Last night we went down to town because that’s what we do every night. We were standing on the water eating french fries and crepes and discussing options. There had been a band set up but we weren’t sure if they were giong to play because nothing in France happens until after dark, but after dark means after quiet hours (which we now know apply only to neighbourhoods, not downtown). A few of us went to check out the band’s set up and see if there was a time listed; we stood around in the plaza and then this group of old men came out onto the stage, picked up instruments and and viola! Our waiting paid off.
At first only children were dancing to the polka-esque music that was being played by the odd combination of sea foam green electric guitars, drums and an accordian. But then an older couple went round and round, waltzing and spinning and laughing. And then slowly other people began to join. Elderly couples holding each other firmly, as though this was the one thing they still remembered clearly. Young lovers stood on the outskirts watching, until finally they began to join as well– spinnning and staring into each others’ eyes, squeezed together tightly so that every possible inch of flesh was touching. There were parents with their children tucked securely in their arms, whispering in the little ears as they spun steps that the little feet couldn’t have kept up with had they been on the ground.
And then you had the Americans who don’t know how to dance properly. Jesse took girls around but was stiff (though apparently he made each partner laugh the entire time). Tully actually knew what he was doing, but he’s not very sure how to hold a girl close. Taylor was simply a goof who wanted to be Michael Jackson. Rick had disappeared, Rodelio was sweating and standing on the side, Eric just laughed. But of course, we made a train and surprisingly, a lot of French people jumped on it. So there were couples dancing legitimately in the middle, and a train of ridiculous college students attached to small children and toothless adults running around the edge. It was hilarious.
I stood on the side, snapping photos, watching the girls’ purses, laughing. I think the people beside us thought I was a bit odd for not joining in the festivities. But the twinkling lights above the plaza, the French being shouted and whispered, the crying children being ignored by their smoking parents, the elderly couples who seemed lost in memories of better days–it was lovely.
It was strange too. I stood on the side with my legs straddling our bags and watching the other girls be whisked away by the boys. Taylor tried to “convince” me to dance, but not really. He said to stop being a wallflower. I pointed at the bags at my feet. So he took Sabrina by the hand and tugged her into the suddenly crowded square. I smiled and nodded, it felt normal. It felt like i had gone back to the way things have always been. No one to dance with. I was holding stuff that didn’t belong to me while the owner was glistening under the twinkling lights with a boy who hadn’t looked twice at me. It was strange, in a sense. It’s been a long time since it has happened this way. Of course we never danced, but there was always the thought that maybe we would. There was the comfort that someone at least might stand there and smile at me becuase I was glowing under the cloudless night with her bright stars. (Glowing, of course, with sweat or embarrassment.) But last night was like the old days. It was familiar and almost comforting. It certainly wasn’t bad. It was strange because I thought that college would change things, or at least change me. But here I was, a college grad in a foreign country, still on the sidelines. But it was okay, because this is consistent. Someday, it would be nice to have a young man ask me to dance and say it without pity. But it’s also okay to watch and take pictures that we will laugh at later (and it is certainly alright to be the least conspicuous American in our group). It just amazes me how things progress and yet don’t. I’m going to Russia after France. And as much as things have changed since I left high school, somethings will never change.
So tonight, on Bastille Day, when we go back to that plaza and we dance again, I’ll hold the purses and smile and nod as everyone else is taken to dance. And it will be fine, because someone has to watch the bags, and though it’s strange to be back in this place again, it’s old and familiar and there is a good deal of comfortability about it.