while in Paris with my friend, Weisberg, we frequented the cafés and enjoyed wine, cheese and hot chocolate sitting under hot lamps on breezy October evenings. Part of the enjoyment for me was the second-hand smoke. Parisians love their cigarettes and made me love them too. The smell, combined with deep, “Frenchmen” voices speaking lyrical words, ignited a yearning inside me. I wanted a cigarette.
Never a smoker, the desire surprised me. But I didn’t think much about the surprise, just how to get a pack. “Buy them,” Weisberg said in her logical way. After checking my French dictionary, I walked boldly to the bartender. “Je voudrais une cigarette,” I said, motioning with fingers in a V to my mouth. The bartender leveled his gaze at me then opened a drawer under the bar. Expecting a selection of exotic names and packages, I was disappointed to see Winston’s and Marlboro’s when I leaned over to see the choices. “Which do you want?” he asked sounding like New Jersey. Even more disappointing. I took the Winston’s.
I smoked like I knew how, like I smoked my whole life. The drag, swallowing the smell, the bittersweet taste after sipping dry, red wine. Ah, Paris. I breathed it in, reveled in it, spoke in a throaty voice. Weisberg turned her head and waved the smoke away.
A year later, back in Paris with my friends Weisberg, Linda and Tracy, the desire returned. After a fantastic dinner on Île Saint-Louis at a restaurant where the locals eat, I smelled the smoke. Since the island is mostly residential and it was late, I’d have to cross a bridge to get to a store. “My friend here is hungry for a cigarette,” Tracy said to the waiter motioning with her head to a table of eight men celebrating someone’s birthday. They all smoked. The waiter approached the table and with several waves of his hand in our direction, one of the gentlemen held his pack out, looked at me and smiled. Served to me on a napkin, I held the cigarette to my lips and the waiter promptly lit it. Again I felt one with the city of lovers and art.
Eight months later, after dinner at El Parador, a great restaurant on 34th and 1st, I smelled the yearning again. But it wasn’t from a Parisian’s cigarette, or after enjoying Croque Monsieur on the Rue de Rivoli. The yearning was to be who I was in Paris – to bring that person home. I went to Duane Reade and bought a pack of Newport Lights. I lit up in front of the Empire State Building on my way to the train. Tangy smoke filled my nose. Horns blared as the traffic rushed past. I exhaled. Bonsoir, I whispered.