November 2017. Cape Town.
One Saturday morning, three visiting Parisian girls, invited me to go hiking with them. I know, right?
I played the role of the South African tour guide, prepared to defend the foreigners against any local bandits that, according to the newspapers, roam the cavernous slopes of Table Mountain, but whom I’ve never actually seen with my own eyes.
We successfully summited Devil’s Peak, the Western spire of the Table Mountain amphitheater. I was eager to make a good impression on the girls and thought that something more is required. To extend our time together a little longer, I proposed that we have lunch at a local favorite in Sea Point. A unanimous ‘Yes!’ settled it and we commenced our descent.
We sat down for lunch and placed our order. The girls muttered a few words in French. I watched as their lips caressed and shaped every syllable. I leaned in, eager to be drawn into their conversation.
I thought to myself: What if I told my hair-raising, real-life story of my visit to the Notre-Dame and the night I met Quasimodo? It’s a story from their home city! What a great idea! These Parisian girls would have an impression of me as the entertaining, fun guy that I am! (Insert: No, Pierre is actually a total recluse).
‘Quasimodo,’ ‘Real-life story’… did I mean to use those words in the same sentence? I did! You mean the Hunchback of Notre-Dame? Yes, indeed. Not Victor Hugo’s fairy tale character, but the real Quasimodo!
August 2009. Paris.
At Le Montclaire youth hostel in Mortmartre I met two Americans: Reuben, an artist from Austin, Texas, the coolest dude ever who speaks in a hushed monotone as if he was constantly high, and Kate, a loud and sometimes obnoxious, but ultimately sweet and adorable, queer girl from New York.
Here’s Reuben eating ‘anti-cancerous’ chicken broth…
Here’s Reuben brushing his teeth, with his traveler’s toothbrush, while delivering commentary…
As you can see, the three of us were inseparable. We even shared a bed...
Later that week, I attended a Gregorian chant at the Notre-Dame. I bought my tickets before I met the two Americans and now it was sold out. We agreed that we will meet after the performance, in front of the Notre-Dame.
During the performance, I sat in the front row of the vast, capacious and ghostly cathedral. The sound would travel from the farthest and darkest corners and come to rest on one’s ear, gently, caressing, reminiscent of the comfort that came with childhood lullabies.
I discovered a video I recorded and uploaded to YouTube just a few days after the performance…
Completely spellbound, I stepped out from the womb of the cathedral, back into my temporary tourist life. Underneath the night sky, on the piazza in front of the Notre-Dame, fire breathers entertained scores of tourists. I ambled among the crowds in search of my American brother-and-sister-from-another-mother.
A stout, dark figure appeared in front of me. He wore a black shirt, buttoned all the way up, throttling his neck, on an all-too-warm summer’s evening. Over his shirt he wore an elegant, black blazer and dark trousers.
His large frame loomed over me. I studied his face. Something about him seemed strange. The flame from a fire breather illuminated his eyes. Then I noticed it! His one eye, and eye socket, protruded unnaturally from his forehead.
“Bonsoir”, I said. He nodded. Despite the stout man’s strange appearance, he had a calming demeanor and a warm smile. The Notre-Dame tourists rambled about, oblivious.
…The end of part 1. Onwards to Part 2