Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tour de Pink Hat


I’m pressed against a baby carriage that is wedgeded against a metal barrier. A baby is asleep in the carriage. The afternoon sun is bright, and I adjust my body to cast a shadow over the child. Her sweet talcum scent rises from the carriage. The mother, a redhead, is fair and has a long white scarf over her head and shoulders to shield her from the Parisian sun. There is no shade, and I feel my skin burning.
                We are shoulder to shoulder, chest to back—thousands of us. I’ve been standing in Place des Pyramides for an hour waiting for bicyclists to roll over the finish line in the Tour de France race. Across the road, a crowd of Swiss sing a song in German or Austrian—yell it, really—and wave flags.
                The baby is crying and the back of the redhead mother’s neck is red. She has had too much sun. My throat is dry. The boy beside me—he’s maybe eleven—holds a bottle of water in crossed arms. I’d like to ask for a drink of his water, but I’m in Paris and I don’t know this boy. I don’t know anyone in this crunch of a crowd.
                So far only busses, vans and cars marked with ads have gone by. Nesquick weaves down Rue Rivoli. The Swiss cheer when a van labeled “Sky” skids in front of them—maybe it’s a vodka van or something Swiss I don’t understand. A few motorcycles lean around the corner. Somewhere there’s music and singing and drums.
                At Hotel Regina’s top balcony, people have hung flags of England. An Englishman, Brad Wiggins, wears the yellow jersey. Someone could pass him in this final parade, but it wouldn’t be sportsmanlike. The passer would be derided and so Wiggins is the winner even before the finish line.
            The redhead mother has picked up the baby and put a pink hat on her. She is eating a cookie her father has given her. I’d like a cookie, too, and a drink of water. Above us a Ferris wheel turns slowly and in the middle of the square, a golden Joan of Arc in Medieval battle gear sits atop a gold horse and hoists a French flag. Farther down the street is Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine was set up for head chopping. King Louis XV lost his head there and Marie Antoinette, too. I’m trying to keep my own head in this sun flooded horde.
We are all hot and impatient, but the cyclists have ridden over two thousand miles and I can wait a little longer. Besides, there is a breeze and I have gifts in a bag for friends at home. The father gives the baby another cookie. A man pushes me from behind, and I try to stand my ground. When he pushes again, I nearly lose my balance and snap, “Stop pushing. There is a baby here.” I realize I’ve spoken in English and correct myself. “Ne poussez pas, s’il vous plaît!” The pushing stops.
            Around me people speak in French, German, perhaps Korean or Laotian or Vietnamese. My legs ache.
            But now a crane—a cherry picker—rises with a man operating a television camera as big as a baby carriage. I’ve heard that because of early childhood amnesia no one has memory earlier than the fourth birthday. The baby in the pink hat is—what—ten months? She won’t remember the music, the singing, the pushing. She won’t remember the bicycles.
            The cherry picker is in place, the baby carriage camera staring down Rue des Pyramides. It must be almost time. Dear God, please let these bicycles come so I can find water and a cookie. And maybe a pink hat.

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