Author note: This post was inspired by an absolutely beautiful essay of the same name by Erica Ho on The Hairpin. If you are a travel blogger too, I’d love to read your version of A Tale of Six Cities. Feel free to add your link to the comments section.
There is a rumor about a full lunar eclipse that night, but these are the days before smart phones, and, wandering around in the early evening hours with tummies satiated with wine, we do not have (or know how to) access to internet. I see a pay phone. “HOLD ON EVERYBODY!” as I fumble with a money belt filled with rand. The only phone number I know by heart is my best friend’s, so I call her. I haven’t heard her voice in over a month.
“Kelly! I don’t have much time, because I’m on a pay-phone! Can you tell me if there will be a lunar eclipse tonight in South Africa?”
“Amanda! It’s so good to hear from you! But, I’m not at home. I’m out on campus studying … [Remember, these are the days before smart phones]. But I can go home to my computer and check. Can you give me 15 minutes and call again?”
We wait twenty. I call her back, and she confirms that there will be a lunar eclipse visible in the southern hemisphere that night. She tells me the time and which direction in the sky to look. Then we hang up.
In Paris, I feel the most American. I’m big, I’m loud. I yell “Oh my GOD!” (phonetically: “gawd,” accidentally) in an elderly woman’s face when I spot the storefront window of Louis Vuitton. (They put all the purses in bird cages. It is precious.) The woman glares at me with disgust. (But, really, this was an exception. Parisians are very lovely. And, I probably deserve it.)
One night, Jen and Kelly and I are getting ready to go out. We are staying with Jen’s sister, an American ex-pat, and all we know is that we’re going to a cool, edgy, small rock concert, which will probably be populated with a lot of cool, edgy, small Parisians. I am stressed. My friends look cool, edgy, and small. “What should I wear? Should I change?” I whine, looking despondently into my suitcase packed with nothing right. “Well, you could probably brush your hair,” offers Jen.
You never forget your first love.
I travel with two people whose travel style could not be more different than mine. They always want to ask for help. I never want to appear vulnerable. I never question what it must look like, then, when we constantly get lost in the subway tubes and they tag-team a commuter using broken Japanese and their best “help me” faces, while I shirk their method and, embarrassed to be seen asking for assistance, slink off into some dark corner with a map, willing my brain to play match-the-symbols. It begins to cause a rift between us, and I acknowledge the rift, because, well, I put it there.
We are on our way to a Tokyo Giants baseball game. They play at the Toyko Dome, and we, of course, are running very late and are very lost. I should mention that an evening spent in Tokyo watching a baseball game is my idea, and as my two friends and I stand on some random far-away-from-the-Dome Tokyo street corner, I am so upset. I would rather not go to the game than ask for help. And maybe I throw a little bit of a fit and say “I would rather not go to the game than ask for help.” My poor friends. We stand surrounding a map in a sea of men-in-business suits rushing this way and that (even at this late hour) when out of the chaos emerges a Japanese woman who speaks English. “Do you need help?” she asks. My friends hesitate to answer. They don’t want to upset me further so I say “Yes, we want to go to the Tokyo Dome.” She says “Follow me” and escorts us across through two subway transfers all the way to the ticket line. “Arigatou” we say, and then we go watch a baseball game and she gets back on the subway to go home and I feel like an ass.
I am so drunk. I am so drunk, but I make a mental note that this casino is pretty tacky. Not the best on the Strip. Dark carpets, muted colors, desperate people. It’s still early, at least for Vegas, but he is jet-lagged so he’s trying to help me put on my jacket. It’s a tough task, and as I’m twisting my arm around in the only way that could make jacket-putting-on more difficult, I spot a wedding chapel. After that night, I will wait for days for him to confirm my Facebook friendship request.
If there was one word for Mexico City, it would be traffic. A lot of sitting. Waiting. Instead of stressing me, it puts me at ease. As long as we are sitting in the back seat of this cab, sandwiched between other cars, time remains suspended. Our flight is scheduled to depart twelve hours from now, but I just want to sit, sit, sit, wait, wait wait. “What’s that smell?” Allison asks. “It’s diesel,” I say. The smell reminds me of so many other cities I’ve been to before. I love it. In that moment, I know that I have to do.
But it lingers, that question of whether I can do it alone.