A Recipe for Thanksgiving in Paris
Wake up on Thanksgiving Day to the distinctive sound of your backup emergency alarm (Demi Lovato). Roll over, reach for your phone through the tangle of your green sheets. It’s just a little before noon. Realize that you have, once more, missed your Thursday morning drawing class. Console yourself with the fact that, as a God-fearing American, no one could possibly expect you to go to class when you should be celebrating the survival of your country’s forefathers. Dress quietly, so as not to disturb the cats with whom you share the apartment, eat yogurt for breakfast. Feel a little weird about eating yogurt at noon on Thanksgiving, as opposed to a cranberry-oriented feast. Decide to apply berry lipstick as a concession to festivity.
Open your computer. Send emails, Facebook messages, and heartfelt snapchats to friends and family, wishing them all a happy holiday. Rejoice in the fact that you are not tied to the hot stove, and are instead free and easy in Paris. Decide that you will be like Chandler from “Friends,” and boycott all the pilgrim holidays from here on out (“every last one of them”). Leave the apartment (forgetting your keys, but you remember just in time) and go out to buy art supplies just in case you ever remember to actually go to drawing on Thursday mornings.
While mulling over paper thickness in the nearby art supply store, be hit by a sudden wave of homesickness, no doubt brought on by the American Christmas music being piped in over the tinny speakers of the otherwise chic art supply store. (Ignore momentarily the fact that you are Jewish. Question briefly why a Parisian art supply store is playing Blue Christmas in November, in English. Decide it must be an ironic statement.) Remember that just yesterday, one of your professors mentioned bike riding in the Bois de Vincennes, a wood on the outskirts of Paris. Your family rides bikes every year down nature trails after the big Thanksgiving meal, and you miss them. Decide it must be a sign. Buy up your notebooks and pastels and hop on the metro down to the Bois de Vincennes.
Get off near the end of the metro line. You have never been here before. It takes a bit of navigating to get to the wooded area, but when you get there you see trails and pine trees and are pleased with your decision. Set off to find the bike rental area that you have been promised.
You are a little further into the woods now. It is a cloudy day, and the sun sets early. It is mid-to-late afternoon. Feel uneasy. Realize you have left without telling anyone where you were going. Look around for other people, see no one but a white-blonde woman walking a dog on a far-off side trail, and someone in a fluorescent yellow shirt (a jogger?) far back. Reassure yourself. You are paranoid. Nonetheless, remove your headphones.
Walk a little further. No sign of the road now. Then, hear someone calling something from a distance. Turn halfway around. See the fluorescent yellow shirt. He is slightly closer now. He is waving. You are unsure if he is waving at you. There is no one else around. Tell yourself it is nothing. Walk slightly faster.
Hear shouting again. Look back. See that the yellow shirt is closer. He starts to wave again when he sees you turn your head. Whip your head back to face forward. See a trail map approaching, a fork in the path. Decide not to stop and look at the map. Realize that you do not want to appear to be unsure of yourself in any way. Realize that you are afraid.
Reach the path, take the fork. Walk a little ways without turning your head right or left. Know that the man in yellow has also taken the fork. Try to remember when the last time you ran more than just a few feet was, and wonder if you can outrun him. Wonder if it will come to that. Wonder how you know when it comes to that. Hear him calling to you again, closer behind you.
See the white-blonde woman again. Her footpath has joined up with your fork. Approach her. She turns her head apprehensively at hearing footsteps directly behind her, is relieved to see that the denim jacket bearing down on her so quickly is only a girl in a ponytail, carrying art supplies. Ask her in French if you can walk with her. Explain that you are being followed by a man in a yellow shirt. She tells you that she thought he might have been following her earlier, until she lost him by taking a side path. Begin to walk together. Walk a little ways in tense silence, until you hear a shout clearly behind you. Both of you turn. See that the man is now following both of you, closer. He waves at seeing your heads turn. See him smile. The woman turns back to you, and you both momentarily size each other up. Reach another fork in the trail.
Then, hear barking. See that her beagle has run off, and has been joined by another beagle, much bigger and heavier. See two men in hot pursuit of their runaway beagle. One is silver-fox bearded, the other in a sweatshirt. They find the dogs together, and are relieved to have retrieved theirs. They come over to say hi to the other beagle owner, the white-blonde woman. You lurk by the white-blonde woman and beagle-owning men. She is taking her time talking to them, making no attempt to call back her dog. They are Nice Guys, make small talk about how dogs never obey their owners. Discuss canine training schools. They have no idea of the role of rescuer that they are playing. You glance back, see the yellow shirt pacing a little distance away, watching. Catch the white-blonde woman noticing as well. Stretch out the conversation. Minutes pass, the man stalks back and forth on the trail behind you. Still watching. Tries waving once more. Paces. Silver-fox beagle owner catches sight of him. He and Yellow Shirt make brief eye contact. Yellow Shirt paces. Finally, he gives up and leaves, turning down a side trail. Breathe the smallest sigh of relief. White-blonde woman, you, and the two men continue the conversation for a little while longer until she decides that the coast is clear. You trust her. Turn and walk back to the metro with her. She knows a short cut, often walks her dog in this park. Tells you she’s been accosted here before, including once by a man with a knife at dusk on the other side of the park. Says she doesn’t go over there anymore. Asks about your accent, you tell her where you’re from. Make small talk with the nice woman and her beagle until you get back to the metro. Leave each other on a crowded street in the town. Your heart rate slows down. Consider going back into the park from a different entrance, realize the sun will set soon and there is no guarantee of finding the nice Beagle Men again. So much for bike riding.
Hop on any random bus heading back to the center of Paris. You have been followed before, especially abroad, but never while entirely alone. Never while in the middle of the woods on the outskirts of the city. Never without anyone knowing where you are and when you left. Never on Thanksgiving Day. Foreswear all festivities on the long bus ride back. Stupid holiday celebrating genocide of native people anyways.
Relent just a little when you reach the Marais, the hip quarter just next to yours. Remember that another girl mentioned the existence of an American grocery store right around here. Feel nostalgic for home, where bike rides on Thanksgiving Day involve your grandfather and wildflower gathering (and, you know, bikes) instead of strange men following you on foot past every tree-lined bend in the path. On impulse jump off the bus at the next stop, walk to where you seem to recall the Americana shop should be. When you find it, wend your way past displays of pecans, marshmallow fluff, and peanut butter, to find a refrigerator stocked with fresh cranberries, imported from New Hampshire. Pay the exorbitant price. Walk the rest of the way home clutching them to your chest. Make your mom’s cranberry orange relish recipe when you get home. Give thanks for ending this and every day safe and sound. Happy Thanksgiving.