This post was written by Twinkle Khanna.
A heavy wooden door on Rue de Vaugirard opens to a cobblestone courtyard filled with flowering trees and leads to our apartment. Though our hands are full of groceries, my best friend manages to tug at my headphones. In anticipation of our trip to Paris, I have been obsessively listening to a podcast called ‘Learn French with Marie’.
She asks, ‘Didn’t you study French in school?’ I nod sagely, ‘Oui, this podcast is to help me brush up. Just on the drive from the airport this morning, I have figured out how to say, “Call the doctor!” and “Don’t swallow!” in French!’
She rolls her eyes, ‘Let’s pray that we never have to use these two phrases on this trip!’
The first time Bindya and I came to Paris fifteen years ago, our friendship was so new that it was still in the shopping bag – ribbons, cellophane and all the tags intact, which is why I had not bitterly complained about the fact that she had inadvertently reserved the tiniest hotel room in the world for us. If one of us wanted to go to the bathroom, then the other one had to open the room door and stand in the hotel corridor as there was no place to squeeze past.
Years have passed and along with getting larger rooms as well as waistlines, our friendship has also grown beyond the two of us, and has now enveloped husbands, children and even siblings inside its big bear hug. She has crushed my toe in a cycle wheel, I have torn a flap of skin off her husband’s eye, I have fallen into a pool fully dressed thanks to her children, and she has lost her way in Cape Town courtesy of me. And there have been many instances of phones ringing in the dead of the night, whispered conversations across continents and scattered pieces of a fragmenting mind coaxed back together with astute advice.
We have dragged husbands and children onto planes, trains and automobiles, two trajectories hurtling towards each other year after year. But seldom do we get a chance to get away just by ourselves. This summer we decided to pull out travel bags, push guilt to the back of our closets and leave pets, husbands and children to fend for themselves for once.
Needless to say after our first Paris fiasco, on this reunion of sorts, I am the one who has made all the reservations and Voila! Thanks to Airbnb we now cross the quaint courtyard, unlock the bottle-green door and enter our beautiful high-ceilinged apartment right in the middle of Saint-Germain.
Walking down Rue Saint- Benoît, we spot the famous Café de Flore. Bindya wants to get a table there but I instantly reject the idea, ‘Trust me, it has become a tourist trap! Look for something more authentic!’
Across the street, I spot a small restaurant, ‘Let’s eat at that Café Pouchkine!’
We are handed a menu entirely in French. Since I can barely recollect my high school lessons and my podcast hasn’t yet reached food items, I stare at the menu in bewilderment and finally concede defeat by asking the server, ‘Any suggestions?’
His English is limited to, ‘This iz like some bread, some sweet inzide, some other thing.’ Eventually we end up chomping on a piece of lamb with a big potato pancake on the side. I exclaim, ‘See this is real French food, not what we would have eaten at your Café Flore!’
It is only when we overhear two aristocratic ladies at the next table ordering a dessert called ‘Paris Moscou’ that we use Google Bhaisaab and discover that our first meal in France has in fact turned out to be Russian. Mon Dieu!
The next morning sees us standing in front of the Mona Lisa as we have booked an Experience through Airbnb called Laugh Your Way Through The Louvre. Cedrik, our stand-up comic and art historian, points over the three million Japanese tourists and tells us that the Mona Lisa became so well known partly because she was once stolen by a Louvre employee called Peruggia.
In between entertaining chatter about Raphael and Paolo Veronese, he stops in front of a sculpture of an entwined couple called Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Luckily, I have already found my mate because Cedrik informs us that in order to find true love many people come up to the statue and lick the reclining woman’s armpit! Well, I guess nothing comes easy in life without working up a sweat.
The days pass by in a haze of exploration, food and fits of giggles. It has been a long time since I have had nothing to think about, no deadlines to meet, no husband who insists that a holiday merely means getting up at a toe-curling 6 am instead of a brain-numbing 5, and no children who have to be tucked in with a bedtime story.
Instead we share a bottle of wine in our lovely apartment, feeling like locals instead of tourists as we watch a neighbor lay out a table in his balcony filled with pink flowering plants.
Valentine, our Airbnb host, had recommended a restaurant called Monsieur Bleu, which turned out to be memorable with its marvelous truffle pizza. But as I walk into a dodgy-looking massage place also recommended by her, I have severe misgivings. The plump masseuse doesn’t speak any English and nudges me towards a drab room. I lie down on my stomach and she begins. Her elbows dig into my shoulders and then I feel another set of elbows digging into the back of my thighs. It’s only five minutes later that I realize that she is lying down on top of me and what I thought were elbows were, in fact, her knees!
I continue lying there, feeling like Vikram with this Betal on my back but after she is done, every vertebra in my back wants to write her and Valentine a thank-you note which is pretty much my version of a happy ending if not yours!
We share our last sinful indulgence at the airport Ladurée, and then it’s time to say goodbye to the land of Macron and macarons. My best friend will return to Trump and his covfefe while I head back to the land of celibate peacocks which reproduce by swallowing tears, or so claims a judge during a legal argument about India’s national bird. I tell Bindya about it, ‘Last I heard, a peacock was bitterly complaining, “Our baby has scales and not beautiful feathers like me!” to which the peahen replied, “Suno ji not my fault! You must have been shedding crocodile tears that night.”
She smiles, ‘You do know that some of your jokes are terrible right?’ Then it’s time to head to our boarding gates. I don’t know about peacocks crying but we both do end up teary eyed, as we always do when we part at various airports across the world. She is my safety deposit box, the repository of all my sacred truths that once locked away, remain inaccessible to anyone except the two of us who hold the password. What else is a deep friendship besides the ability to trust and be trusted, to know that each time this monkey called life throws a banana peel in your path you have someone waiting with arms outstretched to save you from landing on your bottom. We are all these things to each other and more. We hug one last time. ‘Au revoir Mon Amie,’ I say, and we head off in opposite directions, our hearts filled with pieces of Paris hanging up on the museum walls of our memories.