The Parisian Angel

Paris France at night“A Parisian Angel” by Janna Graber was reprinted by permission from the book “Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World.” (World Traveler Press)

My friend Lisa is planning a trip to Paris. We are sitting in my kitchen, where she has spread out several maps and dumped a towering stack of French guidebooks on the table. Using her forefinger with its perfectly polished red nail, she points out all the places that she and her husband will visit, commenting on each exotic destination.

“Can you imagine?” she asks. “All that great food, the cafes, walking along the river banks. …”

Her voice drops off as she envisions herself in such locations. Lisa, it’s obvious, has already fallen under the city’s spell.

“Don’t you just love Paris?” she asks dreamily.

Frankly, I don’t know how to answer. For others, Paris is the most romantic of all locales. For me, it’s the city of unfinished business, where a story that was once started hasn’t yet found its end.

It stems from my first impression of Paris. Lasting memories are formed by virgin encounters with the places we see, the food we eat, the bed we sleep in, and most of all, the people we meet.

I was studying in Vienna, and as any college student abroad will tell you, exploring the continent during school breaks is half the fun. There is no other feeling like grabbing your rail ticket and backpack, opening a new, crisp map of Europe on a bright and shiny Saturday morning, and picking, either on a whim or some rumor you have heard, the place that you want to visit next.

That’s how I ended up on the overnight train to Paris.

I slept most of the way and awoke as I felt the wheels slow for our arrival in the French capital. Drowsily, I grabbed my backpack and searched for my small shoulder bag, the one with money and a credit card inside. It was nowhere to be found.

My shoulders slumped as I realized that I had been robbed. I couldn’t figure out how. Several others and I shared the closed train compartment. I didn’t remember anyone else coming in.

I left the train and decided to go to the police — if I could only find them. Stopping here and there, I asked vendors for directions. Most stared at me dumbly, amused at my English words. Finally, a woman pointed out a small police office.

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