The crutches are next to the front door, and in the freezer is one of those blue cold-packs, on loan from a neighbor. The radiologist’s report, which came in the mail the day after Christmas, confirmed what the orthopedist had already told me: that I fractured a bone in my foot, the head of bone #5 in my left foot to be precise.
It was the dumbest injury ever. (And indeed in French that is how I have been referring to it: “Une bêtise.” A stupidity.) How did I do it? Without trying. What was I doing? Nothing. Correction: I was crossing the street. Is that so wrong?
Admittedly, I was somewhere between a fast walk and a trot; it was the Wednesday before Christmas and I was on my way home from a caroling party. I hadn’t decided whether or not I would walk all the way from St. Germain; it is not all that far back to my apartment, but the night was rather cold. In the meantime, I had stopped off to pick up a small bag of groceries at Monoprix before they closed.
And then just on the other side of the rue de Rennes, my heel slid a bit in my shoe, and in my effort to right myself, I felt a sharp pain in my foot. I might have heard the crack. If I did, the sound did not go through my ear into my eardrum: it traveled up my body, through my neck, and announced itself from within, very near the hinge in my jaws.
I tried walking it off. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. 20 paces later I could feel it: I’m not fine, I’m not fine, I’m not fine. That I might have fractured a bone never occurred to me. I was guessing a sprain. Mercifully there is a taxi stand at the next corner on the rue de Four, and mercifully, I didn’t start crying until I was in the privacy of my own home.
(Because if I am going to cry in the back of a Parisian taxi as the lights on the Boulevard St. Germain stream past, it is going to be over a love affair gone bad. Period. I have my pride.)
Indeed I was not fine. I could hardly walk the next morning. And it was only with huge effort that I could get out front to the curb, the next afternoon, to meet my taxi. But the ride to the American Hospital was actually quite pleasant. Up the Blvd St-Michel, along the Seine through the sixth and seventh, through the Place d'Alma and up through the eighth.
It was actually my first-ever trip by car around l’Étoile, the Place Charles de Gaulle. It would make a great thrill ride at an amusement park: twelve avenues lead into the place, which has for center the Arch de Triomphe. There are no lines to mark lanes. Just who, in this turbine, is required to yield to whom is not clear. Everybody dives in and out, like jump-ropers on the playground, or pelicans after fish.
And always too fast, and apparently without looking over their shoulders nor in their side-view mirrors.
My driver was quite sympa, that is to say, nice, and we chatted about our respective Christmas plans. He couldn’t understand why I needed to go all the way to England when there were plenty of English people to be found in the countryside, near his place in La Flèche.
He likes the English; they are “très sympas” he said. The Dutch, aren’t too bad, but they are “harpagon.” Harpagon? I asked him. He looked up at me in the rear view, a little surprised: “You don’t know Molière?”
“Of course I do,” I said. Which is not entirely untrue. I know of him. I read something of his in high school. I think. When people reference Molière, they usually mean one of two plays: The Misanthrope or The Miser. And usually when he comes up (not daily, but this is France, and he is a major playwright, so he will come up in conversation), I nod with moderate authority. It’s just easier. Either way, I have a 50% chance of being right. And besides,I have to save my strength for the big battles.
Turns out that Harpagon is the main character in The Miser.
Fair enough. Certainly more elegant than just calling them “cheap.”
I was right to save my energy. It took everything I could muster to get into the hospital. It was an oversight and yet another bêtise on my part not to have requested a wheelchair. Once in, they asked for no I.D., no nothing. I gave them my name and address, sat down, and within five minutes was having my foot x-rayed. A short while later I was called to the doctor’s office.
We shook hands, but his cell phone rang before we could even exchange a word. Whoever he was speaking with, I got the sense, from the exasperation in his voice, that this was not the first time they had spoken that day. “How should I know if he has a fever?” he said. Long pause while the caller rattled on. He finally said to them, “Listen. Take his temperature and then call me back in thirty minutes to tell me what the thermometer says.”
He looked at my x-ray for a moment before asking me to remove my shoe and to hop up on the examining table. “And you are from where?” he asked.
“The United States.”
“And what are you doing in Paris?”
“I am a writer.” As often happens here, such a statement in the affirmative brings a smile to the face of the listener. The French are A-OK with writers.
“And what do you write?“
I gave him a thumbnail sketch of my resume and went on to explain the idea of my guide to Paris. That it is for the repeat -- recidivist, actually -- visitor who is guilty (coupable) of loving Paris too much and too often in the same way. He didn’t like the word “guilty” at all. But when I pointed out that Paris doesn’t have just eight arrondissements, it has twenty, he smiled.
Because it does.
“And you actually like living in our prehistoric country?”
I have had similar challenges posed to me, although differently phrased, by a number of French people. People -- French or not, residents or not -- have lots to say about what is wrong with France. More than one taxi driver has told me that this is a nation of raleurs (grouches). But I tread lightly when it comes to all that. I am a guest here. And I think the most part about being a good guest is simply not making oneself unwelcome (by, for example, claiming to have all the answers). I would rather be interesting than confrontational, anyway.
I only have answers enough for myself, which is why I said that I liked living in his very civilized country.
"And are you a rational person?" he asked.
Sensing a philosophical discussion building, I adjusted my posture to make myself more comfortable on the tissue-paper covered table.
END OF PART ONE