15 Jun 2003
There’s a bridge in Paris, an old bridge, called the Pont Neuf, which means “new bridge.” There is a tradition attached to the Pont Neuf: as you go under it, you’re supposed to kiss your companion. One Monday evening I took a boat ride on the Seine, first up toward the Eiffel Tower as the sun was setting, and then back down toward Notre Dame as the stars started appearing.
The girl I was sitting next to was a new friend, a friend of a friend; her boyfriend was an acquaintance of mine. But he was a hundred thousand miles away. And so that day we had chatted, small talk, just chit chat, jibba-jabba, as we walked through the city. We bought some crêpes and some postcards, we practiced our French, that sort of thing. She wore big sunglasses that made her look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
By the time we got to the boat ride, we had started — I don’t know how to say it — I wouldn’t call it flirting, but you know; we were flirting. We were holding each other’s gaze for longer and longer durations, our shoulders were touching as we leaned over the railing by the river bank.
We sat beside each other on the boat and slowly floated under each wide bridge. The world would darken and quiet and narrow until you wondered if you might be alone after all, like God must feel, watching the world from way off in space, echoing, lovely but distant. And then, just as your eyes adjusted, the periphery would expand again, and you would be born, like you had shed your body and put on a new one, incarnate and present.
I saw the Pont Neuf approaching as we floated toward it, and I told her about the tradition of the bridge. She listened and smiled, but didn’t say a word. As we passed under, she blended in with the rest of the world, lovely but distant.