I don’t have many meltdowns, do I? Todd, mumbled something which I couldn’t make out. I remembered my dad before a family vacation. I was always certain that our trip would be cancelled but it never was. Now I understood. Leaving one life—even for a short while—for another, is hard when it means saying goodbye to people and pets you love, and work you’re a little entrenched in. But time away is good. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that sort of thing, right? Come on, where’s that sense of adventure Deborah?
Todd woke me early the day of our flight to France so I would sleep on the plane. I slept at most two hours, but before I knew it we were landing in a foggy mist—60 degrees at best, more likely, mid 50’s—in the city I had waited 46 years to see. I was expecting high 70’s. I kicked myself for not packing the black raincoat that rolls into a nice little ball which I had found for a steal, second-hand, for just this sort of thing. And why oh why had I kicked off my comfy ankle boots at the last second in favor of beige suede flats which had not been broken in for heaven’s sake (never never never do this), and pulled the black V-neck out of my suitcase only to replace it with a thin tan cardigan? I was thinking all heat and sun in the south of France, giving no thought to any possibility of a chilly Paris. It was just a minor setback. I blinked back my fatigue, refusing the thought in my head: amateur traveler. I had thrown in an umbrella, hadn’t I? Anyway, I had at least six versions of white sleeveless things neatly rolled. When it warmed up, I’d be set…I felt homesick.
Charles De Gaulle is a lovely airport—airy and not too hectic. Security was a breeze and my Bonjour monsieurs worked like a charm. A man called Mehdi (short for Maharante) rang Todd as we waited for our suitcases and then met us with a sign that read, S Todd (short for my mari, Spencer T). I imagined what it would have been like arriving 46 years earlier to attend the American College in Paris as I had once hoped, with suitcases, maps and euros for bus tokens. Speaking French fluently and living in Paris were part of my plan.
We checked into the quaint little Le Walt Hotel in the 8th Arrondissement. Marie, sitting at a small modern metal desk when we walked through the glass doors, was very kind and helpful. When she told us that she was from Brittany I asked her how she had learned to speak French so beautifully, thinking it was part of England. She stared at me blankly, of course, and Todd corrected my ignorance. (Every day: an exercise in humility). We left our bags with Marie because our room was not yet ready. I zipped my gray fleece up to my chin and took Todd’s warm hand to stroll the streets. I wouldn’t say I was cold, just not warm, but shivered back my lack of sleep, or lack of any sense of orientation. My challenge with shyness always reappears at inopportune times. My throat constricts. My words become strained and foreign sounding (no pun intended)—not the words of a grown woman anyway—not one who has moved as many times as years she has longed to be in Paris.
Our room wasn’t going to be ready for three hours. Todd had read about Rouge Cler, a quintessentially French market that runs for several blocks. He had picked out our hotel to be in this area near the Eiffel Tower and suggested we check it out. “Are you hungry?” He interrupted the conversation I was having with myself.
“Not really,” I answered and refrained from adding, “Can we please go shopping (for what I didn’t bring)?”
“I think we should eat. How about here?” He pointed to a hip looking café—one like I’ve seen many times in magazines and movies and imagined being in. He opened the door and I entered, my head flipping back and forth—droite gauche droite gauche—between the dark wooden bar counter and the small round tables, while the relaxed Parisians around me carried on lilting conversations. I didn’t know where to sit. I didn’t know whether to order at the counter or the table. Not a single word of French came to mind as I was convincing myself it was all because of my emotional outpour over leaving Sam that had left me so ill at ease, and feeling slightly less than five years of age emotionally. I took several more hesitant steps in then made a sudden U-turn out the door.
“What’s wrong?” Todd asked and I shrugged, too embarrassed to speak.
The cobblestoned streets were draped with loaded fruit stands, and a delightful supply of pâtisseries. There was no shortage of cafés. People carried on animated exchanges while sipping espressos and smoking cigarettes. I had not smoked in years and suddenly wanted one badly. We ended up at a cozy place, drinking hot foamy café au laits, devouring still warm, long slim crusty mini baguettes. Steven (his pronunciation, my spelling), our server, warmed my heart with his kindness and patience as I gave a little French a try. He smiled and made me laugh—the panacea for all ills—my mom would say. The chive topped smoked salmon, over a healthy serving of creamy scrambled eggs, on top of two large slices of toasted crusty country bread arrived on a cutting board, with a plate of fresh mixed greens lightly dressed—as only the French know how. It was too picturesque to eat—and I had already eaten half a baguette avec beaucoup du beurre—but I had no problem.
“You were hungry,” Todd said and then added, “I feel stuffed full of bread.” I sat back and took a deep breath, then gathered my books and notebooks (thrown in my bag at the hötel to brush up on French, study the city, write a story), and we spent our first euros.
We walked and walked until we reached L’avenue des Champs-Élysées where there were blocks and blocks of drumming and dancing, and I suddenly felt at home. “Look!” Todd said. “What a welcome! They’ve a parade for us!” We laughed. So it was all good that we had to wait for our room because we discovered a parade sur les Champs on our first day. We had walked right into le Carnaval tropical de Paris 2017. Except for the fact that I was carrying bagzilla (which Todd took over on the trip back) or that my feet and flats were not at all in agreement (I really do prefer heels), it was wonderful—and so many shops! Todd tried to get me to buy some 10€ sneakers to make it back to le Walt, but I was walking the streets of Paris, not a park. I took the pain. Once we had crossed over to the other side of les Champs, the parade made it impossible for us to cross back. We strolled five kilometers and ended up at the L’arc de triomphe de l’Étoile, before making our way back to Le Walt.
After a four hour nap we woke up at 8:30. Todd thought it was the next morning. Beyond the filmy curtain it was bright as daylight. We had to race to Le Carafour across the street to stock our mini bar with cream for coffee, wine, cheese and assorted nuts and prunes. We opened a bottle of wine, showered and got ready for our first 10:00 pm dinner. The sun was just setting as we sat down at La Terrasse across the street from Le Walt. Vincent (vah-son) recommended the special. It was perfect.
My adventure had begun.
July 2, 2017