Thursday, July 5, 2012

I Left Part of My Thumb in Paris, France

I returned, a couple of weeks ago, from my third trip to France (and second to Paris).  While on my last two trips I went with other people, this time I was fortunate to accompany my parents, who had never been to the City of Light.  I was worried, of course, that being in a country that's somewhat averse to speaking English (and a little on the snobby side) would be a problem for my weapon-toting, high-energy Father, who seems to be fine in places that speak Spanish (he loves the brutality of Mexico and Central America) because he can freely shout in their faces ("HEY BUDDY, WHO DO I HAVE TO KIDNAP TO GET A BURRITO?") and they seem all right with it.  In France, however, they don't take kindly to that kind of aggression and forcefulness.  More than once I had to try to pull him away from people ("I'M GOING TO PUT THIS STOOL DOWN RIGHT HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR AND YOU BETTER LIKE IT.") and control his temper.  It's not an easy task. 

When my Father wasn't trying to start fights or intentionally mangling the language or lacing it with pejoratives ("BAWN-JOW-ER QUEERBAIT I WANT A JACK DANIEL'S AH-VECK GLAH-SEE."), he was fine company, because my Mom and I were able to accompany him to one of the Meccas of Bloodshed, the beaches in the Normandy region.  Being a Vietnam Vet and former Marine, this was heaven to him.  Our tour guide was an incessant French chatterbox who must have had a Ph.D. in naval warfare or something, and my Father ate up everything this man said.  It didn't matter that getting to the WWII Memorial in Caen required walking about nine miles (long story), it was what he was there to see, come hell or high water.  He even yelled at a frightened female crossing guard (who did not speak English) to get us in the right direction ("THE BEACHES! THE BEACHES! OMAHA! WHERE THE HELL IS IT?").  Quivering, the crossing guard waved her arm in the direction of the north and inched away from him.  The Normandy tour was the main selling point for him; seeing Paris again was mine.

As I mentioned before, my Father likes to ... travel with ... items ... that can harm people.  Or even his own family.  One night, my Mom and I discovered our new favorite apéritif: the Martini Rouge (sweet vermouth over ice with a lemon wedge).  We had a few (to say the least) and a few other tasty beverages (Jameson by the barrel).  At the end of the day, when we returned to the hotel, I realized that I wanted some candy and a cigarette before I went to bed.  My Mom bought a bag of sweets from the Montparnasse area earlier in the day, and it was in a plastic bag with a red bow that, I swear, was like glued onto the bag and simply wouldn't come off.  In my not-quite-sober brain I thought, at that moment, the best thing to do would be to ask my Father for a knife to cut open the bag.  He had knives on him (several, actually), but what he threw me was ... a mini-hatchet that he was also carrying with him.

Now, instead of asking for a knife instead of the hatchet, I thought maybe for a minute I could be Davy Crockett or some shit and lop the top of the bag off with it.  I was wrong.  I was also wrong in using (for whatever godforsaken reason) my left hand to swing the weapon.  With one swipe I missed the bag entirely and sliced right through the right side of my right thumb.  I jumped in shock as blood - oh so much blood - cascaded down my thumb and onto the following: my bed, the hotel carpet, my pants, my long sleeve shirt, a pillow and the bathroom floor and sink.  There was so much blood I thought I removed the thumbnail, too.  My Mother, who actually enjoys the sight of blood (she should have been a nurse), leaped up and proceeded to grab towels and try to help me out.  I was barking (and laughing) "Why did you throw me a hatchet?" while my Father proceeded to clean out the inside of a pistol (he had that, too) and shake his head in disgust.

Eventually he forced himself to get up, examine the wound ("THAT'S A LOT OF BLOOD BUT I'VE BLED WORSE.") and cauterize it with a cruder technique than they could teach in a 3rd World medical school before leaving the bathroom, instructing me to keep my thumb in the air (to stop the blood flow) and going back to cleaning his beloved pistol.  My Mom wrapped my thumb in a smallish towel and we used (a lot of) tape to keep the towel on my thumb.  Adrenaline pumping, I couldn't just go to bed.  My arm and pants and clothes covered in blood, I realized I needed that cigarette, so I took my battle-scarred self outside to pace around the Rue d'Orsel.  While heading out the door my Father made a point to yell, "DON'T GET LOST. I WON'T LOOK FOR YOU" ... which goes without saying.

Outside I was half-trembling and half-laughing at my own idiocy, but out there I had what I consider a vision from God (or the City Itself, I'm still not sure which).  I'm certainly not a peeper, but in the one apartment window across the street appeared a woman in her late 20's (it's hard to tell) placing clothes on the wrought-iron railing ... and she was completely naked.  No bra, no panties, long dark hair.  She saw me looking (and I was really looking) and didn't flinch or cover up: she just kept putting the clothes there from a basket she had nearby.  I had cigarette after cigarette, chaining one to the other (because it was too awkward to light a new drag with one hand), while she kept putting clothes out.  Now, I'm not necessarily one for Symbolic Moments in life (though I've had a few), but this naked, unfazed woman spoke to me in her non-verbal, shamelessly French way, "Everything is going to be all right, you fucking drunken goof."  When I eventually went back to the hotel room, I informed my Father what I witnessed, although he was less than impressed ("YOU SAW FREE TITTIES. SO WHAT.  I'M WATCHING LINDA FIORENTINO DUBBED IN FRENCH ON TV.").

The next day was our last in town, and I replaced the gore-soaked towel that was wrapped around my thumb with layers and layers of toilet paper (and tape) so it looked like a circumcised infant's severed pecker.  We piled the bloody towels in the corner of the bathroom with a note on it (and some Euros) for the maid as a kind of apology for the mess (though my Father said, "SHE'S AFRICAN SO SHE'S USED TO SEEING THIS KIND OF THING.").  We bolted out of town and flew straight to Dublin, where the rain-soaked Irish were more than happy to provide some liquid nourishment for my throbbing thumb (and mind).  One day I hope to return to Paris for a third time not because part of my thumb was disposed of there (although that is so very fitting), but to once again experience the gloriousness of one of my favorite cities in the world.  I just won't be bringing a hatchet ... nor catching one from anyone, either.

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