(Re)Imagining Paris

What can meaningfully be said of an ordinary girl’s first visit to Paris? Not even a girl, really, as she’s lashed to an aging woman. And we all know that there is nothing more ordinary than someone barreling through, at first slowly with the anticipations and delays of youth, gaining speed and thrust on the rails dizzying towards the station. Forgive the tiresome metaphor — it’s inescapable coming so newly from places where trains are such staple — I was going to tell you about Paris.

Paris is, in one word, forgiving. The chorus of ‘pardon’ and ‘excusé’ which clings eternally to the molecules of the city, the foot journey that begins in one neighborhood and meanders harmlessly into uncountable others, original destination erased and continually supplanted, the blur of wealths and poverties amid the boulevards and the metro, the softening of the grand structures along the Seine, all amount to a giant sigh of relief and a free pass towards whatever transgressions might be found within the city.

Even the force of erasure that is the Parisian dog owner pulling fresh leavings from the sidewalk has its place in the sanction bestowed by the city. The easing flow of the language, vowels that clash into consonants, striking one another, instantly muted into that low bubble of eloquence and grace that is French. All of the elements smoothing, mixing, water coloring. Impressions.

Paris is a place that quite suddenly works its way into you, not so much with its shiny spots, though they have their place, but through the reflected light of glories that seep into every alley and gesture, bathing you in filigree, covering you and forgiving you for intruding.

So, what more can I tell you of the thread of a few days in Paris. Of course, I’ll always have it, tucked away for days when I need blending, some permission, lights. I went to Paris as a happy person would, smiling with people and delighting in their kindnesses and rituals. I ate the food and laughingly drank the wine. I touched the streets with light feet that eased me up and down long stairwells, fading into and out of the crowds.

I brought sorrows to Paris, failure, flaws, all there undeclared, trailing me into town and riding by my heels. Loneliness, doubt, grief, all the trappings- all the names- of pain. They were so close, the strands that would stumble me, the pebbles that would turn and fling me into the street, breaking bone and spell, to leave me splayed and thrown from the center. It didn’t happen.

I saw Paris with my oldest friend, someone who has known me since childhood and who has been unfailingly accepting, even when I’ve been unable to reciprocate and have been critical, sharp, cutting. We strolled, aimlessly at times, avoiding the main tourist stations, slipping down the side street, looking for small excitements, talking, listening.

We spoke of our many incarnations, individual forays within the intimate shape-shifting that has been our adult lives. We began as rockers, career girls, clothes horses, cock worshipers. Then, we found divergent roles, far from parallel but intertwined through will and tolerance. She has remained attuned to all that is new in fashion and music. I have tried marriage, only to fail spectacularly at finding a partner who simply liked me. I took on the shape of motherhood while she, basking in that particular indecision, allowed the form to pass. In midlife, we are still reinventing, she as ex-patriot and newlywed, and I as a nurse.

Maybe that is the story of Paris, the small Celtic village refurbished as metropolis, glamor and high life walking alongside the provincial and quiet. It is a city where two old friends can meet and find what they are each looking for. My friend found Prada and I found Galignani, just as we are finding ways to become more like ourselves. I have four words of love soup for Paris – The city discovers you.

My favorite Paris photo

Sketches so far

Thursday night, Paris, France, 15 May 2008

There are some people I want to remember by jotting them down before taking a first nap in Paris. First, the woman on the train to Chicago who is 73, has lived in the same house her entire life and considers Frank Sinatra the love of her life. Eek. Then, the sparkling grandmother traveling cross country on Amtrak, returning home to Washington state where her husband works for Microsoft and where she is a college junior, trying to pass algebra. She knows she has my heartfelt sympathies and support. On the flight to London, my seatmate was a lovely (and lovely) German man who was a fascinating conversationalist and also knew just when to be quiet. And, how could I forget?! The very kindly doctor’s widow from Lincoln, England, who visited with me on the Eurostar, gave me a banana to snack on, and was not offended when I fell asleep across the table from her while we were talking. It was a long trip and I enjoyed almost every moment.

Friday, Paris, France 16 May

Went to the Pompidou museum today and saw the Louise Bourgeois exhibit. Walked all the way from our hôtel, my friend trying to drag me into numerous boutiques along the way and me pulling her out of store doorways. Ever it was thus. She called me late Tuesday night and wanted to know if I was still coming over. So she hopped a flight Thursday evening from Edinburgh and here we are, the introvert and the fashionista. Had we not met and been friends since the age of ten, we might not even get along, so striking are the differences. But we know one another inside and out and she’s the first to hold me accountable and the first to encourage me in pursuing good things. So, I’m thrilled to have her here.

Saturday, Paris, France 17 May

Slept in this morning after a night of listening to some street gangs fighting in the alleyway outside the hôtel. Thankfully there was no killing, but they were incredibly loud and we both were awakened and unable to go back to sleep for hearing them. Took a leisurely brunch and headed back into town. Today we walked even further, all the way into the Opera district for our one afternoon of fashion. I can only take so much oooing and ahhing over clothing before I turn into a truculent bitch who will do anything to get out of the store. I almost got there, just after the one hundredth entreaty to look at a blouse I wouldn’t be caught dead in. So, I have paid my dues to the Paris fashion world.