I must be about the millionth person to be sitting down at their computer tonight to say the kinds of things I’m about to say. My favourite city in the whole world is in tumult at the moment, and I’m not entirely sure what I can do to help. Pontificating about politics and morality just doesn’t seem like the right thing, as I’m a starry-eyed ignoramus on the other side of the ocean. So I’m going to send love and positive thoughts, and because I’m a writer, I’m going to put something into words. I hope you’ll humour me.
The first time I visited Paris, I was utterly lost. No, I didn’t take a wrong turn in Spain, I was lost in an existential sense. I had a lackluster job that made me feel like I had a head full of steel wool. I was living in a house that felt like it still belonged to someone else. I was creatively stunted. I spent a lot of time coiling and uncoiling, like an angry slinky. It only took about a week in Paris to change all of that. We soaked our tired feet in the fountain at the Trocadero. We found out how big the Venus de Milo’s feet were, and how small the Mona Lisa was. We discovered the biting, yellow miracle that is Tarte au Citron. We felt what it was like to sit at a table and give ourselves over to a slower pace, to the quirks of passers by, and to the simple act of sipping a cup of tea. We came home, and soon after, we quit our jobs, and we moved. Smiling, we blamed our new life on Paris.
The second time I visited Paris, it was as a philosopher. I had my birthday dinner in a cafe once frequented by some of my idols. We visited cemeteries and left thank you notes and flowers for rebels and revolutionaries. We marveled at The Thinker and imitated his furrowed brow. I swooned at Victor Hugo’s writing desk (I swear, I didn’t jump the rope and sit at it) . There was a debate about educational reform with a sandwich vendor, and advice sought from a waiter about how to properly caramelize apples (both in French, I might add). Yeah, it’s cliche for a thinker to find inspiration in Paris, but there’s a reason for that. You can’t swing a baguette without smacking it against something literary, historical, or philosophical. It’s magnificent.
My third visit to Paris was as a mother, and I saw an entirely different side of the city. There were romps in parks and playgrounds that had been around since the Napoleonic era. We gobbled endless warm croissants, and crepes with gooey chocolate creeping out the sides. We retraced the steps of Madeline, practiced our “merci” and bought whimsical wooden toys. I have vivid memories of a toddler in a giggly Marilyn Monroe moment atop a vent near the Moulin Rouge, and of tiny feet dancing in the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower as it twinkled.
Three trips, each with a different purpose, and every one transformative in some way. When a city gets as much hype as Paris does, it seems impossible that it will actually live up to it. But it does, it really does. It’s a little bit sweet and nostalgic, a little bit clever and aloof, and a little bit over the top and opulent. Three times, Paris has sent me home a little more like myself. With any luck, there will be a fourth time, and a fifth, and a sixth. While Paris holds its breath and waits for life to make a little more sense again, I’m going to mentally squeeze all three trips into an imaginary parcel and send it along. It’s the least I can do.
Merci Paris, et je t’aime. Soyez forts et courageux.