May 11, 2010
I have been dragging my heels about writing here of Paris. Why? Because, quite frankly, my experience did not live up to the myth I was seeking: Ah . . . Paris in spring . . . .
The fact is it was freezing. The wind was blowing like a angry god hurling bolts of frigid north sea chill, and the Parisian distain was in full bloom.
I know, I know, there is the on-going debate: Are the French really distainful of all that is not French, or is it rather the parochialism of the clueless American that makes it seem so? I heard well-reasoned accounts of why this schism is neither’s fault, but the reality was, I happily departed Paris.
My mother and father loved Paris. I wondered, as I wandered Paris, what that attachment was about—some romance of feeling attached to a moment of surprise and laughter? One great evening in a cafe?
I will never know, so I am left to speculate.
I think my parents loved to eat and drink and smoke and talk, and this fits well with Paris. I think they appreciated beauty in all its forms, and beauty is everywhere in Paris.
I think, also, the memories they attached to their Paris sojourn nearly sixty years ago and the romantic notions fostered by media and myth converged over the years, coloring their story in such a way that Paris rose above other places as shiny and separate. They often told my brother and me when we were children that they were spit on by some in Paris just six years after World War II had ended; they said they were welcomed with warm embraces by others. Paris could have become in their stories a place of resentment and disgust, but instead the narrative they wove was one of enchantment.
Perhaps it was my search for their enchantment that clouded my own experience of the place, or perhaps it was simply the chilling cold. I could never get warm, and perhaps it is that metaphor itself which captures it all.
Whatever the case may be, I left Paris on a bullet train for Brussels relieved to be going.
Yet even as I sped away I wallowed in remembered elegance, the city’s bold arrangement of avenues, its graceful architecture, the precision of waiters, the perfection of wine and cheese, the sheer happiness flowers brought to my heart.
So perhaps, dear reader, on longer reflection, like my parents, I will attach to Paris a story of delight. Our lives do become the stories we tell. What story will I mine from my varied experiences in the streets, cafes, and shops of Paris once I settle back into an American life? I can not say, but knowing that the power of story is everything, I will be conscious of the meaning I ultimately attach.