It’s strange to think quite seriously that you might never see a place again. Might never walk its streets or hear its sounds (high heels on cobblestones, car horns honking, the wind), smell its signature aromas (soap, perfume, urine) again in your lifetime. At 20 I was cocksure I would return to Paris with the love of my life on my arm, and so I have. Our honeymoon has been a dream and a half. But sitting here in the silence before the city truly awakens, sipping good strong coffee in our apartment in Le Marais, I’m not sure I will ever see Paris again. I am no longer 20; I am not Rockefeller and there are too many places on the list. Rather than be sad about it, I am philosophical, perhaps because of all the time we’ve spent sitting in cafes watching la foule. It is a beautiful city, hard on newcomers and the elderly—as many cities are—a city unlike any other.
One night we walked for three hours without a map, which is the recommended way to see Paris, simply by wandering and trusting her. Strolling and having faith that she will show you what you need to see of her narrow lanes and main boulevards. It was exquisite. In spite of it being autumn it seldom rained and we wore light jackets. There was a hot spell each day at around 4 p.m. and the cafés filled with people determined to enjoy conversation, a drink or a coffee, time away from work and time in the last burst of sunshine for the day. We saw people reading books and walking, and three times as many texting and walking, a sad worldwide development. In our ten days here I have not once missed my cell phone. I used it as a camera and thrilled to the fact that it would never ring and interrupt our promenades.
We did not see everything we meant to see, and that is as it should be, because other unexpected sights and experiences stepped in. I surprised myself at how much French is still tucked into the recesses of my aging brain, how many words and phrases I still know. We shopped for food in the local marches that we cooked in our tiny apartment kitchen. Listened to French music with the windows open. Heard the woman across the courtyard sobbing, “Molly, Molly, je t’aime” into her telephone at top volume. Her windows were always open, too. We gamely rode the Metro and hiked many more miles, our eyes amazed at the incredible grandeur of palaces, churches, galleries. The Marche aux Puces isn’t as big as I remembered, but it is still a thrilling maze of treasures and oh, the faces of the vendors and proprietors. The faces everywhere: Paris is a city filled with characters, male and female, old and young. I marveled at the courage of the tiny beings navigating scooters across the cobblestones en route to the nearest park, not a helmet in sight.
If I never see this city again, I will dream about it often. The beauty of travel is that it generates rich memories that, god willing, can never be taken away from you. On days when work is not going well, or when the duller routines of life get on your nerves, you can float back to market stalls and pathways along the Seine, to the tiny bistro where you ate lunch and watched a rare rainstorm, elbow to elbow. And if this truly is le derniere temps a Paris, I am so happy that I spent it with you.