Gossiping with Oscar Wilde

June 9

Rainclouds wash across the Paris sky, thick as seafoam on a sleep tide, surprising early risers. When later, the tide rakes the clouds away, they leave cumulous strands of pearls in their wake: storm-flotsam.

I stole into Paris like a thief, arriving on an overnight bus. On the narrow seat, I tossed and turned in the shallows of sleep, never sinking deep enough for dreams. Now Paris dreams me, a vagabond who vaulted over the velvet cord, who dodged the guards, a fee-skipping guttersnipe who dares to peruse the City for free. Paris is my favorite museum. Every window is a glass display case. They glisten with just-polished collections of perfume phials, glass lamps like jellyfish, books so old they are library fossils, gleaming copper terrines, amethyst cherries, ivory cheeses, ebony oysters, and in the windows of the Pâtisseries, fairycakes as dainty as the china teacups in my mother’s curio-cabinet.

It feels deliciously wicked to linger on street corners and devour this metropolitan masterpiece without coughing up a cent. I have made pilgrimage to Paris three times in ten years: I have shuffled through all the hour-long lines, fanned out the tickets, and blackened my map with must-sees. This time, I just want to haunt the streets and sip the City’s generosity. On Rue des Martyrs, I try melons so ripe they melt in my mouth, cubes of cantaloupe that taste like marshmallow. I savor green-tea shadows on the Promenade Plantée, an aerial-garden high above the traffic of Avenue Daumesnil. I picnic under the snowy glamour of Sacré Cœur, the basilica whose haughty domes have the sleek, iced look of cedars after a snowstorm. In Père Lachaise cemetery, I gossip with Oscar Wilde. We wonder whether anyone else is home inside these telephone-booth tombs.

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