Layover in Paris……ahhh Paris….doesn’t even feel like I am really here. It’s my first time being in a city with someone who so detests it, still, I am excited to be in Paris. The first foreign city I ever experienced at 15, under such a different context. The strange familiarity – the billboards against aged buildings, the same brand diaper ads, the cute citroens and minis filling the long avenues.
We took the bus from CDG airport – my idea, I wanted to see the city as we drive in and get our bearings. He points out Sacre Coeur. Wow, it looks so different. The air is thicker, the city seems to be choking…much more than my last visit over a decade ago. I never imagined such an old city could visibly age even more in my lifetime. But it has. Sacre Coeur sits not quite so majestically white and high upon the hill. Grayer, smaller, and blanketed in smog. Rather haunting to look at it now. There’s the Eiffel Tower, still visible from everywhere in the city, but it looks like it’s getting buried. More tall buildings, more choking haze. Almost like its sinking in a quicksand of concrete rubble. Was this really where I left it? Do the years add color and brightness to photos of the mind, while fading photos of the album?
Or is this city, Paris, aging still…..
Atleast Paris is easy. I know these places, I’ve walked these rues in a different time. It’s so refreshing to stretch the french muscle again…it comes back like an old familiar etranger.
Three spokes on the Charles de Gaulle Etoile takes us to Avenue de Hoche, a short distance to the Hotel Royal Monceau. Never would I be stepping into such a hotel in any of my earlier circumstances. This short sojourn does not involve a Eurail Pass and a last-minute call to Eric, Daniel or Beatrice to ask for a place to coucher. Not this time. Not any time again now that so many years have passed. I’m a grown up this time. Ah, me voici. I’m aging too Paris. Perhaps that is why I will always look fondly on you. That first impression. That first big beautiful glance remains etched in my mind. For once the mind has known the beauty of a place, it never forgets. Paris, you can go ahead and dress in gray and haze on the outside, because I know your beauty exists. Maybe it’s in the smile you bring with your silly Louis XIV furnishings and funky toilet fixtures. Those tiny beds in tiny rooms that people pay incredible monies to call home for a night just because its Paris. Oh but it’s all part of it.
We take a stroll through the Parc Monceau, where the daily lives of Parisiennes decorate an otherwise bleak canvas. Late fall. Some trees still holding on to their last color; yellow leaves dangle while brown ones crush underfoot. It’s 5:30 p.m., and so many people are out. School kids and soccer balls. Gray coats and brown dogs. Couples, singles, mothers with babies. Tout le monde en dehors. Those who walk together and watch. Those who sit alone. And watch. A young woman is singing a tune to the baby in her arms as she rushes past. Nobody is still, everyone has their steps to take.
The gilded gates beckon us back through to the busy streets, unsure if we have had our fill of the fantasy garden. A last glance back at the trees standing guard over white statues. Farewell to the Parc Monceau…a place to return another time, another age. Out and up the winding streets with shops open well past dusk….to a welcoming “Bonsoir Madame” from the Hotel doorman. Madame. Am I a Madame now? Hmph. I’ll leave Paris wearing a new coat…and it’s old and graying. Paris is old and graying. But it is comforting, still. Just open your eyes and let it surround you and ignore you all at once. Paris doesn’t care if you’re here or not, if you’re old or not; but you can’t help caring that you are in Paris.
3:30 a.m. The room has a smell. I know this smell. It teases my nose when sleeping, but hides the moment I stir. It tempts me, whispers to me. You know me….you remember me….
The bread ovens have been lit.
Merci Paris, for welcoming me back in your own gentle way. J’ai quinze ans encore.