The sound of a ringing phone brought me out of a pleasant dream, but by the second ring, it had faded entirely. My boyfriend, Freck was lying beside me and at first I’d no idea where we were. For whatever reason, the phone wasn’t near us and the ringing seemed to be coming from across the room. I saw Freck toss aside the covers and walk naked as the situation slowly came back to me. We were in Paris, in the midst of a ten-week European vacation that was also Dad and Ken’s honeymoon. Freck reached for the phone, which was on a desk at the foot of the bed, and I heard him answer, “Hello?”, and then he responded, “Yeah, Kyle and I will be down in a few, but why didn’t you call one of us on our cell? The hotel phone isn’t near the bed… Oh, you intended it that way. Gotcha. See you at eight.” Then turning to me, he said, “It’s seven thirty, babe. We have a half-hour to shower, dress, and get downstairs for breakfast.”
“Damn,” I replied as I hauled my naked body out of bed. “I’m exhausted, but it was worth it,” I added.
“Definitely,” Freck agreed.
While Freck took his shower, I brushed my teeth. It had taken some doing, but I convinced the dads that Freck and I needed our privacy while in Paris. After all, Paris was the most romantic city in the world, and we’d already gone more than two weeks without a chance for intimacy. I was only ten, but I had my needs. Therefore, Dad and Ken were making the sacrifice of their own privacy for the week and sleeping in a room with a double bed and a twin, so that Roger could room with them. Freck and I had a double room to ourselves, and we’d taken full advantage of it last night, well into the morning. But now we were paying the price.
When Freck got out of the shower, I jumped in and started washing while Freck brushed his own teeth, applied deodorant and cologne and started to get dressed. In the meantime, I finished my shower and dried myself off, then blow-dried my hair, which was getting rather long. I had no intention of cutting it in the foreseeable future though, as I liked it long. It was down to my shoulders now and I thought I might see just how long I could let it grow. I didn’t need to use deodorant yet and the dads thought I was still a bit young to wear cologne in public, so I joined Freck in getting dressed.
We were staying in an old-world hotel on the left bank, in Saint Germain des Prés in the sixth arrondissement, a quaint neighborhood of small shops and cafés. Although the hotel was rather old and the rooms were small, it included a number of luxury appointments such as heated towel bars – not that we needed heated towel bars – but the overall effect was of understated elegance at a reasonable price. I loved it.
Breakfast was served on the main floor in a separate breakfast room where guests sat at long tables with copies of Les Monde and The International Herald Tribune, as well as other key newspapers from around the world. Dad, Ken and Roger were already seated and they’d saved some seats across from them. Freck, being multilingual as he was, immediately grabbed a copy of Les Monde and started reading about current events. Although I did reasonably well in the languages I’d studied, including Spanish and Japanese, I’d never studied French, nor did I have a desire to. I therefore grabbed a copy of The International Herald Tribune, a joint publication of The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Our server came to the table and dropped off baskets in front of us with an assortment of fresh hot breads, croissants and rolls, as well as an assortment of cheeses, ham and smoked salmon. So this was a real continental breakfast. After two weeks of eating eggs, bacon, ham, baked beans and toast every day for breakfast, it was nice to eat something a bit healthier. The server offered to bring us coffee, tea or hot cocoa. I of course chose the coffee without hesitation, but Freck thought about it for a bit and ordered the hot cocoa.
“Getting a bit of a sweet tooth, are we?” I teased my boyfriend.
“French Coffee is espresso and it’s incredibly strong,” he explained. “Their cocoa on the other hand isn’t from a mix. It’s real cocoa and I’ve heard it’s incredible.”
“Well, strong coffee never hurt anyone,” I responded, “and I need my caffeine.” When the pot arrived, I poured myself a full cup and started to drink it. My God, it was so bitter, I almost spit it out.
Laughing, Freck said, “You’re supposed to drink it in those small espresso cups, babe, and with a lot of sugar.”
I’d been a coffee drinker since I was seven and successfully argued with Dad that drinking coffee was little different from drinking cola. Since then I’d tasted many different varieties of coffee and even some espresso, but I’d never, ever diluted my coffee with sugar or milk. Knowing more what to expect, I took my next sip more slowly and found the coffee to be rich and flavorful. It was definitely a drink meant to be sipped and savored rather than gulped.
When Freck tasted his cocoa, he actually moaned. “Oh my God, this is good. I’ve never tasted hot cocoa like this.” Then turning to me, he asked, “You want a sip?”
Of course I had to take him up on his offer, and he was right. The cocoa was incredibly good. It was rich and bold, but to me it was sickeningly sweet, which seemed even worse than the bitterness of the espresso. “It’s very good,” I commented, “but I’ll stick to my coffee.”
It was a very simple meal, but everything was fresh. The breakfast itself was truly exceptional, but already the temperature was decidedly warm and sticky. The hotel was air conditioned, but as an older building typical of many in Europe, climate control was spotty at best. In London and the U.K., the weather had been comfortable though damp. With daily highs in the low- to mid-seventies and lows in the fifties, we were comfortable in shirt sleeves and never really noticed the lack of air conditioning. Paris was gonna be another matter. With highs in the mid-eighties and unusually high humidity, it would be uncomfortable. By the time we left for Spain next Tuesday, it was expected to be about a hundred degrees. Ironically, it wouldn’t be as hot in Madrid, and at least in Spain they were used to the heat.
Today was only supposed to get into the mid-seventies and Freck and I had dressed appropriately, in T-shirts and shorts with sneakers and low-cut socks. By next week I expected we’d be in tank tops, shorts and sandals. With the exception of some clouds on Thursday and rain on Saturday, the weather was expected to be sunny for the entire week. There was much to see and do during that time, including several museums, not the least of which was the Louvre. No less important, however, were the Musée D’ Orsay, the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, Musée de Cluny, Centre Pompidou, Musée Marmottan-Monet, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais de Tokyo, and of particular interest to Freck, Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine. Although Freck was particularly interested in art and architecture, I was most interested science and hence the two museums of most interest to me were Musée du Quai Branly, which was a museum of archeology, and Musée des Arts et Métiers, which was Europe’s oldest science museum.
Of course there were many other things to see too, including the views from the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre and the Pantheon. There was also Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, Versailles, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and for Ken, Pere Lachaise Cemetery and the Catacombs. We also planned to spend Friday in Normandy, primarily to see the D-Day sites, and had reservations for a tour. The most important site I’d wanted to see, however, was the Notre-Dame Cathedral, but it had been ravaged by fire and wouldn’t reopen for years. C'est dommage, as the French would say.
Freck suggested that since the Louvre would be closed tomorrow whereas most museums were closed today, we should see it today. Leave it to Freck to think only of the museums. Dad pointed out that today’s weather was supposed to be ideal, with the coolest temperatures we’d see all week and ample sunshine. Therefore, today should be an outdoor day. We settled on an ambitious schedule that involved seeing Place de la Concorde, Avenue de Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Place du Trocadero and The Trocadero Gardens, and finishing with the Eiffel Tower. Of course we ended up passing right by some of the museums we’d be seeing later in the week, but why waste time indoors on such a beautiful day? Roger couldn’t have been happier as it meant ideal conditions for his photography of the city.
With Tuesday being another spectacular day, weather-wise, we took in the Montparnasse Tower with it’s breathtaking view of Paris, Montparnasse Cemetery, Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, the Catacombs of Paris, which were incredibly cool, and the Pantheon, which has a crypt where Victor Hugo and Madame Curie are buried. From there we took the Metro to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which it turned out was surprisingly beautiful with headstones and monuments far more elaborate than any I could’ve imagined. Among the famous buried there were Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Frederik Chopin. From there we took the Metro to Montmartre, where we visited the famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica and took in the breathtaking view of Paris as Roger filled yet another memory card with his photography.
Although Wednesday was hot, the dads thought we should continue with outdoor things while we still had the sun, and so we headed out to Versailles and spent the day there. It took forever to see anything though, with Roger setting up his shots and photographing every garden and every room from every conceivable angle. He even claimed he had enough photos to create a virtual tour of much of Versailles that could be viewed with VR goggles. Talk about going overboard.
Thursday was cloudy and it was also the one day of the week when the Louvre was open late, and so we headed straight there. I’d been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York many, many times and so I fully expected the Louvre to be of similar caliber. Both museums were considered to be among the best in the world and they were numbers one and two on a number of lists. Originally a small portion of Napoléon’s palace, it grew to occupy a full wing and eventually it took over the entire palace before running out of space. It was then that the Chinese American architect I.M. Pei was called in to redesign the Louvre, adding new reception, conference, food service, shopping and parking areas without disrupting the original design. As Freck was quick to point out, Pei’s design of a glass pyramid was ingenious. What looked like a pyramid from above ground actually served as a giant skylight through which the underground portions of the museum were bathed in light. Not only that, thanks to the pyramid, even below ground the three wings of the Louvre were always visible.
There was so much to explore of the Louvre and we all had different priorities, so we decided to split up, with the dads going off in one direction and Roger with his camera and lenses in another. That left Freck and me on our own with some twelve hours in which to see one of the greatest museums on earth, and while twelve hours sounded like a long time, it wasn’t enough time to scratch the surface of the collections, let alone see anything in depth. With my interest in archeology, there was a special exhibition on relics of the Hittite Empire, and of course I wanted to see the art of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. It might seem strange that a Jewish boy would want to spend time seeing Islamic art, but I found it fascinating. Of course I was also interested in the art of ancient India, China and Japan. Freck was interested in seeing the Medieval Louvre, which was underground and exposed the ramparts from the original castle, as well as the extensive collections of the art of Europe during the Renaissance and after.
Since we knew there’d be long lines waiting to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, we decided to head there first, before the crowds got to it. We were not disappointed… in the line, which snaked around the large exhibit hall before reaching the famous painting. We did get to explore a lot of art in depth along that way, though. The other must-see artwork was the Venus de Milo, an ancient Greek statue of exquisite beauty. It turned out the Venus de Milo was at the intersection of two great exhibit halls among a huge collection of statuary, and so we had no difficulty getting close enough to appreciate it.
Armed with some amazing apps that catalogued every object of art in the Louvre and showed where to find them, we spent hours exploring as much as we could. The Louis XIV rooms were a real highlight – I’d never seen such opulence in one place before – and I really enjoyed seeing the Medieval armory, which was much more elaborate than even the Metropolitan’s Cloisters back in New York. Freck was thrilled to be seeing some of the work of the most famous artists of all time. We spent only a little time in the museum’s extensive main gift shop. With the limited space in our luggage, anything we bought would have to be shipped back to the States. Fortunately, the books that most interested us were available on Amazon, and for less money and with free Prime shipping. We’d wait to order them when we got back home.
We enjoyed two meals during our day at the Louvre. Although we could’ve left the museum to eat at a café or bistro nearby, we wanted to avoid that and spend as much time in the museum as possible. For lunch we ate at Comptoir du Louvre, a cafeteria-style restaurant located under the pyramid. Although we only had soup and sandwiches, the food was surprisingly fresh and we enjoyed our brief midday break. Later in the day, we had a very nice dinner at Goguette, also under the pyramid, an elegant sit-down restaurant that promised the best that France has to offer, served quickly so patrons could return to seeing the museum. It was quite a splurge, but Freck was paying and the setting was rather romantic.
All-in-all, I thought the Louvre was comparable to New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The Met had a more varied and, in some ways, eclectic collection, but the Louvre was more extensive. The Louvre was significantly easier to navigate, since it occupied a palace that was built over a finite period of time, and I.M. Pei only enhanced the ease of getting around. Although Freck and I had both been to the Met many times and could quickly get to any collection in the museum in minutes, visitors often found the Met to be a confusing labyrinth of different buildings and passageways that were constructed during different periods and without an evident plan.
We didn’t get to everything we wanted to see at the Louvre, but we covered the highlights and had a better idea of what to see the next time we visited Paris, and there would certainly be a next time. As huge as the Louvre was, we never once crossed paths with the dads or Roger. We finally met up with them right at ten o’clock, by the spiral staircase that leads down from the pyramid above. Poor Roger actually complained that he’d filled two memory cards. When I asked him the size of the memory cards he was using and how many photos they held, he said he was using 128GB SD cards that, with 42.4 megapixels, yielded about 2500 raw stills or over two-and-a-half hours of 4K video per memory card, not that he needed video in the museum.
“You shot five thousand photos in one day?” I asked for confirmation.
“And then some,” he replied. Woah, the boy was obsessed.
By the time we got back to the hotel, Freck and I were exhausted, and we fell asleep the instant our heads hit the pillow. The next thing I knew, the alarms were sounding on both our phones and after a brief moment of disorientation, I remembered that today was the day we were going on a tour to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches and other sites. The dads always railed about taking tours, favoring to do their own research and make the arrangements themselves. For Normandy, however, it was difficult to see it without taking a tour for at least part of it, and there were many more options for making it a day trip from Paris by signing up with a tour operator.
Fortunately, the dads had done their homework and the last thing any of us wanted was to sit on a bus all day with only a few minutes of sightseeing at each site. Further, we didn’t need a tour guide to spoon-feed us information that anyone could find on Wikipedia. Instead, we took a high-speed train to Caen, where we were met by our guide at the train station. We traveled by van, just the five of us and our guide, so it really was a private tour. In contrast, we saw a lot of large tours with humongous busses filled with nonagenarians, not that I had anything against ninety-year-olds, but we were able to see so much more on our own.
Our guide took us to all the main beaches where we could still see the ruins of the German defense measures. We visited the D-Day memorial at Omaha Beach and we toured the associated museum, where we viewed a really cool video that showed actual Allied and German film of the invasion, side-by-side. Our guide took us to a really nice, out-of-the-way restaurant where we enjoyed an authentic Norman lunch before returning to Caen for the train trip back to Paris.
We had three days left in Paris and eleven museums left to see – ten if the Grand and Petit Palais were counted together, and half of them would be closed on Monday. The other half would be closed on Tuesday, but that didn’t matter since we were leaving that morning on a high-speed train to Barcelona, from which we’d travel to Madrid. The bottom line was that we couldn’t possibly see all eleven museums and do them justice. Realistically, we could only see six or seven of them. The Branley, the Orsay, the Pompidou and the Cluney were all large museums that could take a day in and of themselves. I desperately wanted to see the Branly, the Cluny and the Arts et Métiers, whereas Freck was insistent on seeing the Orsay, the Pompidou and the Architecture et du Patrimoine. Roger wanted to see the Cluney, the Orsay the Grand and Petit Palais above all else, and Ken insisted in seeing the Pompidou and the Tokyo. Dad was most interested in the Orsay, the Marmottan-Monet and the Arts Décoratifs. It was obvious to me that we’d have to split up and focus on the museums of most interest to each of us, but the dads had grave concerns about either Freck or I going it alone. They were even concerned about Roger, but he insisted that at fifteen, he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. Besides which, I didn’t think any of us were thrilled at the idea of seeing all the artworks as measured by camera angles, so Roger would be on his own.
We tried to work things out so that Freck and I would always be with one of the dads, but we didn’t share the same priorities and there just wasn’t enough common ground. In the end, Freck and I convinced the dads that we were responsible enough to see the museums we wanted to see by ourselves as long as we stuck together. As concessions we agreed that we wouldn’t go anywhere outside of the museums and that we would be escorted to, from and between museums by one of the dads. The trouble was that the Musée du Quai Branly, Musée D’ Orsay and Musée des Arts et Métiers were all closed on Monday, which meant we’d have to see them on Saturday or Sunday. The Centre Pompidou, Cité de l’Architecture, and the Cluny were all closed on Tuesday and could thus be seen on any day. The Branly and Architecture were near each other and so it made sense to see them together on one day, so we chose to see them on Sunday. Likewise, the Pompidou and Arts et Métiers were nearby and so we should have seen them together, but they were closed on different days! That meant we’d have to see the Orsay and the Arts et Métiers together on Saturday, which left the Pompidou and the Cluny to be seen on Monday. Dad would accompany and see the Orsay on Saturday with us, and Ken would go with us to the Branly on Sunday and the Pompidou on Monday. Freck and I would be on our own for the Arts et Métiers, Cité de l’Architecture and the Cluny. The hours were very restrictive, so we’d need to make tracks!
Saturday was a rainy day, but our plans went off without a hitch. We started with Musée D’ Orsay and I almost didn’t want to leave it, but then I’d have missed seeing the oldest science museum in Europe. The Orsay was built in an old train station and the use of the space was ingenious. As with the Louvre, there were period rooms that were exquisite, but the real highlight was the collection of impressionist paintings, which was second to none. I could’ve spent days in that museum. However, Arts et Métiers did not disappoint.
Sunday started out with just as much promise as Freck and I saw the Branley with Ken in the morning and early afternoon. Rather than eating the hotel breakfast, we all went out for Sunday brunch since the museums didn’t open until 11 AM. The Branley was absolutely fuckin’ fantastic – unlike any museum I’d ever seen. Its focus was on primitive arts from around the world, with an emphasis on archeology and anthropology. It was outstanding and easily worth a full day, but Freck wanted to be an architect and so a visit to to Cité de l’Architecture was a must. Ken accompanied us there, then continued on to Palais de Tokyo, planning to meet us at 7:00 when the museum closed. It was then that the worst days of our lives began.
It started innocently enough with a discussion of, what else, architecture. Because Freck wanted to be an architect, I naturally assumed he would be enamored of the architecture of Paris, which I found to be rather charming. Paris was so different from every other city I’d ever seen or seen pictures of, that I couldn’t help but be enchanted by it. I did nothing more than make an innocent comment about the extraordinary architecture of Paris, when Freck responded, “Extraordinary architecture? Are you fuckin’ kidding me? What’s extraordinary about it?”
“What’s not to like about it?” I asked. “It’s so different from anything else I’ve ever seen.”
“What’s not to like?” Freck replied. “For starters, it’s not unique, it’s not original, it’s limited, it’s monotonous and it turns it’s back on the street, sequestering the lovely courtyards contained from public view. With five or six stories, it’s not tall enough to require elevators, not that there’s any space for them, yet too tall for the infirm to climb to the top. By its very nature, it can’t be made accessible to those with disabilities either. One might excuse that if it reflected the development of French architecture over the centuries, but it doesn’t. Paris was redesigned during the reign of Napoléon and most structures of significance were torn down and replaced. Yes, there are wonderful examples of Gothic, Neogothic and French Renaissance styles, but then Napoléon came along and established a uniform code of style that has defined the city ever since.
“But what about the Eiffel Tower?” I pointed out.
“The Eiffel Tower is the one unique architectural statement to define the city in more than two hundred years. Maybe the Grand Palais, but that’s it.”
“But there are modern skyscrapers along the Seine,” I pointed out.
“Are you referring to those drab eyesores south of the Eiffel Tower?”
“And what about the Montparnasse Tower?” I asked. “The views are incredible from the top”
“Not only is it out of character for the rest of Paris,” Freck countered, “but it’s what killed any further change to the Paris skyline. It caused such an outcry that the city banned any further high-rise development within the city, locking in the drab architectural style forever.”
“La Defense?” I suggested.
“The architecture’s cool, but it’s an edge city, built in the suburbs of Paris outside the city proper. In fact the restriction on building height just about ensures that all future development will be outside the city proper, and it locks in a city center populated by elites, surrounded by suburban slums,” Freck countered.
“I think UNESCO might disagree with your assessment,” I replied. “Look at what happened with the proposed Tour Triangle.”
“That was a real shame,” Freck countered again. “A modern forty story tower would have redefined Paris.”
“And destroyed its unique character,” I said.
Sighing loudly, Freck said, “Don’t get me wrong, Kyle. Paris is the only city in the world that can compare with New York for culture, the arts and fashion. OK, London is perhaps the new world center for theater, thanks to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, but Paris and New York are the world’s centers of the arts. That said, Paris is an architectural backwater based on two-hundred-year-old standards and a degree of uniformity that could only have been imposed by the dictator Napoléon. It’s inconceivable that Parisians have chosen to immortalize an architectural style that hides its most beautiful spaces from public view, turns its back on its streets, divides rich and poor and segregates its most disadvantaged citizens in suburban slums. It shuns the disabled and stifles innovation and sustainable development, relegating Paris to a second-tier status from which it will never escape.”
“Second-tier status?” I practically shouted, drawing curious looks from the people around us. “Paris is the very definition of world class, maybe even more than New York. No place has as much old-world charm…”
“For good reason,” Freck interrupted. “Other places may envy its old-world charm, but they can do so much more than Paris can. Paris will never achieve the status as a center for technology or regain its role as a political leader. What international architect would ever come here with the restrictions they’d face.”
“Um, I.M. Pei?” I suggested.
“Yeah, but he didn’t have to worry about the height restriction,” Freck countered. “He just built underground.”
“And the reason that’s a problem is?” I asked.
“There aren’t many places with courtyards where they can build underground.”
“I thought you said that all the old Parisian buildings have enclosed courtyards,” I pointed out. “Why can’t they build under them?”
“Not everyone can build a glass pyramid to let light into an underground cave,” Freck explained. “Look, there’s no reason they couldn’t at least double the restriction on building height. That move alone would lead to new development and a dramatic increase in accessible, sustainable and affordable housing.”
“The affordable housing won’t be in the new development,” I contended. “It’ll be in the oldest, least accessible, least sustainable buildings.”
“And those buildings will be torn down to make way for new development.”
“And a part of Paris would die in the process,” I complained.
“No it wouldn’t,” Freck insisted. “Look at how well air rights management has worked in New York. Rather than tearing everything down, air rights management lets developers build skyscrapers by buying up the unused air rights of the neighboring buildings. That way, rather than building a bunch of high-rise buildings, developers build a few really tall buildings and leave the historic architecture intact. It avoids having high-density skyscrapers as is so common in other cities.”
“And you end up with narrow eighty-story buildings, built on lots designed for the original two- or three-story buildings that used to stand there,” I pointed out.
“And the effect is very, very cool.”
“Not if you live next door to one of those super-tall buildings,” I replied.
Well, what’s important is sustainability,” Freck went on, “and it’s pretty hard to achieve carbon neutrality in low-rise, hundred-year-old structures.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” I countered. “Paris’ climate is much more temperate than New York’s and they use a lot less air conditioning than we do. They don’t need heavy insulation when their buildings are constructed of foot-thick stone exteriors. The old boilers have largely been replaced by new super-efficient models and the water heaters are instant flash-heating models that use a fraction of the energy of conventional systems.
“With a modern glass and steel structure, on the other hand, there is no heavy stone exterior to moderate the temperatures, so you have more extreme highs and lows. Even if you use an ultra-efficient heat pump, you have to pump out all the heat from the sun shining through the glass, and then you need to pump the heat back in at night. Glass doesn’t provide much insulation, after all. I shouldn’t need to tell you that super-tall buildings have a high surface area to volume ratio. The most efficient shape for a building is a sphere, but since that’s not very practical, a cube. And the interior courtyards offer privacy and help to bring the outdoors inside in a way that New York architecture can’t.
“Glass isn’t much of an insulator,” I pointed out.
“Triple-pane windows are very efficient,” Freck countered.
“Not as good as even wood or stone, and it can’t compare with high R-value insulation.”
“What the fuck do you know about architecture anyway,” Freck objected.
“Apparently more than you do,” I replied. I knew it was mean, but I was really beginning to question Freck’s ability to integrate form and function. “It’ll be a long time before you have enough stature to insist on designing buildings your way or no way at all. Most architects are hungry, and that means designing what the client wants, regardless of what you think of it. All said and done, you won’t be able to put food on the table unless you satisfy the customer”
“Are you suggesting I would sacrifice the needs of my clients in the name of style?” Freck asked.
“Yes, Schreck, I think you would.” I didn’t know why it slipped out, but I was steamed and my subconscious made the connection to a name I was sure would annoy him. Little did I know just how much it would.
“You called me Schreck!” Freck practically screamed at me. “All through fifth grade, a group of bullies tormented me by calling me that. It was horrible. I never really got over it. I can’t believe you called me that!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I responded, but then I twisted the knife by calling him the name I knew he hated the most. “I won’t call you that again, Francis.”
Rather than respond by calling me names, Freck simply turned around and stormed out of the museum, leaving me all alone. I was stunned. His storming out of there took me so by surprise that I just stood there for a long time before I even thought to move. What was I gonna do? I tried calling Freck on his phone but it went straight to voicemail. I kept on calling him over and over until my calls stopped getting through at all. Later, I’d learned he actually removed me from his contacts and blocked my number.
The last thing I wanted to do was call the dads after lobbying so heavily to share a room with my boyfriend. In retrospect I should have, as adults have way more experience than kids with relationships. I just didn’t yet realize how much damage Freck and I had done to our relationship in such a short time. I didn’t realize how profoundly the exchange had affected Freck or how quickly he could fall into despair. We’d unleashed unresolved issues that hadn’t gone away from before I knew him. I did briefly consider calling my brother, but quickly dismissed the idea. Again, I wasn’t thinking clearly or I’d have realized that Roger could have helped.
I still had over two hours until the museum closed at seven, and then we were all planning to go out to dinner. I should have gotten the help of the dads right away and tried looking for Freck, but I never thought he’d just plain leave the museum, let alone go very far. I figured he’d show up at closing time and we’d apologize for the things we said, and then go back to the hotel and make up with each other by making love. I never once thought this might be the last time I ever saw him, or saw him alive. Well one thing was for sure – without Freck, I had no interest in seeing the museum. The Aquarium de Paris Cinéqua was nearby, so I decided to wait for Freck’s return by spending my late afternoon there. It was also open until seven PM.
I left the aquarium at 6:45 and walked the short distance to the architecture museum. When I didn’t see Freck anywhere near the entrance, I went inside and enquired at the information desk to see if they’d seen him. With his red hair and profusion of freckles, he was relatively easy to spot. They remembered seeing him earlier but hadn’t seen him since he stormed out. Dejectedly, I went back outside and waited for him by the front entrance, but he never came.
Ken showed up at about 7:10 and he immediately asked where my boyfriend was. He pretty much freaked out when I said I hadn’t seen him since we had an argument shortly after entering the museum. He immediately called Dad and my brother and then both arrived together, scarcely ten minutes later. In the meantime, Ken called the police and asked about reporting a missing child. Later I realized how wise he’d been not to mention that Freck had run out, reporting only that he was missing. Unfortunately, the fact that he was twelve worked against us. Had Freck been any younger, he would’ve been treated as a potential abduction and the police response would’ve been immediate and decisive. A twelve-year-old, however, was treated as an early adolescent and considered to be a runaway unless evidence could be found to suggest otherwise. Ironically, I realized the police were absolutely right in this case.
When Dad and Roger arrived, we realized that no one had bothered to check the hotel and so Ken and Roger immediately headed back there to look for or wait for him. In the meantime, Dad and I went straight to the nearest police station to file a missing person’s report. Whereas we considered his disappearance to be an emergency, the police treated Freck as a teenage runaway. As the officer taking our report said, he’d either show up in a day or two, leave Paris and maybe even France, or be found dead. I could’ve cried.
It quickly became apparent why laissez-faire is a French term. The police weren’t gonna do anything, not even after he’d been missing 48 hours. We were gonna need help from outside the police and we needed it fast. Dad hadn’t a clue how to go about getting it though. His next call was the American Embassy and although it was after hours, a staffer agreed to meet with us. The U.S. embassy in Paris was located near Place du Concorde, near the Grand Palais and the Louvre, and it seemed to take forever for the taxi to get there. In the meantime, Ken called to say that Freck hadn’t returned to the hotel and all his things were still there. I gave a huge sigh of relief at hearing that.
The staffer who met with us was very helpful, particularly in terms of helping us to calm down and not panic. It was she that suggested we have the police trace Freck’s phone, which they should’ve suggested in the first place. Although he could’ve turned off the Find My Phone feature, any use of his phone at all, even for a few seconds, would trigger a ping on the nearby cell phone towers. By putting a tracer on his phone, we could locate where he was at the time of the ping and act accordingly. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t help if he kept his phone off, but it was doubtful that he wouldn’t turn it on at some point… unless he ditched his phone and got a prepaid phone, which was something a runaway definitely might do.
When the staffer asked about Freck’s passport, Dad replied that it was still back at the hotel. But then I had a sobering thought. “Dad, did Ken and Roger actually look inside Freck’s luggage?” Dad wasted no time in calling Ken, who checked with Roger, who was waiting for Freck inside our room. The reply was the worst thing I could’ve imagined – all of Freck’s luggage was completely empty. I had Dad tell Roger where we were keeping our spare cash and our passports. I knew that Freck had a few hundred euros hidden away as did I, in addition to the cash we kept in our wallets. Freck’s extra cash, as well as mine, were gone. So was his passport.
“Well, seven or eight hundred euros won’t last very long,” the staffer commented, “but it would be enough for him to get out of Paris in just about any direction.” Then she asked, “Does he have a credit card or access to any additional funds?”
“He does have a credit card,” Dad answered, but at least in the States there aren’t many businesses that would let a kid use one without an adult being present with the kid.”
“It’s the same here,” the staffer chimed in.
“His biologic parents are quite wealthy,” Dad continued, “billionaires in fact. Freck has substantial funds in his bank account, but he needs a co-signature from his parents or from me, his legal guardian, before he can make a cash withdrawal. By going on-line, however, he could wire money to anyone, including himself.”
“At least an American will stand out over here, particularly in France,” the staffer replied.
“But he speaks fluent French,” I pointed out, “and Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German. He’s very convincing too,” I added. “He could make any stranger believe whatever story he tells.”
“So, he could be anywhere,” the staffer realized. Then picking up the phone, she spoke to someone in a language I didn’t immediately recognize – something Germanic, like maybe Dutch or Flemish. Then she turned back to us and replied, “I’ve contacted someone I know at Interpol. They can expedite a request to locate a mobile phone. The response to a ping won’t be as immediate, but it will cover all of Europe.”
Then pulling out a card and giving it to dad, she continued, “I’d suggest you hire a private investigator, and this is a good one. He’s not cheap, but he can cut through the red tape of dealing with multiple government agencies in multiple countries. He has an excellent success rate, but I have to caution you that very often, when they’re found it’s in a morgue.” I shuddered at the thought of that.
Dad called the number on the card as soon as we left the embassy, and made an appointment to see the P.I., first thing in the morning.
My expectation of what a P.I.’s office should look like was tainted by just about every book I’d read and movie I’d seen. The typical P.I. as per my experience with books, should be middle-aged, overweight and wearing rumpled stained clothes. Their office should be seedy and dingy with stacks of papers everywhere, an old manual typewriter in evidence, and maybe a food-encrusted plate or two under some papers. A secretary, if there was one, would be a hopeless romantic, in love with her boss but resigned to the fact that he’s oblivious to her affection.
The P.I. the staffer recommended wasn’t anything like that. For one thing, he was young – like maybe in his late twenties, and he appeared to be fit and trim. His office was in Forum Les Halles, a very modern, glitzy shopping arcade and office complex near the Pompidou Center that I didn’t even know existed before. There was no secretary, but none was needed. Stéphan Rupeneaux had all the latest gadgets, including an iMac Pro, a color multifunction laser printer, an iPad Pro and the latest iPhone. He sat at a sleek glass desk with hardly any papers in evidence, but then none were needed in an all-electronic office. His dress was casual, yet precise. He wore a yellow polo shirt that had a dull sheen to it and was probably made of silk or a silk blend. His slacks appeared to be of fine pressed linen, and probably were, and he wore designer sandals, with toenails that were obviously manicured.
He greeted us with a warm smile that appeared genuine and asked questions that were probing but not obtrusive. In a matter of fifteen minutes, he understood the family dynamics and had no trouble accepting that Freck was my boyfriend, even though I was only ten years old. He asked us about Freck’s past and why he was no longer living with his biologic parents. When I mentioned his past use of alcohol and marijuana, he responded, “That’s the first thing he did after he stormed out, as you put it. He went looking for a supplier, and I’m sure he had no difficulty finding one.”
When I mentioned Freck’s attempted suicide, he countered, “But it wasn’t really a suicide, was it? In a way, he really was calling out for help, but when he tried to jump from the rooftop of that parking garage, he thought he could fly, but he didn’t care, one way or the other.”
“That’s exactly what he said,” I responded.
“Your boyfriend has unresolved problems,” Stéphan answered. “He still has a lot of pent-up anger and guilt, but more than anything, he’s very insecure. He’s unsure of himself and your argument probably brought those insecurities to the surface. His first reaction was one of flight. By running he could, in his mind, leave the guilt and the insecurities behind. In his anger he could find a new purpose, albeit one that’s short-lived. But in self-medicating, he can simply forget to care about it. Let us hope the cannabis is enough for now. Let’s hope he doesn’t use anything stronger in an effort to escape, or fall in with those who would harm him.
“In terms of where he might go, it’s hard for a young boy to survive in the countryside. Everyone is so suspicious. It’s much more likely that he’d stick to an urban center, particularly a large one. From what you described, he’s exceptionally smart and would know that dangerous behaviors would risk discovery, so I doubt he would try to hitchhike across Europe. As young as he is, he can’t simply walk up to ticket agent, but he wouldn’t need to. Many of the ticketing kiosks accept cash and for those that don’t, it’s easy enough to purchase a prepaid credit card. I think we can assume he wouldn’t use his own credit card or tap to pay with his phone, as then we could track him. So long as he travels within the EU proper, he wouldn’t even need to show his passport to buy a ticket, but he’d have to show one to board an inter-city train.
“The easiest places for a kid to survive on the streets are London, Birmingham, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Berlin. Rome, Athens and Madrid are also possibilities, but the competition from migrant children could be a problem and he’d be wise to avoid them. Of course there are migrants in all the cities of Europe… in the States too… but the problem is much worse in the South. Any further east and it would be difficult to get by without using his passport.”
“You didn’t mention Paris,” I asked. “Are you saying he definitely left here?”
“I was just about to get to that,” Stéphan answered. “My suspicion is that your Freck stayed right here in Paris. As you said, he speaks the language very well and Paris has a large population of street youth into which he could easily disappear. It’s a large enough city that he’d have no trouble avoiding any places you might look for him, and he wouldn’t have to spend his precious euros on transportation. Of course we will contact agents and agencies in the rest of Europe, and back in the States, just in case. However, the majority of our effort will be focused here, as it’s the most likely place we will find him.”
Stéphan asked us if we’d thought to contact Freck’s biologic parents and embarrassingly, we had to admit that the thought hadn’t crossed our minds. Stéphan offered the use of his landline, which we gladly took advantage of. It turned out that Freck’s mother was in Paris right then, and so we called her private number. Not only hadn’t she heard from Freck, but she didn’t even ask how he was. She asked only that we let her know when he’d been found. What a bitch!
Stéphan then outlined what he would do and how much it would cost. With similar cases, the final cost was usually on the order of fifty thousand euros. Occasionally, with a quick resolution, the cost could be much less, but with a prolonged search it could run into six figures. The cost would probably come out of Freck’s trust fund, but I’d have given up going to college to see Freck returned to us, alive and safe. Stéphan asked for a twenty-five-thousand-euro retainer and Dad provided one by bank transfer, right on the spot. He and Ken both carefully read all the documents before they signed a contract for Stéphan’s services.
After leaving Mr. Rupeneau’s office, I felt confident that Freck would be found. Stéphan knew how to navigate the system and to cut through all the red tape. It was just a matter of time.
Obviously, we couldn’t continue our trip, nor was it wise to return to the U.S. We agreed that we should stay in Paris and so we asked the hotel if we could extend our stay. Unfortunately, it was a popular hotel and they were booked solid. Fortunately, Stéphan knew of a neighborhood hotel that was generally unknown to tourists. It was in a convenient area on Boulevard de Port-Royal in the fifth arrondissement and the price was not unreasonable. The room didn’t include breakfast but there were many cafés nearby. We moved into a room with a double bed and two singles, and we waited.
We weren’t at all up to doing any sightseeing, but we desperately needed something to occupy our time. As Stéphan explained, there was nothing we could to do help in the search for Freck, and a lot we could do that would totally mess up his efforts. In a word, he’d admonished us to stay out of his way, but it wasn’t easy. I’d never before realized just how taxing it could be doing nothing.
Every day there was the same routine. We got up, showered, dressed and went out for breakfast. After checking in with Stéphan, we’d take walks around the neighborhood, read, stop at a café for lunch, read some more, walk around some more and go out for dinner. Stéphan kept us apprised and we learned right away that Freck had withdrawn €5000 and used it to purchase an anonymous prepaid debit card at a convenience store. His phone was found the next day when it pinged off a nearby cell tower. We learned from the kid who had it that Freck had sold it to him. With the proper assurances, he admitted that Freck had traded it for pot. Naturally, we bought the phone back but unfortunately, that was the last we heard anything about Freck.
Over the next couple of days, our walks around the neighborhood acquainted us with Parisian life outside of the usual tourist spots. Luxembourg Garden was nearby, along with Esplanade Gaston-Monnerville and Jardin des Grands-Explorateurs Marco-Polo et Cavelier-de-la-Salle, and so there were plenty of places we could go for a nice stroll or to read a book in peace. There were several institutes of higher learning that were close as well, including an elite technical institute that was the French equivalent of MIT. The Paris Observatory was also close by, but not generally open to the public. However, based on my background, we were able to arrange a tour. We were right by a large military hospital and a military museum. The best discovery of all, though was a quaint street known as Rue Mouffetard that began were Rue Descartes ended, near the Pantheon, ran south to where it crossed Rue Pierre Brossolette and became a pedestrian street, and ended at La Place Georges-Moustaki and Square Saint Médard.
Rue Mouffetard was an historic route, but what distinguished it was the constant flow of people. It was a place where Parisians, both native and immigrant, congregated, laughed, danced and had fun. Because of its proximity to so many educational venues, it was heavily traveled by students who gave the street a kind of Bohemian atmosphere. There were shops, cafés, pubs, fine restaurants and convenience stores all along its length, which made it the go-to place in the neighborhood. Saint Germain Des Pres had its shops and restaurants, but it was much more high-end and it clearly catered to tourists. Rue Mouffetard was a place for the people of Paris, and it was a great place to go people-watching. I went there once with Roger for a quick lunch, and then with the dads and Roger for a fine dinner. I also made it a point to visit some of the cafés and to try their different variations on coffee. Some of the owners were reluctant to sell strong espresso to a little kid, but I learned to explain in French that I’d been drinking coffee for more than three years.
The one thing we didn’t realize when we chose the hotel was that it wasn’t air conditioned. Truthfully, the first hotel barely had effective air conditioning either, but it was way better than nothing, which was what we had now. Most Europeans were used to going without air conditioning and putting up with sweating during the hottest days in the summer. They just weren’t yet used to the heat and humidity that came with climate change. Summer was turning out to be a record-setter and downright dangerous. On Monday, the temperature reached 99 degrees with a heat index well over a hundred. On Tuesday we set an all-time record for Paris of 108 degrees Fahrenheit, with a heat index above 120. And there was no escape. The department stores were overrun, museums were packed, anything that was air conditioned was wall-to-wall people, which defeated the purpose of going there in the first place. People were swimming nude in all the fountains and in the Scene. Nearly a hundred died of heat stroke and its complications. And Freck was still missing.
By the time Wednesday rolled around, I was beside myself. We all were. It had only been three days since Freck disappeared, but three days is an eternity when the one you love is missing. And still there was no new information. Stéphan was busy going all around the Paris metro area, to places where runaway kids often congregated, and he was talking to dealers who might have sold Freck more marijuana. He was also in contact with other P.I.s throughout Europe who were helping to look for Freck in other cities. He was constantly checking with local police, with Interpol and scouring local hospitals for unaccompanied boys.
It was that evening when we were all at a local pizzeria and I was enjoying a smoked salmon pizza that was wonderful, when Dad got the call I’d hoped to never experience. He simply said, “I have to meet Stéphan,” from the look on his face, I knew it wasn’t good, and why didn’t he ask us to go with him?
Swallowing, I asked, “Is it Freck? Is he in the hospital? Is he dead?”
Sitting back down and taking my hand in his, he said, “The police found a body matching Freck’s description, but that doesn’t mean it’s him. After all, we cast a wide net.”
“Dad, I’m going with you,” I emphasized in a steely voice.
“I don’t think that’s wise, son,” he replied.
“I know it’s not wise,” I agreed, “but it’ll be worse if I don’t go with you. I have to do this, Dad. I’ll let you go in first… that way I won’t hafta see some other kid’s dead body, and I won’t hafta deal with the uncertainty when I see him. But if it is Freck, I need to see his body with my own eyes.”
Nodding his head, Dad paid the bill and we all left the restaurant, the uneaten pizza left on the table.
The trip to the morgue seemed to take forever, even though it was a short one. The longer it took, the queasier I felt, almost to the point I thought the pizza might make a repeat appearance. I was consumed by dread at the thought that Sunday might have been the last time I saw my baby alive. I didn’t want to remember him as a dead body, yet I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t see him one last time. I’d regret it for the rest of my life.
Dad said it was more likely some kid with red hair and freckles who didn’t even look like Freck, but how many red-headed, freckle-faced twelve-year-old street kids could there be in Paris? No, I was resigned to the fact that this really was Freck. This was the end and I didn’t know how I was gonna go on.
Finally, we arrived and and Stéphan met us outside the morgue, and then he and Dad went inside while the rest of us waited in the hallway. It took much longer than I’d expected and then finally Stéphan and Dad came out. The tears in Dad’s eyes revealed the horror that was about to consume my life.
“It’s not him,” Dad said in a somber tone with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’ve seen many dead bodies before, as most doctors have, but it’s a bit of a shock when it’s someone close to you. Everyone looks different in death than in life, and at first, well, I thought it might be him. But then I paid more attention and I realized that the body was from someone much older than Freck. Freck looks young for his age, and he’s short for a boy entering his teens whose voice has already changed. This boy had facial hair! Our hair continues to grow after death and even if the deceased had just finished shaving immediately prior to death, they’ll end up with a five o’clock shadow. His shoulders were wider, he had more muscle definition and he was a fair bit taller. This was a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boy.”
“But it looked like him,” I replied, still having been so resigned to Freck’s death that I couldn’t believe it wasn’t him.
Shaking his head, Dad answered, “No, it was a red-haired teenage boy with freckles, but it wasn’t Freck. This boy didn’t have nearly as many freckles as our Freck. There was also a surgical scar where he’d had his appendix out. Freck never had surgery. It wasn’t him, Kyle.”
I couldn’t help myself. I threw myself into Dad’s arms and buried my face in his chest and balled my eyes out. It had been one hell of an emotional roller coaster, but Freck was still missing and because of that, the tears still reflected my grief.
Not that it was even on my mind, but even if we did manage to find Freck tomorrow, there’d have to be substantial changes to the trip itinerary. We were supposed to spend a week in Spain, Portugal and southern France before heading to Italy via Switzerland. The next time I saw my boyfriend, I was gonna pummel him for wrecking our vacation.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay preteen and teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. Some of the locations described are real locations, and some of the characters and organizations described may bear a strong resemblance to real individuals and organizations; however, this is a fictional story and should be taken as such. The author retains full copyright.