The night before that was…late. We’d been up, talking about stuff. In some ways, we might have talked ourselves out. So once we got up that morning, it was a quiet morning as we started to get on our way on the Metro, and we weren’t talking much, but we had to start talking once we got to the museum. Turns out, the Fodor’s guide needed to be updated, and we arrived an hour before it opened.
“Go ahead, go back to your class,” she told me. “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you kidding? I’ll have time to get back to the FIAP for class. I’m not going to leave you alone in a country where you can’t speak the language, even for just an hour.” Remember, these are the days before cel phones, she couldn’t call anyone if she got lost. “That’s just not cool. What kind of friend would I be?”
She didn’t respond to that. She sighed a little, but avoided my gaze. I started to look around the quiet street. The Musée D’Orsay sat facing the Seine River. The street along the river was ringed with carts that, when opened up, would be a place to buy used books, tourist goods, and even play small games, like some permanent French carnies. Those sat closed and abandoned at this time of morning. Across and just down the street, past a bridge over the river, I saw a stairway heading down.
“Want to take a walk down by the river?” I asked, pointing toward it.
She shrugged, and I led her across the street to the stairway.
I had no idea what was waiting for us.
As we walked down the stairs, a willow tree sat at base, its branches dipping into the Seine a few feet away. At the bottom of the stairs, we could only turn east to walk into the morning sun. The small cobblestone pathway glistened, as if they’d just been washed, or washed over by the river. The street was confined behind a 15-foot wall, protecting us from the traffic. Trees lined the wall, tall enough to peek over to the city above. Across the river, the Louvre and its faded blue roof lined the other shore.
This view, as we walked east up the river, towards the rising sun, even began to perk up Sera’s spirits. She still wasn’t talking to me, so we walked in relative silence, just our shoes on the stones, as the city woke up around us. I offered her my arm as we walked, and she was hesitant to take it at first, and after a couple of quick jaunts away from me to look at things, she took my arm without reservation, wrapping it with her one arm, and placing her other hand on my wrist as if to never let me go.
The walk was beautiful, and though without words, it was far from silent as our steps echoes along the stones. We walked under a few bridges, and we passed some of the famous dining boats tied up along the walk, with some lonely workers cleaning them. Other than them, the only other Parisians we passed were the occasional high society Parisian with a high society small dog. Apparently, jogging had not yet become a thing in Paris, and there weren’t even any homeless to be seen.
A good walk later, as the river and shore bended, the path got narrower and the edge of the street became a ledge above us. I wasn’t sure how much longer the path would go, but as we came out from under one of the bridges, we saw the towers of Notré Dame ahead of us. She gasped. It was her first time seeing it. When we reached the bridge next to the cathedral, I didn’t even have to lead her back up to cross the river to Notre Dame. We went to the main door, and I opened it for her, hearing her ‘oooh’ again as she went in. I savored the moment, remembering my first moment seeing the magnificent interiors of the building. But when I went in, I saw something unexpected, something that I’d never seen before, or would again.
It was practically empty.