PARIS, France – I see them on the streets. I overhear them talking on cell phones. I watch them conversing oh so fluently to their French boyfriends in cafes. I see them basking in the light of desire in the city of light. The American girls are joyfully under siege this summer in Paris.
I met Josephine in a nameless café. (Who can ever keep track of all the cafés in Paris?) She was happily devoid of angst. She had a freshness combined with a winning self-confidence that I did not expect to find in a woman from Pleasanton, California, of all places.
Pleasanton, as its name suggests, is a placid California suburb that has benefited grandly from the state’s high tech boom. However, back in the 1850s during the Gold Rush, bandits preyed on miners returning from the Sierras via Pleasanton and the town earned the evocative nickname, “The Most Desperate Town in the West.”
Bandits and desperation played no part in Josephine’s bloodline which was populated only by prosperous ranchers who used their good fortune to send their children to East Coast schools. Josephine’s version of the Grand Tour was to teach English in Paris during the summer months – and hang out with French boys in cafes.
Her transformation, if indeed that’s what it was, was so complete that instead of finding her out of place in Europe (or brash but awkward, a common offense), I had the hardest time imagining her back in school in California.
Without giving it a passing thought, Josephine knew what a glorious gift to the world it was to be young and beautiful in Paris in summer and how to keep herself just out of reach — except of course when she wanted to be caught. As she told me without affectation of her summer romances, I marveled at her ability to strike just the right balance between surrender and self-possession. I knew she would leave a trail of sighs and long-lingering perfume in her wake.
There are people who, no matter how far and wide they travel, will always be provincials. And there are those who were destined to travel and make the world their own wherever they are. It matters not where they started.
Josephine in Paris in action was a beautiful thing to see.