To my beautiful, magical, wonderful City of Light:
I’ve felt a sadness sneaking into my days over the last few weeks. It’s in the background, this melancholy, like a lingering goodbye. I wander the streets of Paris and think about the things I will miss most about this magnificent city that I have loved.
Of course, I will miss the light. Paris is the City of Light, after all. There’s a softness to the violet-blue of the day, and a gorgeous tinge of pinkness that starts to take over at the end of the afternoon. By sunset, everything turns an almost violent orange and pink. And then, after twilight the sky turns indigo. It’s a beautiful, tranquil, dark blue that reminds me of a big, old blanket. And all the street lights flick on in the evening, creating brilliant stars of white light along the streets and boulevards. This city feels magical, no matter the time of day.
Without a doubt, I love the people more than anything else. My husband and I have the best neighbors we’ve ever had in our lives. We’ve been to dinner at each other’s homes more times than I can count. We kind of alternate, back and forth, but each time, the meal centers around the beautiful wines that Olivier and Miriam bring over. We talk and laugh, and we enjoy each other’s company. Even the teenaged boys, Antoine and Nicolas, cancel their plans when we decide to have dinner together. This, in my opinion, is a modern day miracle: no iPods, iPads or cell phones whipped out at the table. Just all of us, talking and laughing together for hours. It has been a wonderful year, sharing the floor of our building with this beautiful family.
I don’t know where we’d be without our best friends here: Florence and Pascal. They are the most loving couple I’ve ever met. And they are not only loving with each other, but with us as well. We cherish our time with them. Pascal and Leon share a passion for vintage cognacs and they always manage to end our evenings together with a glass of something spicy and special. Florence is amazing. She’s a supermom to all of her children while working full-time and making everything look effortless. The time that I have together with Florence is time that I cherish. She is truly a kindred spirit. The thought of leaving her always brings tears to my eyes.
Then, there are the guys at Mon Bistrot. Yann, the chef and co-owner, is a mad genius of the culinary arts. Franck, the other owner, runs the front of the house and always slips us a little something wonderful from the bar at the end of the meal. Julien is our waiter. We don’t even have to ask for him. Everyone just knows that we MUST have Julien. He is like our lucky charm, and we love him. Leon and I have even had Julien and his beautiful wife to dinner at our place. And Etienne is Julien’s partner in crime, helping keep every table on track and happy. These four men make up the magic of our favorite restaurant in all of Paris, and I consider them “my guys.” I am going to miss my guys terribly when we leave this afternoon.
I have this friend Lucy, who works at our favorite boulangerie, Julien’s. This darling girl gave me French lessons every time I came into the shop when I first moved here. Even now, when she sees me, she squeals, starts waving and gives me kisses — one on each cheek, very French.
My other beautiful shop-friend, Serap, works at the corner Monop where I buy my groceries. She and I always greet each other with kisses. Every time we see each other, my day is automatically better by at least 20%. When the terrorists attacked last November, I didn’t see her for almost a week. I was so worried that something awful had happened either to her or someone she loved. When we finally saw each other, she came out from behind the counter to give me a long hug. She whispered into my ear that she had been so worried about me. I’ve loved her ever since.
I’m also going to miss these two homeless men that I bring lunch or dinner to every couple of days. They each have beautiful, well-cared for dogs that they love with all their hearts, which is, of course, what made me start to care so much for them. Now, whenever I walk by, their eyes light up, and they get big old smiles on their faces as they pop out a happy “Bon jour, madame! Comment ça va?” and we chat for a bit as we pet each other’s dogs. One time, I only had one of my dogs with me because Molly was down with back pain. One of my guys asked where she was. I told him that Molly was at the vet — that her back was very bad. For weeks afterward, he took special care with Molly whenever he saw her. He would pet her gently and speak soothingly to her. And he would always, always ask me how she was doing. I love these guys. I’m going to miss them, more than I ever imagined was possible.
There is a gentility to the people here, a graciousness and formality that is respectful and intimate at the same time. Just the ritual of looking into each other’s eyes and saying “Bonjour” whenever you encounter someone on the street, in a shop, wherever. It creates a connection from one person to the next that makes you feel…part of the world. I know it’s a small thing, but it has huge repercussions. Trust me. I’ve seen it work its magic over and over. There is a connectedness here that I don’t feel anywhere else.
Aside from the people though, I think the thing I will miss the most is the amount of life you have in your life here. In Texas, each weekend was devoted to shopping at five different grocery stores in order to throw a dinner party. It was a lot of work, and while it was fun to see our friends, we were usually busy most of the day and night with prepping, cooking and cleaning up. That was pretty much what we did every week. Not a lot of rest during your weekends that way. By comparison, here in Paris every weekend feels like a vacation. And there’s so much to experience here. So many “souvenirs” — treasured memories I’ll take with me.
Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day are unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like them. Bastille Day fireworks are a “day-long, into the night” party! In the afternoon, people start setting up picnic dinners on the great lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower (aka: the Champs de Mars). Everyone drinks wine and waits for the darkness. In the meantime, an orchestra starts playing a concert at the base of the tower that begins at sunset. The music helps pass the time before the fireworks display. Once those fireworks begin, even the biggest cynic on earth starts to believe in magic. The fireworks are synchronized to the music played by the live orchestra. And the most amazing part? The fireworks aren’t just set off in the sky. No way. The fireworks for a full 40-minute concert have been loaded onto the Tower itself so the fireworks shoot off of her, in spirals, with words, in rhythmic patterns. It’s like the Dancing Waters at the Bellagio Hotel, only with fire AND colored flames. It leaves you at once breathless and screaming. No one does fireworks like the French on Bastille Day. No one.
I adore the Musée de l’Orangerie with Monet’s grand canvases. And our afternoons in the Tuileries will be lovely memories, just sitting by the fountain with our feet up, staring over at the Musée D’Orsay. Being a tour guide at the Louvre, for friends and strangers alike has been great. I’ve loved going to church at Notre Dame Cathedral, and then strolling over to Quartier Latin for fondue.
Of course, the architecture is as breathtaking as everything else. It is so special, so uniquely feminine with its curving wrought iron balconies and the rounded buildings everywhere you look. Just walking down the block makes you feel as though you’re on vacation.
Since the landmark Arc de Triomphe is in our back yard, we are there almost every day for one reason or another. It’s only about a 10-minute walk from our apartment. We love that boulevard. It’s amazing how much fun it is to live in this neighborhood. We’ve been on the Champs Élysées for the Bastille Day parade, watching in awe as the military planes flew overhead streaming red, white and blue smoke. We’ve watched the winners of the Tour de France cross the finish line here. We’ve seen the United States Secretary of State lay flowers on the tomb of the unknown soldier at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. While he did this, the French Military Band solemnly played the United States National Anthem as a tribute — to thank our country for its help during World War II. Embassy representatives from all over the world looked on with respect and admiration. I have never been prouder to be an American.
We’ve picnicked on the Champs Élysées, and even been to wine tastings here when they closed the boulevard to traffic. I love it when they do that. Then it feels like the main drag of a huge university campus. We’ve wandered through the Christmas bazaar here. We’ve even watched the beginning of the Paris marathon as group after group began their race to the beat of the drums.
We’ve been to both memorial events for World War I and World War II on the Champs Élysées. We’ve seen thousands of French citizens turn out for these tributes to their veterans. We’ve seen the soldiers themselves come out by the hundreds, some walking, some in wheelchairs, but they are all proudly decked out in freshly pressed uniforms, saluting as they pass each other on the street.
Even when we just want to walk the dogs in the evening, we always seem to stroll the ten minutes to the Etoile, and stare up at the Grand Arch, while we watch the tourists take photos of it with their cell phones. We feel possessive of that gorgeous monument, somehow. Protective, even. I suppose it’s because we’ve seen it so often. We walk there almost every night, standing in front of it for a few quiet moments before we turn around and go home. I am going to count my days living near that beautiful piece of history as a miracle, a gift from God.
In fact, my favorite memory of Paris is, oddly enough, a moment shared with a total stranger. Just next to the Arc de Triomphe, at the World War II memorial event, a very old soldier in a wheelchair and I caught each other’s eyes. I held up my camera and shrugged my shoulders to say, “May I take a photo of you? He smiled, nodded, and saluted me. His photo is the last one in the series above.) Anyway, I saw him sitting there in that wheelchair, and I was overwhelmedby his service. As a thank you, I bowed my head to him. In response, he blew me a kiss, and I blew one to him. I felt closer to him in that moment than almost anyone I’d ever known in my life, and I began to weep. He just smiled and blew me another kiss. There was pure love, flowing in both directions. I know nothing about him, not even his name. But, I will never forget that moment…or him.
Thank you, Paris, for everything.
Je t’aime, ma belle amie.