Paris. The Eiffel Tower. A bright carousel. Does it get any more romantic than that?
When Jenni sent me this delightful picture, it was obvious– this story had to have a romantic connection in it. The question is, how do you take romance in Paris, a concept that’s been done hundreds of times in just as many ways, and make it unique? Answering that question was the challenge I gave myself. I think I was at least mildly successful at meeting that challenge, but I’d love to hear your opinion! Feel free to leave comments or constructive criticism in the comments below!
Here’s ‘Little Battles with Perfumed Water’:
~~ It didn’t look as tall in person as he had imagined it would.
Will Marshall snapped the obligatory pic of the Eiffel tower. His position in the Place du Trocadéro gave him the best vantage point he had found thus far, but it still didn’t wow him.
A kind of disappointment settled over him along with the now what that was common to humans after finally seeing something that had been built up in their minds for so long. Opening up his phone’s gallery, he began flipping through mementos of the day. There were pics of The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Tuileries Garden. One of a massive baguette he had bought at a local bakery. Statues. Lots of statues.
He had texted them all to his parents back home in Nevada. His mother always sent back the same response.
“Nice, but where are you in this picture?”
She was a firm believer that people liked looking at pictures of people.
“I can google The Louvre and see a hundred-thousand pics of it if I want,” she had said. “What I can’t google is Will Marshall at The Louvre.”
There was distinct truth to what she said. People really did like pictures of people. But he knew her words went deeper than that. She was worried about him after what had happened. She wanted photographic proof he was doing ok.
He sighed. Fine. One selfie for her, but that was it.
Trying to hold the phone while getting both his face and the tower in the picture at the same time felt like the ultimate juggling act. Adding on any kind of expression other than frustration, well, it wasn’t going to happen.
“Want me to take it?”
Will looked over at the woman who had addressed him. Blonde hair with two purple streaks. Pierced eyebrow. Camera hanging from her neck. Very artsy. Or was the right word hipster? He had no idea.
“You’re American?” he asked.
“Born and raised.”
“How did you know I spoke English?”
She just smiled knowingly.
“That obvious?” Will looked down at himself and didn’t think he looked too much like a tourist. He had on his favorite jeans and, while the sleeves of his plaid dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows, it at least wasn’t one of his customary worn t-shirts.
“Not too obvious. I have an eye for that sort of thing. Want me to take a picture for you?” she asked again.
“Uh, ok, sure.”
She stepped forward and accepted his phone, then backed away.
“You want the carousel in it, too?”
“The carousel?” Will looked to his right at the large, gold-gilded apparatus with its painted ponies. Its emanating music had barely garnered a glance from him the first time he had passed. It looked like every other carousel he had seen in his life.
“Nah, no carousel,” he said, then instantly regretted the words when a shadow passed over her face. “Or yes. Either way.”
She shrugged and said, “If you don’t want it in the picture, that’s fine.”
“But you’re making a terrible mistake.”
“Because the carousel is far greater than the tower.”
Will gave a little laugh, assuming she was making a lame joke, but he clamped his mouth shut when he saw she was serious.
“Ok,” he said, “I’ll bite. What makes the carousel better than the tower? Not just any tower. The Eiffel Tower. One of the most famous landmarks in the world.” A vague voice in the back of his head asked why he was defending the very thing that had seemed disappointing to him moments before. He ignored it.
“There are around two dozen carousels in Paris. Each and every one of them is different than the others. Unique. Each has a history of its own. They’re all also simple. Little figures on raised platforms spinning endlessly in circles. Yet despite the simplicity, thousands upon thousands of people have found pleasure on them. Joy. A suspension of time, however brief it may be.”
What was he supposed to say to that? Will looked at her, dumbfounded, yet also with the strange urge to hop on a fake horse.
“Smile.” There were three quick clicking noises in succession from the phone. “Oh, no. We’ll have to do another. You look miserable in these.”
Will blinked and then shook his head.
“I wasn’t ready,” he said. “Do it again.” He posted a fake half smile on his face for another three clicks.
“I suppose that will have to do.” The woman walked over to hand him back his phone. “Enjoy the rest of your time in Paris.”
She turned to walk away.
Watching her retreating form, Will realized she had just made the City of Lights more interesting for him than it had been all day. How many people came to Paris every year to see the Eiffel Tower? Too many for him to imagine. But to see the carousels? Probably one, and she was walking away. He wanted to make it two.
Wait!” He called after her.
She stopped and turned to look back at him. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. What was he doing? He was being stupid, right? Who asked to go sightseeing with a stranger? But the last month had been hard. Really hard. The effects of it were wearing him down, sucking the joy out of life. He wanted, no, needed a mental break. A chance for distraction. If he didn’t ask her, he knew he’d regret it.
“Yeah?” she called back to him when he was silent for too long.
Taking a deep breath, Will covered the twenty or so feet between them and asked, ““Do you know where the other carousels are?”
A slow smile lit her face, and her eyes had a gleam to them as she nodded.
“Would you like to see them?” She shifted her weight back and forth between her feet like an excited child.
“I would. If that’s not weird, or, you know, whatever. I mean, we don’t know each other, so if you think it’s dangerous—“
“There are two-point-two million people in Paris. I’ll make sure we stay around them and out of dark corners so you feel safe,” she said with humor in her voice.
Will laughed and said, “I’d appreciate that.”
“You sure about this? I’m telling you right now it’ll mean covering a lot of ground.”
“I’m fine with that.”
“Alright, then. Follow me.”
She led the way to the steps of the metro.
“I’m Julie-Jordan Lloyd by the way,” she said as they waited on the platform for their train.
“Julie-Jordan is your first name?”
“Yeah. You don’t know it?”
“Your name? How would I know it?”
“Some people do. Some don’t.”
“Not me. My namesake. Julie Jordan is the female lead in the musical Carousel.”
“You’re kidding me. So this carousel obsession isn’t just yours? It’s your family’s as well?”
“Ok, well, to each his own,” Will said, mystified. “I’m Will Marshall.”
A furrow appeared between Julie-Jordan’s brows.
“Why does that sound vaguely familiar?” she said more to herself than him.
“They’re both pretty common names. Will and Marshall.” Will suddenly felt very hot and uncomfortable. Thankfully, the metro train pulled up to the platform, breaking up the conversation.
Within thirty minutes, they were at the Forum Les Halles, early evening light making the carousel they were approaching gleam. It was almost too bright to look at.
“And for our second stop on this tour…” Julie-Jordan gave a sweeping gesture with her hands.
“Looks like the last ride we saw,” Will said, squinting.
“How could you say such a thing! Look at the horses. They were hand carved by the Limonaire brothers. The Limonaire brothers, Will!”
“Oh, well, that changes everything.”
“At least appreciate the fact these things were carved back in 1900. As for the rest of the carousel, the art has a different nuance than at the Eiffel Tower. The music is also altogether different.”
“The music sounds the same to me.”
“It’s clear that I have my work cut out for me today.”
Julie-Jordan lifted the camera and placed her eye to the viewfinder. After making a few adjustments in the focus, she took two pictures of the carousel, then moved three or four feet to the side to repeat the process over again.
“Look at their faces,” she said.
“The children. The parents with them. So happy. So relaxed. That’s the power of a carousel.”
“I don’t know. That guy just looks motion sick.”
Sighing, Julie-Jordan straightened and gave him a look of hopelessness.
“This may be harder than I thought,” she said.
“Probably. Where to next?”
Forty-five minutes later, they had made it to the Anvers metro stop and walked a short distance to Sacré-Cœur. At the base of the basilica’s steps was another carousel.
“This is one of my favorites!” Julie-Jordan got to work with her camera again, snapping pictures from a bunch of different angles.
Her face was excited as she worked. Passionate. She didn’t just think the object of her photos was pretty or cute. She was downright enthralled by it.
“Why do you like these things so much?” Will asked.
Her finger pressed the shutter button yet again, and she studied the new picture that popped up on the camera’s preview screen. A small smile graced her lips.
“Little battles,” she said, letting the camera rest at the end of its straps and against her sternum.
“What does that mean?”
“That’s what the word ‘carousel’ means. Roughly anyway. It’s actually translated from garosella, an Italian word that means ‘little battles’.”
She walked toward the steps of the basilica, side-stepping a group of children playing tag. Will watched her snap a photograph of the red-faced, laughing kids, then he followed after her.
“Little battles,” he said, taking a seat on the steps, “seems like an odd name for some spinning animals and hokey music. Nothing war-like about it.”
“Sure, that’s what they look like now.” She slid her hands down the back of her colorful skirt to make sure it stayed down and sat next to him. “Back in the day, knights on horseback used to gallop in these circles with glass balls that held perfumed water. They’d toss them back and forth to each other. A test of everything. Dexterity. Coordination. Horsemanship.”
“Why perfumed water?”
“If a knight didn’t catch the glass ball, it shattered on the ground. The perfumed scent would fill the air, alerting everyone to the shattered glass and the knight’s ineptitude.”
“Sweet smelling failure.”
“Pretty much. Over time, the glass balls were traded out for rings overhead that the knights had to run a spear through as they rode around the circle. The sport caught on with the common people. They wanted to replicate what the knights were doing, but without the added burden of owning or riding a horse. So they replaced the real horses with wooden ones, then eventually pretty little, fake ponies. Somewhere along the line, music and colors were thrown in. The name stuck despite the changes.”
“So you like carousels because of what the name means?”
“That’s a part of it. Even with how they look now, the fact remains that these carousels have warrior roots. I think that’s what I like. The mix of the warrior and the child. Fierceness and frivolity. Violence and ease. Plus, I think all of it’s applicable to real life. We’re all fighting little battles, trying not to let the glass balls in our life fall and shatter.”
“Makes sense. What’s the other part, then? If the name is only a fraction of the carousel’s appeal, what makes up the rest of it?”
Small dots of pink appeared on Julie-Jordan’s cheeks, and she stood quickly to her feet.
“That’s not important. Are you hungry? I’m hungry. Do you like cheese?”
“Great! I know a good place to eat.”
Will stood and followed after her, wanting to ask her more about her fascination with carousels given her reaction, but he decided against it. They barely knew each other. He didn’t want to pry.
“What do you do for a living?” Julie-Jordan asked once they were seated at a pleasant restaurant called Fromagerie Danard.
The question put a pit in Will’s stomach.
“Nothing right now,” he said.
“Oh? Your choice, or were you fired?” She winced. “Sorry. That’s probably too personal, right? I do that a lot. Ask about things I probably shouldn’t.”
Will swallowed past the lump in his throat and said, “Kind of neither I guess. I, uh, I was a pilot.”
“You didn’t like it anymore?”
“No. Yes. Well, I don’t know. There was this crash. An emergency landing.”
A crinkle appeared between Julie-Jordan’s eyes as she thought through his words, then her eyes widened.
“William Marshall! I thought that sounded familiar! You’re that pilot that was able to land the plane with no wheels!”
“It had wheels. They just didn’t come out.”
“Right, right. Wow.” She shook her head and looked down. Her fingers began to trace the grain of the wood in the table. “Yeah, that was something. I saw the footage. The fire. I can’t even imagine.”
“Yeah, well.” Will cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter. “You probably remember hearing about that little kid then.”
“I do. So sad.”
“I can’t help…” He cleared his throat again. “I can’t help but wonder if I could have done something different. When I realized those wheels weren’t coming out, there were these ten or so seconds where, I don’t know, I just froze. I wonder if I hadn’t done that, if I had acted ten seconds earlier, if things would have been different.” Will looked out the window at the lights starting to come on in preparation for the quickly falling night. He didn’t really see them, though. In his mind, he was back in that cockpit, his plane skidding on its belly down the runway. A shudder ran through him. “I guess that’s my little battle. My fallen glass ball,” he continued. “When I was supposed to catch it and prove my skill, I dropped it. It completely shattered on the ground.”
A moment of stillness passed
“It’s tragic that little boy died.” Julie-Jordan broke the silence, her voice low. “But there were over two-hundred people on that plane that survived because you responded well. Maybe you see that emergency landing as your dropped glass ball, but I only notice the sweet smell of perfumed water. Nothing more. I can’t see the broken glass. I can’t see a failure, because there wasn’t one.”
Will looked her in the eyes and his breath caught. The look she was giving him was the most sincere he’d ever seen. Others had told him it wasn’t his fault, and that he had done everything he could. Under their words, though, he could see their inner musings as they wondered whether that was actually true or not. Julie-Jordan was a stranger to him, yet at that moment, it felt like she got him more than just about anyone else in the world.
“Thank you,” Will finally said, hearing the emotion behind his own words. He hoped she could tell he truly meant it. From the bottom of his heart.
A waiter came over with their food, a plate of various cheeses, breaking up the emotionally charged moment.
“Even if you’re not doing the flying anymore,” Julie-Jordan said, picking up a wedge of camembert, “at least you can still get in a plane. That’s something.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Cruise. Took two weeks to get from New York to Le Havre. Took a train here. I’m supposed to be back at the boat tomorrow afternoon.”
“Oh. So no planes at all. How sad.”
Will couldn’t help but laugh at her crestfallen face.
“A person would think you were the one who landed that plane based off that expression. Don’t worry about it. I’m working through it. It might take a while, but I’m hoping I can get in the air again one day.”
“I hope you do,” she said earnestly.
After they had eaten, Julie-Jordan took him to three more carousels. As they traveled to their destinations, at times riding the metro, at times walking along the busy sidewalks, they talked about life back in the states.
Julie-Jordan was from Kansas City. She had graduated from Kansas City Art Institute’s photography program, and she’d been traveling the world ever since taking pictures of a lot of different things, but mostly carousels.
“What’s your favorite carousel in the world?” Will asked as they strolled down the Jardin des Plantes.
“Easy. The one at the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin.”
“And what makes it so special?”
“269 different animals, 182 chandeliers. And get this. Twenty-thousand lights! It’s the largest carousel in the world, and the thing is amazing. My dad’s parents actually live up there, so I’ve seen the carousel, like, a hundred times. I never get tired of it.”
They left the Jardin des Plantes and walked down Rue Cuvier. Julie-Jordan stopped on the sidewalk and looked up at one of the buildings, one with a red brick front.
“This is me,” she said.
Will followed her gaze up the building and asked, “This is you?”
“Where I’ve been staying. I have to go up and grab my bag. It’s already packed, so it shouldn’t take more than a minute.”
“Where are you going?”
“I, umm, I fly home tonight at eleven-thirty.”
Will felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Of course she was leaving. Even if she didn’t leave, he would be in the morning. Their meeting was one of those things. A chance encounter by the Eiffel Tower. They didn’t know each other. They’d only been in each other’s company for five hours. But then why did he feel like he was losing a lot more than a stranger?
“I was hoping you’d hang out with me until I have to get on my train.” She looked at the ground as if she was embarrassed by her request. “But if you had something else to do tonight, that’s totally cool. I’ve, you know, never met anyone who would actually go look at carousels with me. It was… fun. Not that that explains why you should wait at the train station with me. Wow. Now I’m rambling. Sorry, I just—“
“I’ll go with you,” Will interrupted her. “Of course I’ll go. I mean, you gave me the grand Paris Carousel Tour. I can at least keep you company as a thank you.”
“Really?” Her face broke out in a smile that seemed to lighten up the night around them. “Great! I’ll be right back!” She opened the door, then looked back at him. “You’ll stay right there?”
“I won’t move,” Will promised.
“Yeah, of course. Sorry. One second!”
Waiting with Julie-Jordan at the train station was borderline painful. The seconds seemed to pass too quickly. They kept up a light banter until the train arrived, then Julie-Jordan’s face went solemn as she turned to him.
“Thanks for looking at the carousels with me,” she said. “Really. That was great.”
“It was fun. Thanks for taking me.” Will paused and looked over her shoulder, watching passing travelers as he tried to gain some courage. “Look, would you be willing to give me your number. Or… or not. I mean, if that’s creepy—“
“No, not at all creepy!” she stopped him, sounding relieved. She pulled out her phone. “What’s your number? I’ll call you.”
Will gave it to her, and his phone started vibrating in his hand.
“Got it,” he said. “Text me when you get stateside. This struggling pilot would like to hear your plane landed safely.”
“Yeah, on wheels.”
She nodded and said, “I can do that. I better go or I’m going to miss my train.”
With a last, tentative smile, she turned and started to walk away.
“Hey, Julie-Jordan!” Will called after her, realizing he hadn’t gotten the answer to his most burning question from the day.
“You said little battles was only part of the reason you loved carousels. What was the other reason?”
She hiked her bag further up her shoulder and asked, “You really wanna know?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“That’s where all the women in my family tend to meet their men.”
“You’re kidding me!”
Julie-Jordan smiled and shrugged, the pink dots appearing in her cheeks again. She turned and continued toward the train.
Will watched her disappear into one of the cars, then watched as the train disappeared into the night. When it was gone, he walked down the platform toward the station exit, her words replaying in his mind. Even if what she said was true, it was still a total coincidence they had met at the carousel by the Eiffel Tower. Had to be. Not like they were supposed to be together or anything, Right? And him feeling like she really understood him, that was just his mind making it seem that way. Right? And her seeming like she didn’t want to leave him, that she would have been happy if they had hung out longer, that was just wishful thinking. Right?
He froze in his tracks. The last time he had hesitated, it had almost ruined his life. A mere ten seconds, and he still wondered if that could have changed everything.
No more hesitating. No more regrets. No more dropping the glass ball in little battles.
He punched in a number and put the phone to his ear.
“Yeah, I wanna buy a plane ticket. The eleven-thirty flight to Kansas City, Missouri.”