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The year 2001 was not a good year for Americans. It was a double whammy for me. Just weeks before the terrorist attack, I was diagnosed with a serious illness. The recovery from both would be slow and painful.
Adding to that pain, I had to cancel that year’s “Paris Fix.” It would be nine years before I saw that treasured city again. During that time, I moved from New York to San Francisco. I think San Francisco is part of the reason I stayed away from Paris so long. I now lived in the American Paris and could enjoy the wonders of these sister cities without enduring a thirteen-hour flight.
But this year I needed to see the real thing once more. On the taxi ride from CDG to the hotel, I started noticing the changes. The ride seemed longer, and went through less pleasant neighborhoods than I remembered. And that’s when it started, right at the beginning: the then-and-now comparisons that hovered over the early days of the visit.
Paris seemed noisier, certainly more crowded than I remembered, and everything appeared to move faster (maybe because I now move slower). The lines at the museums, always long, were now prohibitive. Restaurant reservations were a must, no sign of recession here. My husband and I couldn’t risk something we’d always loved doing—starting out with no plans and eating when we got hungry, wherever that might be, delighting in our own discoveries, on nobody’s list of “Bests.” Maybe the hardest-to-take change was the euro, so inflated compared to our dollar. Though the euro is easier to use, I found myself yearning to do the math the defunct franc required.
Then something amazing happened: two days into the trip, none of this mattered. I was my starry-eyed Francophile self again, thrilled to be in the city I loved at first sight. I ignored the drizzly weather. With a lilt in my voice, I “Bonjour’ed” everyone I met. I stopped asking, “Combien?” before buying something. I knew all was well when I stopped mentally converting euros to dollars (gasping!) and just paid up with a smile.
When I look back at the disappointment I felt at first landing, I have to admit it was largely because it wasn’t only Paris that had changed; I had changed, too. Nine years ago, my life was very different. I brought a new me to Europe this year, and though I had not returned to the Paris I left, I could rejoice in the Paris I found. Change happens. Neither time, nor Paris, stands still.
To contradict myself once again, there are places in Paris where time does stand still —its marvelous parks. To sit in the Luxembourg Gardens or the Tuileries today is no different from sitting there nine years ago. They are not only bucolic, but a restorative necessity for stressed-out tourists.
One day, exiting the Louvre, we found that what had begun as a drizzly morning had turned into dazzling sunshine, immediately making everything look better. Even in Paris, a gray day is a gray day. We cut through the hordes of visitors rushing into the museum and made our way to the nearby Tuileries, where we claimed two of those familiar green iron chairs around the pool. This time, we didn’t feel the pressure to move on to other sights and were content to just sit in the sun and watch the ducks circle the fountain, paired off in couples, like us.
Photo credit: Jean Louis Zimmerman/Flickr. Creative Commons license.
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