Lost in Montparnasse

by | Mar 1, 2016 | Creative Nonfiction

Got lost today. I could lie and say I remained fearless, allowing my feet to serendipitously find their way back to the starting point. Instead, I panicked. Not all at once. At first, just a supine agitation at the base of my neck as I struggled against the desire to do a 360-degree canvass of my unfamiliar surroundings. I told myself this was part of a writer’s journey. The dues one must pay The Muse in order to spend countless hours toiling away at the desk. Inspiration meant finding yourself. Groping around in the dark. Or revisiting the same block twice, or even thrice, because you were too damn scared to stop and ask for directions in your butchered French. Maybe not butchered, but definitely invisible to the French ear.

I was good until I crossed over Rue du Four, instead of taking the left towards Boulevard St. Germain. Why retrace old footprints that have been trampled by countless others? Nostalgia feeds no one. Especially not my Muse. He, or she, craves the unexpected, the unknown, the downright scary.

Take a left, he tells me.

Must be a he, so self-assured and, of course, with his refusal to stop and ask for directions. I turn left. The street is empty. Easter Sunday sends most Parisians countryside. The buildings look familiar. Grey-ish. Tan-ish. Old-ish. Parisian. Closed shops and cafes, even the ever-bustling Monoprix, the Walmart of Paris.

Okay, take the next right.

A street which curves so far in, every step is a leap of faith. I listen to him; why wouldn’t I? He’s a Muse. The stillness. The isolation. The Brooklyn girl in me refuses to let my pulse flicker off beat. Scared? Nah. This is Paris. It’s safe. Right? A man up ahead, walks towards me. Clothes dirty. An exact replica of the men I pass on Boulevard St. Michel, St. Germain, Rue de Rivoli, and definitely the one I pass in the doorway, around the corner from my flat, on Rue des Ecoles. But this one talks to himself, or maybe an invisible companion. Do I cross the street? Avoid the unpleasantness during my excursion through enchanting Paris? Nope. Eyes forward. Steps strong and steadfast. Damn, he stinks. Whew! Made it.

Take the next left. That street looks familiar.

But isn’t. The name of the street, placard midways up the wall of the corner building. Who thought to place it there? A hieroglyphics of French. Boulevard Raspail. I’ve heard of it. I think. Maybe not. It looks like a major vein. I stand there, pretending to know the way. The way back home, where my Muse will spill forth all the inspiration gathered on this epic journey.

Just walk, don’t think.

My Muse tugs me on. Ah, the sign says Montparnasse. I’ve always meant to stroll this arrondissement. The Writer’s Jungle, where inspiration congregates. Not what I expected. Deserted. Dormant. Maybe because it’s Sunday. Easter Sunday. I’ll come back. That is, if I can remember how to get lost again. But, first, I must get found.

That looks like an interesting street. And there are people.

I take it. Not quite bustling, but there is comfort in numbers, even if they come in pairs. Lots of cafes and restaurants. Most empty. Bored waiters, smoke in doorways. Two men, on stools. Their stares, solicitations. No idea what all the writing above them reads, but I’m pretty sure it’s a Peep Show. Possibly. I pick up the pace, eyes straight ahead.

I’ll just retrace my steps, back past that tower. It’s tall, Manhattan tall. I don’t like it, or what seems to be some sort of bus depot. Yes! I remember this Parisian Behemoth Sundial while strolling my coveted Jardin du Luxembourg, so I must be close. Must I?

Don’t take out your phone. Rookie. Tourist.

The Muse indignant, pulls—no, pushes—me right. A beautiful stone wall lines a long street. A plaque at the entrance reads…? French, of course. Why did I study Spanish for six years? True, I married a Spanish-speaking man who never speaks a word of Spanish to me, and had two children, one of whom speaks French. I could call him. No, he’s 19 and irritable, going through the can’t-stand-my-mom-so-I-ain’t-gonna-tell-her-shit rebellious stage.

I pull out the phone. My Muse no longer in charge. Instead, the varicose veins and 44- year-old, out-of-shape body have taken over. That little, blinking, blue dot. My eyes strain to see the minuscule street names. Av. du Maine. Okay, where is that? Big street, stretches out. I’m a New Yorker. I can do this. Ah, I see Jardin du Luxembourg on the phone. Can’t tell how close. But not too far from the blue dot. Or is it?

Pussy!

My Muse sulks in the corner of my spine.

Just walk in that direction; what’s the worst that can happen?

I put away the phone. I kinda have a thing for my Muse, so… I follow. A beautiful, little park. The universal sounds of children playing.

See? Stick with me, Kid.

I’m tired, my feet hurt and I’m pretty sure I’m dehydrated. This weak bladder of mine prevents me from drinking during long walks. Who knew I’d get this lost? I will not pass out. I will not pass out! Okay, let’s take inventory. Easter Sunday stroll? Check. Historic neighborhood? Check. Seedy establishment? Question mark. Pretty park? Check. Still lost? Double check.

Don’t pull out that phone. Don’t do it!

The blue dot tells me I’m on the left of Jardin du Luxembourg. I need to be on the right- ish. Maybe. Boulevard du Montparnasse. Yes! Follow the blue dot. Two, three blocks in, I take out the phone to check my progress. Shit! I’m going in the wrong direction.

Turn around. Act cool. Pretend like you forgot something.

Okay, the phone says Boulevard St. Michel is up ahead. I think. What the…? Three roads converge and I took the one… Oh, hell. Go slow. So what if I’m going to break my neck trying to read the street names that I can only see if I stand as close to the edge of the sidewalk while crazy Parisian drivers whizz by. Traffic—and just about everything else—terrifies me. So, I stand in the middle of the sidewalk. Neck hurting, toes straining under jellied legs. Yes! I chose wisely.

You punked out, that’s what you did. But why not hang a left on that curvaceous side street? I’m sure it’ll take us somewhere.

My Muse still needs to be fed. But I’m exhausted, my anxiety finally subsiding. I make it to the corner of Boulevard St. Michel and Rue Soufflot. Greeted by my favorite cafe overlooking Jardin du Luxembourg, I grab an outside table and order a Kir Royal. So what if it’s barely 4 p.m. on Easter Sunday? Let The Muse have a drink, instead.

Photo by Jihoon Cho

About The Author

Tracy M. King-Sanchez

In addition to writing fiction and nonfiction, Tracy M. King-Sanchez is an award-winning screenwriter, and filmmaker. Her work has been published, both in print and online, at The Normal School, Midnight Breakfast, The Southampton Review, Hothouse Magazine, and Bold As Love Magazine. She received her MFA from SUNY Southampton University.