The red polka dot dress

Ah, the polka dot motif.  Never one to go out of style.

It’s a style that suits me well, I think. I often go for vintage looks, or cute feminine looks, as I have a round face and a slim but curvy body (I’m no Coco Austin but I don’t do bad in the booty department).

This dress isn’t a designer dress. None of my clothes are. If they are, I don’t know. I rarely read labels when rummaging through racks of clothes. I look at four things: color, pattern, shape and price.

I found this particular garment in a small shop in Paris.

It was my first trip abroad. A trip of many firsts: first time in an airplane, first trip alone, first fling, first moments of independence.

It was a wonderful experience, scary and fun at once.

Let me say, to exacerbate how important this trip has been in my life so far, that I had just come out of a major bout of anxiety troubles. For the better part of a year, I had to be home schooled and most times, I couldn’t even get out of the house. It was pretty awful.

Slowly, I came back to life. Graduating high school and pursuing further studies helped a lot. I felt more challenged at school and met people with whom I had stuff in common.

By the time summer rolled by, I felt ready for adventure, so I planned at trip to France. I was to spend a week in Paris, then three in the Bordeaux region, where I would participate in a work-camp. (I’ll probably tell you about that in another article).

Finally, the departure date came. I remember being at the airport with my dad, my mom and my brother. It was great and odd at the same time. Since my parents had split ten years earlier, rarely had we found ourselves alone, together as a family. We laughed and reminisced. Then when the time came to split, I freaked out a little, but not too much. I cried and waved goodbye. I think my parents cried too, out of seeing their daughter growing up and doing her own thing for the first time.

I was 19.

The plane ride went well, although I never really managed to sleep.

Seven hours later, here I was in the city of lights. My dream was coming true, but all I felt was exhaustion, hunger, a blocked ear and a deep need to pee (I hadn’t gone during the whole flight, so not to bother the guys in my row while they slept like babies).  I couldn’t wait to get my luggage, go use the restroom and move along to the city.

After much wait and confusion about the location of our flight’s luggage containers (the airport authorities could not find them), I finally got my bag, made it to a toilet, ate a granola bar and found the bus to reach the core of the city.

I could finally enjoy the fact that I had arrived! It was quite nice, except for that stinging sensation in my ear.

Then I got off the bus and walked into another confusing situation: how to find the place where I was going to live for the next few weeks! I had the address, I knew where it was but I just could not find it! Rue de Richelieu, close to the Louvre, next to the Palais Royal. Those details had been written in my handbook for the last few weeks, but I still couldn’t find my door. Feeling lost and tired, I walked into a phone booth to call the lady that was to have me over (a friend of my stepmom’s brother). Unfortunately, it must be said that phone booths in France don’t accept coins. I did not know that.

Thankfully, I knew that calling cards could be bought at post offices, so I found the nearest one and got in line.

No less than an hour later, covered in sweat (it was a humid 35 degrees celcius out there and in the post office!), my back in absolute pain because of my bags that were filled with a bunch of more or less important things, I had my calling card.

I walked into the closest phone booth and put my card into the slot. It didn’t work. For a second, I indulged in some quebecois swearing, knowing that it would offend no one here. I then saw that I could use my credit card to make the call.

I finally reached the lady, who then came to get me. Turns out I was less than 3 minutes away from the place. She had simply forgotten to specify that the door of access the apartment building was inside the entrance of a restaurant, and the number was hidden, camouflaged into the sign announcing that eatery.

We walked up four flights to the maid’s room, a tiny little space with a shower, a bed, a fridge and a toilet that she was letting me use for free, for my time in the city.

She gave me my keys and told me to get rested, as we would be going out for dinner with her daughter later on.

I closed the door behind her and immediately began sobbing. What was going on? What had happened? So far, I hated this city! It had not been kind to me. I missed my family. What the hell was I doing? Help!

I felt so out of place here. The lady that was hosting me was kind, but this was a posh place. She was obviously from another level of society and although I despise and don’t usually believe in stratified social systems and generalizing about people, I felt like an alien here.

I cried myself to sleep.

A few hours later, I woke up and prepared to dine out, trying to keep my spirits up. I had nothing fancy to wear and no impressive feats to converse about with these people. Nevertheless, I decided to put on a brave face and go for it.

Not long after, the lady’s daughter knocked on my door and we went out for le diner.

All went well, but I was quickly confronted to a first cultural shock. I had not even touched half of my sushi plate, being as my stomach was still upset from all the stress that it had been subjected to. I asked if I could take the rest home.

At that moment, the lady looked at me, laughing nervously: No, people don’t do that here.

I immediately felt bad even for asking.

Her daughter, more easygoing I guess, didn’t mind inquiring, as this was also a place for takeout.

Turns out I could take it home.

Still, the experience left me surprised. I had heard that doggy bags were uncommon here, but I could not believe that someone would rather walk away and let the restaurant throw out 20 sushi’s, than ask for a box to eat them later.

I thanked the lady and her daughter, took my box of sushi and walked back up to my room. I believe I saw them once during my whole week’s stay. They were cordial and generous but I preferred my own company than spending time with them.

Once in bed, I fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up in the middle of the night to eat the rest of my sushi.

The next day, I walked around and Paris, with all its charm and beauty, cured me of my fears and sorrows.

This dress, bought during that week, embodies me coming out of my shell and becoming an independent woman, as prominent feminist auteur Beyoncé Knowles would say.

It also made me believe, for a moment, that I could be one of those stylish Parisians. Just for a moment.

I made a journal during this trip. The page that speaks of this first day is hidden behind a curtain of sheets of toilet paper, pink ones like they have there. It still feels so evocative, so telling of the emotions I felt on the moment.  Makes me proud of who I’ve become and how it happened.

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3 thoughts on “The red polka dot dress

  1. Pingback: Life changing moments: my first time traveling abroad | A storytelling home

  2. Pingback: Life Changing Moments: My First Time Traveling Abroad

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