I feel I should write this quickly, before the good memories recede in a more permanent way. As it is, I don’t have any of my own photos to share – my first trip to Paris, a solo one, is entombed in a photo album somewhere in the apartment that I can’t divine. (My second trip, my 30th birthday present from J, was recorded digitally and enshrined in a place we thought would be accessible long-term. Nope.)
The first trip: Crêpes bought expressly to warm my hands, a toy toaster purchased at Galéries Lafayette for my then two year old nephew (who is now 20), being told “Mademoiselle est très gourmande!” by my table companion, a stranger, at Chartier, because it was lunchtime and I didn’t skip a course, the youth hostel I was too old to stay in and the ridiculous union suit I used as pj’s which made using the coed bathroom infinitely more difficult. The hot chocolate and baguettes for breakfast at the hostel. The need to lock everything up when I left for the day, and the dread on my last night when my bunkmate discovered bedbugs in her sleeping bag. My outing to Théâtre de la Ville to see a modern dance performance, and my starving belly when I came out and realized Paris was not a place for late-night dining (or at least it wasn’t then), and my subsequent discovery of Pizzeria Karaoke in the Bastille, which, by the hour I got there was mostly bad neighborhood disco, but they decided to serve me a pizza anyways, which I consumed as drunk patrons staggered out of the disco in the back, groping each other, barely registering anyone in the dining room (I was the only one). My pilgrimage to Pause Café, which I knew from the movie Chacun cherche son chat, and where I sat with a beer and a soup to write my postcards. The bistro nearby where I stopped for a proper dinner another night, eating a plate of salmon so exquisite I asked the waiter how it was prepared, not expecting he would drop everything and stand by my table for a full ten minutes giving the play-by-play, which exceeded by far my French comprehension (and I studied it for twelve years). My night at Théâtre de la Huchette, known for its long run of an absurdist play by Ionesco, The Bald Soprano, which I had read for a book report in the fourth grade, but never seen live. The evening I showed up for a modern dance class at Centre de danse du Marais, a large building with studios named for composers surrounding the courtyard, and the teacher did not find out until the end that I was a tourist, and I walked out chatting with another woman who had been in the class, who worked for the power company. The intense longing to share the experience intricately tied to a need to have the experience be uniquely my own. The savoring the experience of a world capital while I was still living in a small town, but yearning to move to another world capital. The not knowing that in the space of less than five years, I’d return to Paris with my future husband J (then my boyfriend of one year) and stay in a proper hotel with a proper view of Parisian rooftops and visit museums and again buy crêpes to warm our hands because it was February again and we’d borrowed some magical book from the library which led us to not have one bad meal the whole trip, and the Louvre, and the Métro, and the Luxembourg Gardens and the Musée Picasso and the falafel and the lychees we bought on the street near Notre Dame that cause me to think of Paris whenever I buy lychees and the bag of croissants bought on our way to the airport which fell down in the street, spilling its precious cargo, mocking us for leaving so soon.
At no point did I ascend the Eiffel Tower. I figured I would be back and I’d do it then. I don’t know, I don’t know. Antiquities in Syria are now rubble, as are the Buddhas in Bamiyan, which had lasted thousands of years. It is hard to count on the Tour Eiffel. It is hard to count on anything.
Paris, my heart sobs. I’d say more in French, but I don’t really speak it anymore. It hurts too much. I’ll let Robert Desnos speak for me:
Le dernier poème
J’ai rêvé tellement fort de toi,
J’ai tellement marché, tellement parlé,
Tellement aimé ton ombre,
Qu’il ne me reste plus rien de toi,
Il me reste d’être l’ombre parmi les ombres
D’être cent fois plus ombre que l’ombre
D’être l’ombre qui viendra et reviendra
dans ta vie ensoleillée