After spending the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in the U.S., I’m really looking forward to returning home. Don’t get me wrong—there is so much to do and see in Washington, D.C. It’s not as if there aren’t great (free) museums, exhibitions, lectures and readings at bookstores—not to mention shopping. And yes, there are good restaurants in Washington, but my favorites in Paris are awaiting me, not to forget their moderately priced wines.
If only Loehmann’s, T.J. Maxx, and Costco opened in France, people would be elated. Anyone who has ever visited Wegmans, located in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., would make even the French jealous when it comes to the incredible selection of groceries of differing varieties. A foray there is almost like taking a gastronomic trip around the world.
On the other hand, knowing the French, many would bemoan the opening of such stores as putting the Ma and Pop variety out of business. And they’d be right since people (most especially in smaller villages) tend to be loyal to smaller commercial enterprises.
When I lived in Provence, the advent of a new shopping center was invariably coupled with some boutiques in the town, plus butchers, bakeries and vegetable stands closing their doors. Perhaps it was “progress” but it also signified a lack of personal interaction and perhaps, a sign that the same level of quality might be on the way down.
Even though it’s freezing cold in the City of Light, the first thing I’m going to do (after unpacking my suitcase and shuffling through the mail) is run to the Maison Kayser Bakery at the corner and buy a croissant and a pain au chocolat and hightail it to the Luxembourg Garden. Then I’ll know I’m really home. A thermos of coffee will be in one hand and even though it may be colder than cold, those bakery items will taste like heaven. Who cares about calories and carbohydrates on the first day home? Besides, I will have turned in my car keys in D.C. and will go back to walking and taking public transportation. No more jockeying for parking spaces.
I will have had my initial Paris fix when riding from the CDG airport to my Left Bank apartment. My breath never ceases to be taken away when crossing the Seine, spying the flying buttresses of Notre Dame and catching a fleeting glimpse of the Musée d’Orsay. The same van driver usually collects me; he’s accommodating and takes me a slightly circuitous route as if to affirm the landmarks I love are still there.
No matter how many times I’ve made the trip, there’s always something new on the horizon—and even familiar things often seem new to me.
When I return to Paris after a lengthy hiatus, I indulge in a trip to La Grande Épicerie Paris at Le Bon Marché. Yes, the groceries cost an arm and a leg, but the quality is nothing less than sublime.
After writing about how much I love Paris, which doesn’t keep me from traveling as much as I can, you might wonder why I spend time in the U.S. The main reason is family and the most compelling magnets are two girls (age three and six) who are constant inspirations, fill me with belly laughs, and make me realize I’m growing older because they’re filled with boundless energy and it’s hard to keep up.
One of my greatest pleasures is telling them about France and the collection of books about it keeps growing. Watching the film The Red Balloon, produced in 1956, was a special experience. Each of us came away with different impressions and a few tears were spotted rolling down our faces. “Gran” can’t always answer their questions and thank goodness for Google. Why wasn’t the Internet invented (as we know it today) when my son was in high school?
Many of my American friends who live in France don’t have the luxury of returning to the States as frequently as I. For me, traveling between the two countries provides a sense of equilibrium and an opportunity to regroup with very old friends. And no matter what I’d like, I will always be an American—albeit an American in Paris. And after I’ve been in one country long enough, I realize that both have more than their fair share of bureaucracy and frustrations.
I count myself among the lucky: one day, I’ll know what I’m going to do when I grow up. In the meantime, I hope to share my love of France with my friends (real and cyber) and kidnap my son, his wife and their daughters to the City of Light as frequently as possible. Things could be worse!
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