Meeting a friend for the first time in Paris on New Year’s Day

Me in Paris on New Year's Day, 2018 in front of l'Arc de Triomphe

One of my favorite friends is a girl from France that I met randomly on Facebook. Eight months later, we got the chance to meet face-to-face in Paris after my boyfriend died.

Trying to snap a picture in front of the traffic circle around l’Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France. New Year’s Day, 2018.

The internet – land of the trolls, home of the fake. We’ve all interacted with strangers commenting on public Facebook posts and thought, “Man, what’s wrong with people?!” Then there are those people who add enriching or entertaining comments and we’ve thought, “I bet they’re so cool in real life!” Sometimes our curiosity gets the better of us and we might even peek at their profile to see what kind of person they might be. But there’s always going to be those miserable people who enjoy arguing for no reason.

Trolls love stirring the pot from under their rocks.

I had a memorable encounter a few years back on a post from Le HuffPost, the French version of HuffPost. It was an article about a roadside café in a little French town that was accidentally attributed a Michelin star meant for a #restaurant in a different town in France with the same name and street name. I have a bachelor’s degree in #French language, and I was stuck on the name of the restaurant and couldn’t figure out what it meant after doing my own research. So I commented asking if someone could explain what the name of the restaurant meant. Cue the trolls. A rude #American girl argued with me saying I was a “know-it-all” and that I should stop pretending to know everything about French. She made no sense. I explained that I KNOW I don’t understand, and if she can’t offer an explanation, kick rocks.

The sweetest girl named Anthea responded and explained simply what the name meant and why I didn’t understand. As it turns out, she is a grammar nerd like me! The sign was grammatically incorrect, and the entire phrase should’ve been hyphenated to mean “word of mouth.” Otherwise, it’s a literal word-for-word translation meaning “mouth to ear.” You know, like when people don’t use an apostrophe on a business sign, or use one when they shouldn’t? That’s what happened. I thanked her for being kind and patient enough to explain it to me.

Forget the rude girl. I started speaking to Anthea in French and thanked her. We ended up becoming friends!

Anthea quickly turned out to be one of my favorite friends and we’ve both learned a lot from each other since. I had been dating a man for about three and a half years at that time. About eight months after Anthea and I became friends, he had died unexpectedly at the end of October 2017, and I was devastated. He wanted badly to take me to #Paris someday as a reward after I graduated with my French degree. Two of my sisters thought it would be a special gift for us to go to Paris together for New Year’s Eve as a tribute to him. So we got our passports and two months later, we were together in Paris on the last day of the year.

I knew Anthea lived in #Dijon, which is east of Paris, and I wasn’t sure if it was possible for her to get out to Paris that quickly for a holiday. But what a special gift, she arranged to be in Paris so we could finally meet face-to-face for the first time! On the evening of New Year’s Day in 2018, my sisters and I visited the Jardins des Tuileries, we drank vin chaud (hot wine) at Place de la Concorde, and then we strolled down a rainy Champs-Élysées under the twinkling holiday lights that glistened in the puddles on the sidewalk. The buildings were lit up with lights, everything looked like it was glowing. We reached the Arc de Triomphe at dusk and tried to take photos from across the street despite the hectic traffic in the background. The site itself was closed for the #holiday, so we planned to meet Anthea in the tunnel below.

The concrete stairwell leading to the tunnel underneath the traffic circle where the Arc stands is etched with the words “Passage du Souvenir” which means “Memory Lane.” The tunnel passes through a large space below with built-in seating ledges along each side and the entrance to ascend the Arc tucked in the middle . We sat across from the Arc entrance so it would be easier for Anthea to locate us in the crowded tunnel. I remember sitting with my sisters, talking casually over the noise as I was leaned to the edge of my seat, keeping a lookout both ways for the friend I’d never met.

Subconsciously, I did notice a girl emerge from the tunnel wearing a dark pea coat, black tights and beret on her thick, brown hair, and a huge, woven scarf warmly covering her rosy cheeks and face. As my sisters stopped chatting, I hadn’t even noticed the girl had approached and stopped in front of us. “Ashlee?” It was her! This beautiful girl, so French, was my sweet #Facebook friend! How happy I was to finally meet this wonderful person! I introduced my sisters and off we went to pick a restaurant to have dinner.

We walked along for twenty minutes, just chatting and catching up, talking about my boyfriend’s recent passing. We stopped and looked at menus here and there, and we finally settled on an Italian-style restaurant. The inside was white and clean with silver and black furniture, very few people at that time. We enjoyed girl talk as we looked over the menu, and then ordered some #prosecco for a toast to our friendship.

I love #pizza and I enjoy trying out different pizzas at different places. Naturally, I was intrigued to try an Italian-style pizza at a restaurant in Paris. So I ordered a spinach, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomato pizza (my favorite!), which to this day, is still one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. My sisters had a simple cheese ravioli and Caprese salad. The #food was classic and simple but with rich, robust flavors, very well prepared! Anthea ordered a decadent chocolate dessert that I wish I had photographed because words can’t describe its magnificence!

My jaw dropped at the end of dinner when I saw a woman enter the restaurant with a happy husky on a leash! I learned that day that restaurants in Paris are mostly dog-friendly! Seeing the #doggo in the restaurant and learning that little fun fact about Paris was the icing on the chocolate cake.

There was only one server working that night and he was hustling hard as the place started filling up. Despite social etiquette in Europe regarding tipping, I put five euro in his hand and told him it was because he was working so hard on a holiday (but I guess also because I’m #American).

And true to form as a woman whose master’s degree is in the history of art, #culture, and heritage, Anthea gifted me a few items that represent her region, Dijon. These mustards were so flavorful, but you can imagine the treats were a scrumptious surprise! It was such a precious evening, such a lovely dinner together meeting a beautiful friend. I was so caught up in the moment that none of us thought to take a picture with Anthea! It’s funny but I still regret it. The only photos I have of us together are screenshots of us video chatting.

This was a trip where I learned I need to take more photos, no matter what’s happening or where I am.

I was still only two months out from losing my boyfriend and still in a daze, not to mention I actually walked around Paris for 4 days with pneumonia. Even as a photographer, I had too much going on to think to take a photo. But I was so happy to meet my friend and to enjoy a moment that seemed like the culmination of a decade of studying French language and culture, and a lifetime of wanting to see the world. The least I can do is write about it. I guess I’ll just have to get back out to France to get my picture with my friend! Time to dust off the old #wanderlust wheels and fly.

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