Paris is always a good idea…
I say: “From now on, Paris once a year.”
I had been to Paris for fleeting visits over the decades since I lived there — on business trips, or short layovers, once with my teenage children, and yes it was nice, but not as deeply soul satisfying as this idyll. After years of recurring night dreams of walking its streets, this year I had private date with Paris.
People sighed, “What a marvelous idea…Paris, alone.” But people are afraid of being alone in life, or in Paris. They want to travel with someone always. And, you don’t just say to your partner, “Darling, I’m going to Paris alone.”
Can I convey the dreaminess? My own rhythm, no one to negotiate with. I listened to my heart as I planned each day and was not lonely. Even when I went to the prix fixe dinner at Le Comptoir. The reason I got into this 6-month reservation-wait-listed bistro is because there’s always room for a table for one. At 5 p.m. I strolled in and got the coveted 8:30 p.m. seating for the meal where you dine on what the chef feels like cooking.
I would wake in the morning, get dressed, ride the metro or walk to my destination and plop my ass in a cafe for the famously dreadful French coffee. I read the paper and watched the French go to work. I looked at their clothes, listened to their conversations. I’d watch the tentative tourists address a waiter, “Can I have a croissant?” and how grateful they’d be when he delivered.
I looked for my 20-year-old self and when I couldn’t find her, I let her go. The older me had to make peace with today’s Paris — now extremely multicultural, noisier, more crowded and “cuter.” (The standard boulangerie has morphed into the artisanal baker)
I reclaimed how my youthful experience in France informed my life. I rejoiced in the familiar smells and sounds…the street sweepers with the water rushing down the curb, the ambulance, the metro doors closing. I window shopped sans cesse, every boutique (whether it was for belt buckles, door handles or hair barrettes) designed to create desire. I wanted everything and bought nothing. I sat on park benches, rode buses and metros. I chatted with waiters and shopkeepers. I was fascinated by the Asian women, luxury accessorized to the max: Louis Vuitton shawl, Hermes bracelet, Celine handbag all worn together.
I spent rich, emotive hours in two small gems: Musee de Carnavalet and Musee Nissim de Camondo. Days later, as I waited in line at CDG airport, I asked a woman what she had seen in the Louvre. “Well, I can’t really say, exactly,” she said. Exactly.
Being a tourist is exhausting. I planned two major things each day, in between lots of wandering and cafe sitting. I wrote in my journal. I read Mavis Gallant’s Paris short stories. I settled into new perspective about my life and about life around the world. How I appreciate a culture that values sitting in a cafe, encouraging sociability and introspection.
I am ever mindful of the irony and cruelty of life. A newspaper account of the Ebola death toll with an advertisement for Dior right next to it. We tend to think modern times must be the worst in terms of disaster, but my brother pointed out to me that the world has always been difficult and that, for example, life in the Middle Ages was far worse than it is today with “our” Ebola, barbaric beheadings, human trafficking, climate change, and etc.
So, for one glorious moment, I was riding on top of a bus, thrilled with the sun and wind in my hair, as Paris generously rolled by me: glistening monuments, statues, boulevards, parks, gardens, cafes, shops, buildings each more beautiful than the last, that have stood for centuries, memories of the past, giving pleasure today.
Pleasure is the reason why Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world. I ate beautiful food, I saw beautiful art and buildings, I listened to beautiful music. And okay, I did buy a beautiful thing (or two). I am extremely grateful.
P.S. Won’t you share with us a truly satisfying trip that you’ve taken, either alone or with someone, that really exceeded your expectations? We travel lovers would love to hear and live vicariously your experience.
P.P.S. I’ve left out lots of details of course… But if you ask me in the comments section, I’ll answer you.
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