“No, that’s okay.”
It was a late afternoon in March 2008. My friend-of-a-friend stranger-status travel-buddy-turned-eventual-friend was hanging out in a nearby cafe. I don’t remember why he wasn’t interested in climbing the tower, but I remember that I had not been able to do so the last time I was at Notre Dame, and hey, it’s not every day that I’m in Paris. And I love views from above.
I stood in line outside of the cathedral. I waited for a while, in the cold, in the light rain, bare hands stuffed in the pockets of my thin black-and-red checkered jacket, looking for warmth that wasn’t there. I watched the passersby, as I always did, probably wishing that a cute boy at whom I could smile and giggle was standing with me, as I usually wished in times like those. Romantic ideals of western Euro trips hold fast.
I climbed the 387 steps loosely sandwiched between the rhythmic footsteps of other tourists, echoes of complaints and jokes and foreign tongues bouncing off the walls. The procession stirred the listlessness of humidity and history that permeated the air of the narrowing heights. At the top, everyone rejoiced in the exodus from the congested staircase and hastily spread out in both directions.
The air was dim and fresh, the way a city seems haphazardly washed after a misty shower, in the transition when night takes its turn to bathe the world in shadows.
I asked a group of not-fully-adults who looked about my age if they wanted their picture taken. They posed eagerly and affectionately with each other, and I wished I was part of their group, or atop the tower with any friends at all. One of them gestured courteously towards me, wondering if I, too, wanted my picture. I automatically shook my head with a polite smile, the way I would when a Nigerian Prince emails me about transferring large sums of money.
“No, that’s okay.”
Except that it wasn’t a scam, it wasn’t manipulative or complicated; it was just a stranger returning a favor, and I declined without taking a second to recall that photographs are the one thing of which I never have enough.
Maybe one day, I’ll visit again, breathing in my favorite city in the world, the one that Buzzfeed confirms I should actually live in (so of course it must be true), and I’ll have someone take my picture in front of the distant skyline.
With the view of Paris behind me, for the memory of Paris before me.