It’s always nice to read a post or get a PM from OSer Out on a limb
, but the message I received from him a few months ago was especially cool: He and his family would be coming to Paris in early May, and he wanted to know if we could meet up!
It’s something I was really looking forward to. And last Thursday, it finally happened.
As we messaged back and forth about where to meet, I decided to suggest a place that’s a bit off the beaten path, since Travis (that’s Out on a limb’s name in real life) and his family had already been to Paris a few times. “Let’s meet near the Stalingrad Metro station,” I wrote him, “in front of La Rotonde.”
La Rotonde de la Villette, view from the base of the Canal de l'Ourcq/Bassin de la Villette
This high, neoclassical rotunda (whose official name is La Rotonde de la Villette) was constructed in the late 18th century, and was once among the largest of a series of customs houses that dotted the city walls. The Canal de l’Ourcq, and, across the boulevard, the Canal Saint-Martin,were dug during Napoleon’s rule, to provide water to much of Paris’ growing population. Though the water is still used for non-potable purposes, the area around the canals, especially the Canal de l’Ourcq, fell into neglect and disrepute. But the last decade or so has seen a rehabilitation, including the installation of a huge cinema complex on either side of the Canal de l’Ourcq’s southerly banks (you can take a little boat to get to the theater where your movie is playing – neat!), just next door to La Rotonde, and culminating in the renovation of La Rotonde itself. Previously left vacant, it now houses cafes and community meeting places.
The car-free canal banks, as well as the still water, interesting bridges, and pleasure boats, give the area around the canals a sort of estival ambiance. A lot of Parisians feel a bit like we’re on vacation when we come here. But while city residents enjoy the area, the closer we came to the meet-up date, the more I started to worry that maybe I could have chosen a better place. Montmartre was nearby, for example. Still, I stuck with the plan. And it occurred to me, as the boyfriend and I got out of the Metro and walked towards La Rotonde, that this was kind of appropriate: I was going out on a limb! (The thought seemed doubly fitting, since Travis often makes pun-filled comments on posts.)
Anyway, I shook my head and got out of my reverie. This was the boyfriend’s first OS meet-up, and he asked me how we would recognize Travis. I had a basic idea of what he looked like from his avatar, but I also told the boyfriend about the weird phenomenon I’d experienced at previous OS meet-ups – you sort of just know it’s the other person.
And that’s exactly what happened. As we approached La Rotonde, we saw a man in a green button-down shirt standing near the fountain at the base of the Canal. “That might be him”, I told the boyfriend. The man gave a slight wave. “It is!” I said excitedly.
Hugs and handshakes were exchanged, introductions were made. Travis had come to the city with his beautiful wife and his charming son, and we all chatted a while before deciding to check out a pretty bridge tucked away in a small, leafy corner of the canal.
On the bridge: Me, Travis, Travis' wife, and the boyfriend
Then we sat down at a café in front of one of the cinemas…and realized the view was obstructed by a boat…and that the place wasn’t quite what we were looking for. So much for taking a risk….
Luckily, Travis and his family were feeling good despite a long day of touring around Paris, so we agreed to walk southward, along the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin, where there are a number of charming cafés looking out over the water.
While we walked, we talked. I learned that Travis had experienced the same kind of feeling of belonging when he’d first set foot in the German town where he lives now, as I did when I first came to Paris. Other topics of conversation with him and his family included: the way films and TV shows are dubbed in Germany and France, life in a bilingual household, cats (theirs is a tuxedo cat they came to own in quite a funny way), and, of course, OS. Among other OS stuff, we spoke about fellow OSer ASH
, who Travis knows well, since they went to the same school growing up – and even, I was to discover, played in a band together (thanks for showing me that picture, Travis!).
A café appeared, its red-painted exterior glowing in the warm lamplight. We decided to sit down and have a drink.
And here, my luck turned. While most Parisian waiters aren’t exactly known for their friendliness, ours was young, English-speaking, chatty, and extremely funny. We riffed on each other all night. The waiter especially took a shine to Travis, who shocked him by jokingly threatening to order California wine (out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the boyfriend subtly nod along to the waiter’s disgusted diatribe). A guy came by selling roses, and the waiter bought one and gave it to Travis. By the end of the night, they were fast friends. We even got them to take a picture together!
The waiter, Travis, and...the rose
My impression of Travis is one of a funny, happy man. He has beautiful green eyes, and a hearty voice and manner. His life story is as fascinating as the stories he writes for the OS Weekend Fiction Club. His wife and son are delightful people, too, with their share of stories to tell as well.
The evening ended as the café was closing its doors. One final goodbye to the waiter, then we made our way – some of us walking, some tipsily stumbling a bit – back towards the Metro. There, we parted ways, with fond farewells and the hopeful project of the boyfriend and me making a little trip to see Travis and his family in Germany someday.
“That was really nice,” the boyfriend said on the ride home. The French don’t usually add “really” to something, so I knew he’d had a great time. And so had I.
Travis, his wife, me, the boyfriend, and Travis' son at the café.