Plus-Size in Paris: Eau d’Urine on the Seine
Her mind is a complete blank full of wonderment and curiosity, a sensation she hasn’t enjoyed since she first received the invitation from Sophie.
Slowly licking a cone of famous Berthillon ice cream as she wanders, she decides to stop on the Archevêché Bridge, from where she can take in the majesty of the Gothic cathedral, still standing tall after all these centuries, proud and indestructible, a testament to a medieval man’s building prowess and faith.
Her eyes follow the flying buttresses around the cathedral to the garden behind, full of flowers and trees in full bloom. The garden is packed with people enjoying it, too.
She’s happy to stay right where she is, as she’s seen since arriving in Paris that there’s nothing worse than trying to take in tourist destinations with all the tourists shoving each other with their backpacks and their smartphones and their selfie sticks.
She spots a group of tourists crossing the bridge toward the boulevard Saint-Michel, and there is no mistaking, from their typical outfits, their sneakers, and their extra-loud conversations, that they are American.
As they walk past her, curiosity gets the better of Abby, and she decides to follow them. She tosses what’s left of her ice cream in a bin and starts to trail them, at a discreet distance.
They meander along the Seine for a few minutes until they come to a famous Anglophone bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., and the cute café smartly located next to it.
Both places seem to exude historical significance and are very quaint. Abby stops and reads the painted saying on the store across the way, Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise, and feels compelled to enter.
Without hesitating, Abby follows her pretend newfound friends inside and ends up sitting next to them as if she’s known them her whole life. She hasn’t felt very connected to her country lately, and that feels foreign to her, as foreign as she herself feels in Paris.
It’s a strange juxtaposition she finds herself living in, so this encounter is a welcome happenstance. She’s sitting among a crew of Americans who would be complete strangers at home, but here they feel like the best of friends. She notes that it’s odd to feel that way, but that is the reality of it.
A man with a guitar sits down in front of the crowd and starts to play some songs he’s written. His lyrics make no sense whatsoever, but he looks so into it and sings so convincingly that everyone acts as if they get it, if only out of respect for his total commitment to his art.
Abby watches, taking it all in. When it’s over, they all get up and discuss where to go. She eavesdrops, hears that they are planning to go to the Latin Quarter, and decides to follow. She wonders if they would even notice that she’s tagging along, or if they would take it for granted that she’s one of them, a fellow American meeting up for an evening in Paris.
Abby follows until they reach their destination, a hole-in-the-wall French bistro that looks like it could use a visit from the health inspector. The saying on the bookshop wall genuinely touched her and stayed with her since she left it. She decides to head back to the shop and maybe get a souvenir or two.
She slyly moves away from the Americans and does an about-face and heads back. She stops and takes out her notebook, quickly jotting down the most heartwarming phrase, and then steps into the bookstore, heading straight toward the back.
She starts to look at all the titles, the old staircase to upstairs, the different postcards, and the handwritten ads with requests for meetups or invitations to expat cookery courses, book clubs, and walking tours. It is an eclectic message board for people looking for a community in Paris.
Reading the requests tugs at her heartstrings. She is also someone looking for community. Maybe she should hang an ad, too? But what would it say? She lets her mind have some fun and takes out her journal and jots down a few lines on the blank page:
New to Paris, living with imperfection in this gorgeous city full of perfection. Apparently, I’m eating way too many pains au chocolat. C’est la vie! Vive l’imperfection! I would love to meet others that are trying to find their place here one cute cobblestone at a time!
“Sure, that’ll work,” she says to herself out loud as she throws her journal and pen back in her bag.
“Pardon?” a masculine voice says behind her. She turns around. He is stunningly handsome. He’s got brown hair in a perfectly cut style, a linen scarf, and eyeglasses that must have been chosen from those “best eyeglasses for your face shape” advertisements.
“Oh, uh, je parlais à moi-même,” she answers, a little flustered. Somehow, she killed that phrase in perfect French. “Uh, parlez-vous anglais?” she asks hopefully. She knows that the odds are stacked against her, but she’s feeling lucky tonight.
“Yes, mademoiselle, I do,” he says, seeping with charm. And he called her mademoiselle without her attempting to correct her. Promising.
“Wow. You are one of the first.”
“To ever speak English?” he asks, smiling broadly.
“Ha, no, to say yes so confidently and to speak English confidently.
I keep getting duped by others.” She smiles back.
“What kind of book are you looking for tonight?” he asks, looking at the book in her hand called French Women Don’t Get Fat. She quickly turns the front of the book toward her and hugs it to her chest.
“I’m browsing tonight. I love this bookstore.” She looks up at all the shelves.
“Me too. It has so much history in it and makes a lonely night like tonight much more romantic, even when one is just browsing.”
Abby takes that as intended, said for her benefit.
“I can definitely see why.” Abby looks away. Oh no! She can feel the need to pee coming on again. Seriously? Again? Such a killjoy, this urinating situation in Paris. She puts her hand out to introduce her- self, causing the book she has been clutching to her chest to drop to the floor. They both reach down to retrieve it, causing their heads to bang together.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she’s rubbing her head, and he’s rubbing his.
“It’s okay. What is the saying, great minds think alike?” he says, trying to keep it light.
“I’m not sure there is a saying when two heads knock together.
Maybe there’s one in French?”
“I can’t think of one, but I’ll let you know when I do.”
He offers his hand to her this time. She takes it. He kisses her hand softly. Abby looks around again to see if this is real and to check that someone’s not going to yell, “Cut!” in a strong French accent to stop this wonderful movie that she’s found herself starring in.
“My name is Sylvain. It’s a pleasure to knock heads with you,” he says and smiles and taps his head, inferring that he’s a genius.
“Very cute.” Abby smiles back.
“Shall we?” he asks as he offers his arm for her to take.
“So sorry, I’m on my way to visit one place first. I’ll be back in a flash.” Abby goes to the bookstore clerk and asks where the toilet is. She points to the door and says, “It’s a squat one, though.” Abby smiles and shakes her head, not knowing what that means. Doesn’t matter. She just wants to get this over with and get back to handsome Frenchman number trois.
She opens the door into the cube-sized room, and there’s a ceramic hole in the floor with a pipe to the top and the water basin near the ceiling. “Oh, my word. What the hell is this?” She closes the door and locks it. She takes out her phone and types in, “How to use squat toilets . . .” She’s doing the pee dance, scrolling, and then just throws her phone in her bag.
“Here goes nothing.” She throws one leg over to the other side of the ceramic hole, almost like she would if she were mounting an imaginary horse, then she pulls down her pants, trying to make sure they are not in the way of the impending stream, which feels impossible at this point.
She’s squatting, holding steady, with one hand pulling the crotch of her pants forward tightly, and then releasing. All good so far. She looks around to grab some toilet paper, and there is none. Her bag is hanging on the door hook that is about to fall off, with one screw dangling about. “Good thing this is not a big room,” she says out loud, straining to reach her bag.
With one final hoist of her body, she gets her bag with the one free hand not holding her pants crotch and grabs the tissue pack she now carries with her religiously. In one synchronized superhero-like motion she drops it in the floor hole, pops up on her legs from her squat, and pulls up her pants.
She pulls the long chain, watches the dinosaur of a toilet do its job, and turns to the miniature sink, where she sees a lovely glass bottle of hand soap from La Compagnie de Provence. She laughs as she washes her hands, thinking that, regardless of the hole in the floor for a toilet, there is still a gorgeous finish, courtesy of the French. She gives herself a high five in the mirror and walks out.
Smiling big, she heads toward where Sylvain was supposed to be, but he is gone. Nowhere to be found. Disappeared. As the feeling of being dissed starts to grow inside her, a flicker of François’s face comes to her. He always approaches her with genuine interest, and she realizes that she misses him once again.
If this is why Paris is known as the City of Love, then she totally gets it. She grabs the bookmark with the saying about not being inhospitable to strangers from the front counter and heads out to the riverbank.
There is something in the air on this (in)famous riverbank, and whatever it is, she wants in on it, one hundred percent! But with the right guy. A man selling cheesy light-up plastic roses approaches her, smiling. She buys one for herself and carries it along with her as she slowly walks the riverbank. She sees a sign depicting a man peeing on the stairs leading down to the riverbank with a huge forbidden sign circling over it. The smell of urine is ever-present.
“Ah-ha! So that’s why,” Abby says out loud without realizing it as she takes out her phone to take a picture of the forbidden peeing man sign. An old man sitting on the bench not too far from her says, “The perfume of Paris is Eau d’Urine.” He stands up to leave, tipping his flat cap to her.
“Well, that certainly makes sense,” she replies.
Erin Zhurkin, the author of Plus-Size in Paris, is an American overseas. After climbing the corporate ladder for many years when the expat life came calling, that ladder was put into storage and her creative life came down from the attic. With her creative voice now at the forefront, she’s living life across cultures and being inspired every step of the way.
To date, she’s lived in six different countries, including Ireland, the UK, Russia, and France. Because of these rich and sometimes hard life experiences, she feels called to write stories that resonate across cultures, bringing to light the feeling of dépaysement that occurs. She currently lives in Seoul, Korea with her family and two cats, Coco, and Fifi.
Plus-Size in Paris, buy this book on Amazon.