It was the day I thought I was going to get lucky. She even had the right accent.
Her name was Koko. Actually, her real nickname is “Momo”, but the French don’t like it, she said, because it sounds too much like Muhammad! So Koko it is.
We met just at the top of the furnicular, right at the foot of the Sacre Ceour. Just as I readied myself for the final descent down the steep stairway, Koko called out and asked if I could take her photo. I did. Normally, that would be that – but, instead of the usual thanks, she, instead, proceeded to casually walk right by me! I swear I could hear a little voice in my head, “Woohoo!”
Koko is Japanese, about in her late twenties or so, and spoke excellent English with a noticeable French accent. It was this last little detail that had me worried. Why is this woman being particularly friendly? Why does she have a French accent? With so many crooks in this part of the world, you just can’t help but entertain the wildest of thoughts. Am about to be conned?
I check her story. “You know, I always wanted to visit Tokyo”, I said, “There is that famous place there that is full of electronic stores”.
“Aah, the Akibahara!” She got that one right, but I probe a little more.
While walking through the Montmarte, I listen to Koko’s story. It turns out that she’s a student of France and, in fact, lived in Paris between 2002 and 2003. Her visit here this time was but a short stopover for a business trip; Koko works for a medical research firm in Tokyo. She’s just been to Munich, Copenhagen, Slovenia for a personal side trip (and where her laptop was stolen), then off to Dusseldorf, followed by Amsterdam.
After a little while of walking around, I suggested we sit in a cafe. Almost simultaneously, we both remembered that it was here in the Montmarte, of course, that a certain joint was made famous by the film, Amelie. But neither of us can remember the name or the exact location, so we wander around a little more trying to find the place. Then alas, she stumble upon a hip looking place and Koko thinks she’s found it.
“Ah, yes, this is it”, she said while also peering through the front windows, “I remember the chandeliers made from bottles!”
She was mistaken. In fact, we found ourselves in La Fourmi (74, rue des Martyrs). The cafe in Amelie is actually Cafe des Deux Moulin (15, rue Lepic), just one block away from the Moulin Rouge.
Still I was glad to be in La Fourmi. It is my kind of place – arty and trendy, but not in a snobby kind of way, plus it’s cheap. There are couples all around, one of whom sit by the main door while they hold hands and, this being Paris, from time to time they kiss without a care in the world! That’s one thing I notice about this city: lovers embrace or kiss unashamedly everywhere – in the metro, on the streets, in the museums . From the moment I landed I’ve been wanting to capture this essential Parisian image. Yet, try as I might to emulate Robert Doisneu, I fail miserably.
But I tried something else with Koko. We seat snugly in the back, our legs just slightly touching. Then, raising her glass of merlot and I, my cup of tea, she says, “A votre sante!” It’s basically “cheers” with a difference. As I take a sip while looking away from her she corrects me.
“No, no, no, you must look into my eyes”, she insisted. I asked why. “Because if you don’t, you’ll be lucky in bed for 7 years”. Ah, now I get it. So we do it all over again.
“A votre sante!” And this time, I look deeply into Koko’s eyes.
An hour or so pass before we finally decided to decamp from La Fourmi and move on. As we step outside, Koko spots a sign across the road – “Sauna Mykonos”. We cross over and she rings the doorbell. A young Asian man, half naked, with just a towel around his bottom half, answers the door. He and Koko converse entirely in French. While they both talk for some minutes, a string of men, a couple in their mid-age, walk into this place and immediately I realise what must go on behind that door. It’s a gay joint! Now I’m thinking, “Jesus Christ, Koko, hurry the hell up!”
Finally, with their little hushed conversation over, she reports back to me. “Oh, it’s a gay place. It’s for men and they have sex in there!” Yes, Koko, I kind of realised that. Then she adds that she wanted to know from the nice young Asian man if there was a sauna for ladies somewhere nearby. The man knew of such a place but apparently added that it’s for lesbians. Koko wasn’t interested.
We move on, now walking towards the Moulin Rouge. When we get there Koko asks me to snap another photo. I oblige. She’s a typical Japanese, always flashing that odd innocent schoolgirl pose to the camera. I just don’t know if it was some sort of a come-on.
Before I could make move, I was thinking maybe drinks later that night, Koko says, “Well, OK, it was nice meeting you”.
Taken aback, I just stammer, “Oh, OK, well OK, it was nice meeting you, too”. And, like true professionals, we shake hands. I resign myself to thinking that we’re both hopeless bloody Asians after all; none of this ridiculous air kissing business.
And that was that. I bet you expected something else!