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 …