I will never be the same after this trip; my first solo journey anywhere. This was a trip with no agenda - just an answer to the wanderlust I had been feeling so strongly. I debated multiple places to go and recalled a conversation I had had at a bar with a stranger recently. As I sat there waiting for my friend to join me, this guy struck up a conversation with me and asked me what my “perfect date” would be….I laughed and said…well, either a picnic in a beautiful park on a spectacular day, or a surprise trip to Paris. I think my answer even surprised me. I hadn’t realized just how much I was longing for Paris. It had been many many years since I’d been there, and subconsciously, that beautiful city was calling my name.
I had a five day period where I could travel - I considered San Francisco (always a wonderful choice), but the friend I would like to see there had other plans out of town AND I had JUST been there. I started looking at other destinations - Costa Rica, Hawaii, Spain….and I just kept coming back to Paris. I realized I needed desperately to take myself on my dream date to Paris. Why on earth would I wait around for someone else to take me? I am perfectly capable of going alone and experiencing Paris on my own terms. I’ve realized just how wonderfully empowering that is; I can set my own agenda. I’ve been married or in a relationship and a mom for most of my adult life; which is wonderful. It also means that most of the time I have set aside my own needs for those of others and have made a lot of compromises. I suddenly found myself in a position to just GO. How liberating!
So, I perused airbnb for days on end until I found JUST the perfect apartment in just the right location. I thought of one of my running partners who has fantasies of just having her own apartment (she adores her husband and kids) to sit in a read and do whatever she wants. She has gone so far as to describe just what it would be like; the soft lighting, the cozy space. THIS is exactly what I found. The apartment was even better in person; exposed stone walls with wooden beams on the ceiling, yet modern comfortable furniture and a comfortable bed with soft linens. It was a tiny place with tall windows that overlooked the quintessential French neighborhood. I could hear the street traffic and the sounds of Paris below. The apartment building had a large blue front door and a secret little courtyard filled with light and plants inside. The curved staircase up to the 2nd floor was made of beautiful wood and stone. I write this because I want to remember every little detail of this place. I smiled every time I put the key in the lock. I filled the place with Parisian cafe music, light jazz, or one of my favorite spotify playlists. I wrote and read and drank coffee or wine depending on the time of day. I stretched out on the sofa and plotted my day/night ahead. There are so many wonderful things to do in Paris. I had a million recommendations from friends as to restaurants and museums, etc. But I mostly wandered. I walked the streets for miles. I ran to the Eiffel Tower, climbed to the top, and walked back. Then a nap. I ducked into cozy restaurants (never making it to the reservations I had made…..the problem with that is the rest of your day needs to be timed around that). I wanted to just BE. I had amazing food and wine and met new friends at every stop. My favorite meal was a delicious crepe and a little stand in La Marais (what an adorable area!) - a savory crepe filled with ham and mushrooms and olives and the most delicious cheese I’ve ever eaten. I think I was starving at that point. The time change had me on a strange eating clock; and it was well beyond time for food. The finest restaurant in Paris couldn’t have made me happier at that moment.
There were a couple of planned events. Air BnB (I may sound like a commercial for them I like the experience so much) is in the process of launching a new “brand” - air BnB “experiences”. Because I use them so much when I travel, I was invited to participate in this before it was officially launched to the public. The basic premise is, you visit a new city, you rent an apartment or home or room, and you can sign up for “experiences” with locals - cooking classes, street art tours, wine tastings, hikes, etc……all put on by local people in their homes or places of business or whatever. It is an incredible concept. I had planned my trip so last minute that nearly all of them were full, but I was able to get into one - Annie’s Cooking - to learn how to shop and prepare a simple French dish. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience! The others in the class all worked for airBnb and were LOVELY people. I so enjoyed them all. Annie is French, obviously, has written numerous cookbooks and is famous for her “frites”. Her apartment is small and perfect and has a secret rooftop deck with a tremendous view to Sacre Couer - my favorite place in Paris! I couldn’t believe my luck. Well, actually I could, because I often say I am the luckiest person in the world. I believe this with all my heart; amazing experiences and people seem to enter my life as if planned; orchestrated by a higher power trying to give me the most amazing life. I am so grateful for this.
After the cooking class, I walked up to Sacre Couer in Montmartre. There was live music at the base of the steps, the man singing would invite people from the audience to join him. It was off tune and on tune and beautiful. There were people of every race and color and religion and ethnicity singing “Stand By Me” and “Wish You Were Here”. It was if all of humanity was gathered in front of this grand cathedral under a piercing blue sky and a bright sun to remind us we are one; to remind us that we all love music and art and architecture and bright sun and a chilly breeze and a warm scarf.
I could not imagine what was waiting for me at the top of Sacre Couer. As I climbed the tight curving staircase to the top - a long climb; I was grateful I wasn’t temporarily “paralyzed” like I was last year in Berlin - I felt strong and good. I felt an immense feeling of gratitude for that strength. The view from the top was enormous. The view was spectacular. The weather was changing by the moment, the sun was starting to set, and as I worked my way around to the side from which I could see the Eiffel Tower, the sun came through the clouds and covered it in a glorious gold and orange light. I snapped picture after picture, alternating between my phone and my real camera. A kind man fixed the settings on my camera which I had somehow messed up (I should learn how to use that thing!) I had strangers take my photo so I could remember just how I felt at this moment. I stayed there for a very long time watching the sun descend and the rain move in. I could hear the music gently playing below and then the church bells started ringing. The mass I had walked through earlier to get to the top was now over. I had sat briefly in the sanctuary before my climb listening to the beautiful French service, catching bits and pieces. I’m not Catholic, but love the new pope and I have a great respect for the formality and beauty of a Catholic service. I remember being touched by it as a 20 something in the south of France on my journeys a million years ago. Being inside this sanctuary felt warm and welcoming; I could feel the presence of God and humanity all around me.
There are little and big moments to remember. The Donavan Frankenreiter concert at Cafe de la Danse; a perfect tiny little Parisian venue was better than I could have imagined. The night was rainy, I had been walking around in rain for hours, hadn’t eaten much, had a few glasses of my favorite earthy, “tastes like dirt and smells like a bandaid” red wine, and throughly enjoyed the music and the company of strangers. I was fortunate to meet Donavan backstage afterwards - there weren’t many people there from the US, so they let me back for a photo and a brief conversation. I will certainly see him perform again when I have the opportunity. He had two children about Wilson’s age come on stage to sing with him which was adorable. “If it don’t matter to you, it don’t matter to me” was an amazing tune and the whole audience was singing and clapping. There’s just nothing like the live music experience.
On my last morning in Paris, I forced myself out of bed early enough to go for a run. The rest of the time I had still been on US time - going to sleep around 4 am, sleeping until 10 or 11 (totally not my style). I put on warm clothes (about 46 degrees) and headed off toward the Eiffel Tower - about 4 miles away. I ran along the Seine, I crossed the bridge covered in locks symbolizing the commitment and dreams of lovers who had been there before me, and the glorious blue sky shimmered above me. I thanked God for the strength of my legs; I am just NOW feeling strong and capable of running any distance post surgery (11 months ago!). I felt the strength of my lungs and the pounding of my heart and took in the scenery and the people. The women in Paris are so beautiful! The art and sculpture and architecture are like nowhere else in the world! The smell of the street vendors - the chestnuts, the crepes, the coffee were so pleasing to my senses. I crossed a large road race and realized it was “Ekiden” - the marathon relay. I ran with them awhile and then went my own way, only to realize by the time I reached the Eiffel Tower, that was the finish line for the race. I was sweating and the chill in the air as I climbed the stairs to the top of the tower made me shiver. As I reached the highest point to which I could climb I could see the runners finishing the race, I could see Sacre Couer in the distance, I could hear the beautiful French language all around me, and I could see for miles and miles - the beautiful changing leaves, the parks, the buildings, the people. I was exhilarated and simultaneously exhausted from the run and walk up so many stairs. I headed back down and back toward my apartment for the hot shower I was craving. My legs were a fabulous kind of tired, my heart full.
The rest of my journey was filled with small moments like the delicious taste of chocolate croissants and brightly colored French Macarons. French onion soup, beautiful street performers in the subway and in small alley ways, street art, and pleasant interactions with people who took pity on my French as I made the “international hand signal” for whatever it was I was looking for…..I really need to learn French.
I am lucky. I am so grateful. I saw many immigrant families on the street as I wandered the streets of Paris. I gave away many 20 euro bills and wished I could do more. Why is my life, simply because I was born where I was, comparatively so easy? I want to be grateful every. single. day. I want the next President, who will be elected today, to be open to immigration, not to building a wall. I want more people to have the opportunities I have had. I want the inequality to be less. I want our world to be a reflection of the time I had in Paris - the city of light and love. I don’t want this to be a political musing, but I do want to make note of the fact that I am aware of and grateful for the advantages I have. Paris - I miss you already and will return soon…..