“I don’t get here often enough. That’s the problem.”
So says Gil in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris after that painfully beautiful opening scene, a love letter in video to the city of light.
I feel you Gil. It is a problem. I didn’t get to Paris last year and I’m homesick for it beyond measure. And I make it worse by watching that clip. If you’ve ever listened over and over to “your” song after losing a love, you know the feeling. You know you shouldn’t – it’ll make you cry – but at the same time the chills and the melty feeling inside make it impossible to tear yourself away. I devour every image in the clip, lighting up every time I recognize a scene.
Paris. I don’t even care that it’s a cliché to love the city, that’s the extent of my adoration. If I don’t have a trip on the horizon I feel like some elemental piece of myself is missing. Impatiently waiting at the airport for a CDG-bound flight, a grin splitting my face I look around and wonder why everyone else isn’t smiling. Don’t they know they’re going to PARIS!? Once on French soil, barreling into the city in a cab or shuttle, driver elegantly handling the wheel and cell phone and gear shift, the smile grows, settles in to my face as a permanent fixture for the time I’m there. It hovers constantly – in my mind a mysterious little turn of the mouth à la Mona Lisa, but probably more likely a slightly dim-witted child. The slightest provocation will catapult it back to a full-on, every filling and cap showing, delirious grin. Look! A shop that’s all pistachios. Boom. Huge smile. Another store selling only the most darling umbrellas – and oh how I love to say parapluei. Get out your sunglasses – here come the pearly whites! Chic ladies with tiny dogs, rows of baguettes, oozing cheeses, jewel-like patisserie windows, grizzled men playing boule, white apron-clad waiters sweeping through their sidewalk domain – the things seen in Paris are a never-ending source of secret joy.
The smile is part of my wardrobe until it’s time to leave Paris. Unless I’m bound for ailleurs in France, on a train chugging toward lavender-scented Provence, maybe. Or in a violet convertible, like the time my husband and I rented a car in Paris and pointed it for Normandy. The only thing that can kill the smile besides departure itself is the merest thought of leaving.
Strolling with two girlfriends on my last trip there, a ‘very rough and very self indulgent week*’ in fall 2012, I left them to their exclamations over the Place des Vosges. Catching up with me, their sweet brows furrowed. “What’s wrong?” they asked as I tried to squeeze off the tears. The late afternoon sun spangled the earth through the linden trees. The sky, a perfect shade of bleu ordered up just for Paris, spun out overhead. This was no time to cry. But, but, “I have to leave!” I moaned. We’d arrived just the day before, but looming six days away was the flight home. In the way that girlfriends – especially those you travel to Paris with – have, they gathered me up and took me to a shop to buy a tres chic dress that re-ignited my smile even as the tear tracks dried on my cheeks.
I don’t often lament to people about how much I miss Paris, how sad I was not to go last year. I get how insufferable it sounds. Poor thing, the girl’s been to Paris 10 times and thinks that’s not enough. Who wants to hear that after I spent nine days there on a 2011 trip. When my husband didn’t have enough vacation days to spend that much time I tossed him an à bientôt and caught a flight two days earlier than his. When he caught up with me and asked what I’d been doing, I had no answer. “Just walking,” I said. I didn’t know the word flânerie at the time, but in fact, I’d slipped into life as a flâneur those the first couple of days – doing nothing but wandering the streets, not once hopping in a taxi or the metro, taking in the sights and sounds and smells that make up my one-day home. We leapt into tourist action when he arrived: a secret dinner club, a photo session (our first since our wedding oh those many years ago), a macaron workshop, lunch with friends outside the city, a street fair brimming with food and drink of southwest France, all glorious, wonderful things. But truly, just walking the breadth and width of Paris makes me happier than just about anything.
So when I let slip a murmur about my longing to return, I’m not out to be the obnoxious travel one-upper. I don’t “do” Paris; I didn’t even go up the Eiffel Tower until after 10 years of visiting. With one spectacularly lavish exception — a night in the Plaza — it’s not about splashing out or living some plush fantasy. It’s Paris — my grand amour Paris — and I’m just homesick, nostalgique.
A trip this year is probably not in the cards unless the universe has a fabulous prize in store for me (and one never knows!). We plotted a three month stay to celebrate my birthday this summer but decided to buy a house in Detroit instead (a whole other love affair story). But I will get back – there’s no doubt. I’ll content myself until then with the raggedy joy of poring over old photos, reading books, reminiscing, watching films (thank you Woody Allen). Peut etre I’ll finally get around to properly learning French (though probably not).
*With thanks and apologies to Jim Haynes for the line I’ve blatantly stolen from him.