I know I will never tell anyone I hung out at Starbucks in Paris, but everyone is speaking French here, so this counts as a French café to me. Nibbling on a delicious chicken curry baguette, I check my email. I can’t eat this whole thing so I wrap it up and stash it in my purse. With the coffee coursing through my veins, I’m soon ready to venture out again.

I walk past rue de Sevigne then rue Mahler and it occurs to me—in Europe there are streets named after authors and classical composers, but in America, you never see Ernest Hemingway Boulevard or Leonard Bernstein Avenue. We have names like Hickory Road, Third Street and Jefferson Avenue. Do we respect trees, numbers and presidents more than literature and classical music?

There’s a tall, weird-looking tower far in the distance. It dominates the eastern sky on rue de Rivoli. I decide that’s my goal—to find out what that thing is.

La Tour St Jacques

La Tour St Jacques

Continuing down rue de Rivoli, I walk past a street with an interesting name, rue des Mauvais Garçons. That means Bad Boys Street. Can you imagine saying you live on Bad Boys Street? I read that Les Mauvais Garçons was the name of a tough gang of murderous thieves during the 1500s in Paris. But it’s just not a very frightening name— it sounds like a boy band from Orlando. I glance down the street to see if, in fact, I see any “bad boys.” No, just an old man sweeping off the sidewalk, and a cat staring at me.

I walk past more cafés, lots of shops, and past HMG, the huge five-floor department store on rue de Rivoli. A homeless woman is huddled against the wall with her little daughter and when I give her some money, she smiles up at me and whispers “Merci.”

Finally I’m standing at the base of the strange tower. It’s called the Tour St Jacques. There’s a little park around it. I go to the gate, but I don’t know how to open it. It seems to have three sections. I push on the center part. Nothing moves. I push on the left side. Nothing. I push on the right hand side and it swings open. I look around to see if anyone saw me fumbling like this.

I walk around the tower and read in my guidebook that this tower is all that remains from a church built in 1508. The oddly named Eglise St Jacques de la Boucherie (The Church of St James of the butcher shop) was built by the butchers of Paris to be a starting point for Christian pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostello in Spain. I can just imagine the signs: “Start your fun pilgrimage here! Buy beef to enjoy along the way!” Those butchers had it built in the Flamboyant Gothic style that was already passé in 1508; that’s when the Renaissance style was the hot, new thing.

I sit on the green bench looking up at the Tour Saint Jacques, shielding my eyes against the bright sun. Gargoyles stick out on the top, against the brilliant blue sky. It’s amazing to think how many centuries this tower has survived. I dig in my purse, find my baguette wrapped in a paper napkin. It’s a little stale now and hard to chew. I look around the park. I feel lonely and scared and I don’t know why. It’s broad daylight in a nice part of town.

When did I lose so much self-confidence? Did it happen all at once, or little by little?

My heart is beating fast, but it can’t be because I’m alone. I’m OK with being alone because I love to read. When you read, you don’t feel lonely; you’re busy seeing all these characters and places in your head.

A guy in sloppy brown clothes with a long beard is walking toward me, looking right at me. Time to get up and walk away! He might be a harmless old man or he might just be a serial killer loose in Paris.

Probably everyone knows about the killer, but I don’t because I didn’t watch the news last night. Or maybe I did see the news, but I don’t know the French words for “serial killer” (Is it L’assassin encore encore?). Why am I being so paranoid?