A Tale of Two Cities

a tale of 2 cities

I was born in the USA and for as long as I can remember I’ve always felt like an alien who didn’t quite fit in. This is partly to blame, I suppose, on the fact that I was raised in a military family and was constantly pulling up roots and moving every year or so, while growing up. As an adult, I kept up this pattern. I’ve lived in or near some of the largest cities in the U.S.—Houston, Philadelphia, and the New York City area.

I feel comfortable in large cities because they afford me the anonymity that I, an alien, crave. No one looks at you “funny” and as long as you don’t hold a stare for too long, you are left alone.

I recently visited London and Paris. I had long dreamed of visiting these places as they have lived in my imagination for years from reading books. Using the subway systems of Philadelphia and New York City, primed me for the London Underground and the Parisian Metro system.

On one of my many excursions around London, I descended the steps into the underground, and encountered a smiling, red-faced uniformed attendant.

“Hello!” I said.

“Hello!” he returned.

I inquired about the best route to get to my destination.

“Take the Circle Line to Baker Street, transfer to the Jubilee Line. Get off at Southwark and it is only a short walk to the Globe.”

“Thank you!”


This was typical of my experience in the London Underground— easy to navigate with friendly attendants and patrons who were willing to answer questions.

When I arrived Paris, I approached a Parisian Metro booth and spoke to one of the attendants.

Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?”

Un peu.”

Although I did not speak the language, I was able to communicate well enough to find my way using a few words and hand gestures. Perhaps the incongruity of being in a strange land made my existence in Paris somehow congruent. I felt at home at last.

On one of my last days in the city, I sat outside the Café de Flore on Boulevard Saint Germaine, enjoying a glass of red wine. A Frenchman, who took the table next to mine, lit up a cigar, and then glanced in my direction to ask if the cigar smoke offended me.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I understand that people who sit outside often smoke and I am not offended.”

He nodded and smiled. He puffed on his cigar a couple of times and we began chatting, he in perfect English. We talked for a long time about a wide range of events including the recent terrorist attacks. I mentioned the increased security around the metro. He shared that he had just spoken to his daughter who lives in the neighbourhood where the attacks occurred and she felt safe using the Metro System.

“Yes,” he cautioned, “but the police and soldiers cannot be everywhere. You have to be vigilant. In effect, we have to be responsible for our own security.”

While sitting outside, we watched many police vehicles drive by with sirens blaring.

“Something’s going on,” he said. “If a car were to pull up in front of us right now and gunmen alighted and started shooting, what could we do about it? Nothing!”

He was right of course. So I concluded that the French are a little fatalistic about such things.

C’est la vie?

I travelled to London and Paris by myself because I needed time to think about my life and my absurd existence. With only myself for company, I walked the cobblestone streets of Montmartre and the rain-swept pavement of Trafalgar Square in London The encounters I had helped me believe in the possibility of happiness and hope for humanity. A big smile and a hello or bonjour broke down the normal barriers humans erect, especially in urban areas.

You can be anonymous, but by using the universal language of a smile followed by a greeting, you can touch and be touched by the human heart.


A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.
– Phyllis Diller


©Benn Bell 2016 @ Ghost Dog


Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

52 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities

  1. Hello Benn,

    This was beautifully written, I read it with a smile on my face.

    Most of my travels have been solo. Basking in my own company gave me time to notice memorable details of the new cities I visited, the peculiarities of the people and their culture.

    I’ve learned that we are all the same, we might speak different languages but we say the same things and feel the same emotions.

    Just like you, “The encounters I had helped me believe in the possibility of happiness and hope for humanity”

    Thank you for sharing your experience. 🙂

    Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nedoux, I’m happy you enjoyed reading.

      @ Basking in my own company gave me time to notice memorable details of the new cities I visited, the peculiarities of the people and their culture, yes, I’ve found this to be true too.

      We all enjoy it when chance encounters with strangers turn out to be memorable. Benn had a good time. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love those Once In A Lifetime conversations you have with people when you travel. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a charismatic older Jewish, New York born and raised lady when I travelled on the train from Washington DC to NYC about 10 years ago….as we were talking, I began to cough violently and she looks at me wryly and goes, ‘Don’t die’. Her humour was so totally me. Anyhoo back to you, kudos for travelling on your own, I always have to give props to people who do that… Ps the cigar smoke would have bothered me, in fact if we were to trade place I’d never have got chatting to the older man coz the death stare I would have give him when he lit up….Meeeeehn
    ( :

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I have found that traveling by myself in foreign lands brings out my own humanity and feeling of connectivity. I am more open, and people respond in a similar way. The smile is the gateway 😊
    Thank you Benn.
    Great share Timi.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Derrick, it was Benn who made the trip. I think he enjoyed it very much.

      Whenever I visit London, I find the Underground easy to navigate. I suppose the same could be said for the Metro in Amsterdam, although language might be a barrier …. a small one as most people speak English and a smile and hello, can get strangers to answer your questions. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes I take a scowl as a challenge, figuring it’s protecting an unhappiness within. And there are times my smile and a simple friendly statement about the weather or a hope the day goes well for you unleashes, if not a smile, at least a nod of connection

    Love New York and London and Paris. Fun to revisit with you. Thanks for sharing..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I agree, a nod of connection, is still an acknowledgement. Sometimes a smile doesn’t disarm, but I think we shouldn’t stop giving it XD

      I’m glad you enjoyed journeying with Benn!


  5. smiles open a lot of doors,; doors to a new beginning; doors to friendship and ease from the mundane emotions that clouds us daily as we walk the road, especially when in an environment where your smile is met with a smile unlike some part of we naija, a not carefully calculated smile can earn you a great abuse……nice one Benn Bell. thanks for sharing

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I love stories like this. The weird pleasure if meeting a stranger, connecting with him or her with a smile or ‘hello’, conversing like you have known for ages, and parting with a handshake and ‘bye’, knowing fully well that you might never see each other again.

    I’ll love to visit Paris and London someday too, Benn. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy opportunities like this around me: those that afford me the scent of pleasurable engagement with strange faces and places. Thanks for this, Benn.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. This was fantastic, Timi. Explaining why you find places around the world “welcoming” and why you feel more comfortable in big cities let us onside your life and emotions. Thank you, Benn. You shared this allowing us to read a personal story and I will enjoy smiling at both of you. Distance bringing us together. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Post on point. I was just thinking about the power of a smile few days ago– it’s ability to break down barriers.
    I’ve often began conversations with total strangers just by smiling and it’s been awesome so far.

    Methinks a smile a day keeps the loneliness away.

    Great post Benn 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

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