A couple of weeks before I left for Paris, I had the strangest dream: I was in the City of Light, but there was something wrong with time. Everything was speeded up, somehow, and I had the most desperate sensation that my life was slipping away.
That dream came true over the past two weeks.
I can’t believe I’m on my way home already. Months of planning and researching and dreaming — plus a few days of endless walking — and my time in Paris is up.
On one level, I’m disappointed. This was my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to venture further afield and really get to know Paris. Yet, throughout my trip, I had a sense of “been there, done that.” Paris no longer seemed quite so magical.
But upon deeper reflection, I got exactly what I’d hoped for. I’d wanted to experience life as a Parisienne. I’d wanted to know what it was like to live in a tiny apartment, shop at the local market, wait in line at the hospital, walk obliviously past Paris’ Top 10 Tourist Attractions …
And on that score, I succeeded.
This time, I got several layers beneath Paris’ tourist traps. I woke up every morning to the sound of the street-sweepers. I went to confession at Notre Dame. (Never mind that I’m not Catholic — or religious, even.) I acquired a stalker. I got my heart broken. And I made some dear friends.
So … who cares if I didn’t get through everything on my list?
I got to be comforted by a young Algerian man, who found me crying on a bridge one rainy night. I told Karim about my scary diagnosis. He told me about his MS. What a pair we made, as we sat at the Café Marguerite and sipped our Perriers.
I also got to be a bouquiniste, if only for a half hour.
I made friends with a Pakistani crêpe vendor, a sweet hobo, and the homeless kid who begged outside my neighborhood grocery store. That kid had the most haunting, hollow eyes … I’ll miss handing him his daily sandwich.
So I didn’t see everything I’d hoped to. But I did have the experience I’d hoped for, in the end: To live like a Parisian, to find my place in the City of Light.
In the end, it was the human moments that mattered: running into my friend Colin at Père Lachaise. A chance encounter with my favorite street musician. Having my hands kissed by a grateful clochard, being stopped in the street by a friendly neighbor … these are my Paris souvenirs.
I don’t know when (or if) I’ll be able to go back. But I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to look beyond Paris’ buildings and monuments, and to see the people who make this city so vibrant, so enthralling, so full of light.
In hindsight, I see that my dream about Paris was really a metaphor for life: Time slips by, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But in the end, it’s the people — our loved ones — who count.
À la prochaine, ma belle Paris …
Soooooo jealous of your trip. Have I said that enough in my comments lately? You may not have seen it all, but you saw a shitload more than I did!
I know only one thing about Paris: There’s *no way* you could ever see it all! Someone told me the other day that, if you looked at every piece of art in the Louvre for only 30 seconds, it would take you 144 hours (six days!) to see everything. And then you’d have to start over, because they rotate their exhibitions all the time. So I guess I shouldn’t be too depressed that I barely scratched the surface. There’s always next time …