting at a table on the sidewalk at a café in Montmartre. My plane landed at Charles de Gaulle about three hours ago. Miraculously, I slept almost the entire flight. In fits and starts, but I slept. Waking up only to readjust my spine, get my seat mate up out of my business and change the album on my iPod.We spotted the Eiffel Tower out the plane window through the early-morning haze, and I nearly fainted. Only then did it hit me I was really here. The moving walkways at CDG undulate like rolling hills and made me feel like I was flying. I navigated the RER and Métro comme une professionnelle. Sort of. Paris' outlying suburbs are pretty rough — graffiti everywhere, even on the beautiful old buildings with flat faces and curling cast-iron latticework over the windows — but I noticed it less and less as the car filled with commuters heading toward the Gare du Nord. People move so fast; it was all I could do just to stay out of their ways and not immediately betray my "idiot tourist" thing. Now comes the part where I get to love being an American girl: I was standing inside the Abbesses Métro station, staring up the first of a series of long flights of stairs — it's one of the stations plus profondes de Paris, and I needed to catch my breath. Then, oi. A French man was like, "Mademoiselle. Venez ici." No, really, sir. I'm good. Just going upstairs. "Non. ICI." Lo and behold, an elevator! Grace à dieu, right?! Yes, so we rode the elevator; I spoke in terrified, fragmented French to best convey how very American and befuddled I was by life at that moment. I must have looked like I needed coffee, because he offered to buy me some. I mean, sure. Who am I to turn down free coffee? No one, that's who. Not even from a sketchy, middle-aged Russian. Enchantée, monsieur. So we had an espresso on the sidewalk of another café, then he asked about three people until we figured out where my hotel was. I lied and said my friends were coming in this evening. And of course, when I got to the hotel, my room wasn't ready. Because who checks out at 8 a.m.? (No one, that's who.)

So I grabbed my laptop, camera and some books and set off to explore; sketchy Russian had to go to work, thank goodness, but gave me his phone number — no offense? but yeah right, sir — and invited me to dinner tonight. And after finding myself breathless at the top of a hill on the Rue Lepic, I tumbled back down to find myself un peu de petit déjeuner. Fresh-squeezed orange juice, a hot chocolate, two pieces of the softest bread in the history of soft bread and an outrageous croissant… I am never coming back. Please send my things.

This is going to be amazing. Even the cigarette smoke smells European and wonderful.