As Chris and I were planning our trip to Paris this year, we were often advised,
“You need to see other parts of France. The country. Get off the beaten track, explore village life.”
Though we appreciate this advice is well meaning, we are not country people. At home, we rarely venture outside of our ten block radius that includes home, work, shopping and more coffee shops than necessary. Our car is mostly used for visiting our horse and the horse is as country – and as dirty! – as we both get. If it was possible, I would keep the horse in our second bedroom and happily exercise her between latte stops at Starbucks.
But anyway after two trips of not “seeing France” and “just Paris”, we decided to add the South of France to this year’s itinerary. It would, we reasoned, ease us into the delightful cultural chaos that is Paris and give us both some much needed time in the sun. Not country, but not Paris either. Rather a sort of stylish sun retreat that has the benefit of absolutely no rustic charm and a well-stocked Galeries Lafayette within walking distance from our beachfront hotel.
I was also familiar with Nice as I had made an unplanned trip in 2003 while backpacking solo across western European. I became sick with the flu in Barcelona and found it hard to get well in a country where you don’t speak the language and where your travel budget limits you to hostels. Hostels where room service means that an illegally working 21 year old Australian may clean your bunkmate’s vomit off the floor before noon. So I detoured to Nice because I spoke the language and it was an included destination on my prepaid Eurorail pass. I arrived in early March and I recovered in a charming bed and breakfast (chambre privé, sale de bain à partager) near Plaza Massena that cost the same as my revolting hostel had in Barcelona. I spent my days dozing on the almost warm beach in my Amsterdam bought bikini.
So now over seven years later, I am writing on a 60 minute Air France flight from Nice to Paris, watching Nice's beaches fade from the window of the plane and feeling rather low about leaving. I am honestly surprised how much we both loved Nice and how it fit with our ideal of seeing the French countryside. Seriously, I have to keep reminding myself I am on a plane to Paris. Paris.
In less than 60 minutes, fifteen months of planning, obsessing and longing will be over.
Despite wishing otherwise, I have rarely thought of anything else but Paris for the last 426 days. And I have reached a decision. I can’t help loving Paris. Even if not loving it, or loving it less, would make my life simpler and less conflicted. I would not wish my affliction on anyone; feeling happy at home and struggling with what home means is a constant challenge. Even more challenging and wearing is the balance of living and appreciating the beautiful practicalities of my day-to-day life while I obsess and yearn for a life in France that may not even exist. Loving Paris is an integral part of me.
And at last Paris! I am writing from the terrace of our rented 17th Arrondissement apartment against the backdrop of a clear, dark purple sky which is illuminated by the top two-thirds of the Eiffel Tower. I feel like I have been waiting my entire life for this moment and for this view. From where I first met Paris in 2003 – the dirty suburban parking lot, the tearful I-hate-it-here call-home- to-Mom – to this stunning 2010 Paris of my dreams.
Paris from this height is peaceful; it’s a Paris that I am unfamiliar with. Instead of the smell of exhaust rising from the cobblestones, I can smell our neighbour’s dinner simmering. Instead of cars honking and ambulances wailing, I can hear the sound of wooden shutters being closed for the night and muffled Parisian voices as they travel upwards to our terrace. For the next ten days, we are living here, in our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky, in the residential 17th Arrondissement, on an Avenue that runs between Arc de Triomphe and Trocadero.
The sky is becoming darker and the Eiffel Tower is lit up in an incredible burnt orange colour. Being the pathetic Parisian sap, I am keeping vigil outside on the terrace waiting for the Eiffel Tower to perform its 9pm sparkle show. Chris, shaving, has already given me instructions to yell at him when the sparkling starts.
I blink and the Eiffel Tower lights up; it’s a show for millions but for tonight, for the next 10 nights, it will feel like its brilliance and how it captures my romanticized Paris is the answer to all my questions of the past 426 days. It will feel like a personal declaration of love. I yell for Chris, he joins me, and we watch in lovestruck silence.
Paris, I am falling for you all over again.