My meeting of Philippe felt carefully arranged, although it wasn't. The sun was setting at the end of a hot and muggy day. It was early July and I was miles away from home. Earlier that morning I had pulled from my suitcase a yellow scarf, and had taken great care in tying a perfect bow about my neck. When packing I had placed every scarf I owned in my traveling case. I had remembered someone once told me about the French and their affinity with scarves. It was Paris, 2006.
I was seated alone in a park beneath the Eiffel Tower, eating my dinner of pain, fromage et l'eau when I heard a soft voice from behind offer me "melon water". I turned to see a tall man with sandy brown hair and pale brown eyes; he had a gentle smile, and was leaning over with his arm outstretched. He was beautiful. In his hand he was holding a slice of watermelon with which he planned on coaxing me into joining him and his friends. It worked. He told me that he and his friends had been watching me eat my dinner with a great fascination; apparently my nibbling habits were quite humorous.
My class that summer had asked the question "What is beauty?" Is it man made? Was it an element of mystery that was never to be fully understood? Could it be found in the symmetry of a face? A flower? My class on Beauty had ended, and I was alone in the city for a few days. I had accidentally overbooked my return flight after a class trip, and I was tight on funds. My bread was a day old, and I had been refilling my water bottle at local fountains.
During the class I had often run from one place to another; hopped on and off the metro trains, and had even gotten myself lost. I was now prepared to slow down, to make the city something of my own.
Earlier that day I had taken a train out to Giverny to visit Monet's garden. It was among the color blocked peonies and the carefully placed wild roses that I discovered impressionism for Monet was never as random as it appeared. He had thought in color, and it showed. I remember thinking that perhaps beauty was a carefully arranged impression. Later that afternoon while on my way to a cafe, I had plucked a rose from alongside one of Giverny's stone buildings, and gently tucked it behind my ear.
Over the next few days Philippe and I did everything that a romantic twenty-year-old dreams of doing while in Paris: we dined on sunny terraces, held each other on the Pont des Arts, and ate glacé while wandering the city's streets. We sat in the far backs of cafes, speaking of things now long forgotten. When he learned that he was going to miss my birthday (six weeks away), he threw me a birthday dinner, complete with presents. Whatever beauty was, I in that moment was one with it.
When it came time for me to return home, I left Philippe every form of contact information I had. He left me none. My ritual of checking all methods of communication multiple times a day never offered any proof that he had been real: the only evidence I had were my birthday presents. Somewhere within his gifts of a pink belt, an Adidas glow ball, and a silly drawstring bag covered in strawberries, I realized that I had been given a bit more.
It's true that I had hoped that he would call or write, but when he didn't I understood. I had found a friend, but even more so I had rediscovered a part of me that I had thought gone. My year prior to that summer had been a difficult one, and had taken its toll. I often wondered if I could survive another like it. Sometimes the beauty of life isn't carried within us. Sometimes we have to cross an ocean to find it, and when we do, we may find that it comes in the silliest of forms: such as an Adidas glow ball.
I never learned Philippe's last name. I didn't need to. He had been able to give me a glimpse of what I longed to be: happy. What could be more beautiful?