From the you’re-soaked-through-with-sweat-by-the-time-you-reach-the-end-of-the-block heat and humidity of Panama City…to the gray cold of late autumn in Paris. Somehow, returning to find fall turning to winter here in the City of Light has taken us by surprise. Dressed in sweaters but no coats, we shivered through the taxi queue at the airport, and now, in our apartment, 8-year-old Jack is wearing his warmest winter pajamas and a blanket around his shoulders. He’s not going outside anymore today, he’s announced.
Jack has big plans starting tomorrow, though. I didn’t realize how connected he’d grown to this city, but, for him, this trip seems like coming home. He’s made a list of the friends he wants to see and the places he wants to visit next week.
We’ve been away four months. That’s long enough to begin to forget the reality of a place. Not forget, exactly, but distort. Distance and time allow the memory to shade and to enhance.
We all have such fond memories of our few years living together in Paris. Then, last year, Kaitlin went off to college in the States…and, last summer, we relocated to Panama.
Lief, Jack, and I are back in town to take care of some local business…to see about bringing Jack’s turtle back to Panama with us…and to check on the state of our apartment.
We intend to return again, mid-December, to spend the holidays here, not only the three of us, but Kaitlin and her boyfriend Harry, too. Kaitlin sent an e-mail the other day to say she’s really looking forward to our Christmas trip, but she’s a little worried about it at the same time. “I’m afraid that, being in Paris again, I won’t want to come back to school. I miss being there so much…”
Could this city be as special as we all seem to remember it to be? Could anyplace be as enchanting as our collective memory has made Paris out to be?
I can tell you today, back at my desk in our little apartment behind the Musee d’Orsay, it’s no trick of memory. Paris, even cold, gray, and damp as it is today, is, in fact, more infatuating than we’ve reminisced.
Returning to Nicaragua last month after an extended hiatus from the place, I wondered what I’d find changed. Returning today to Paris, I didn’t wonder. I knew what would be different–nothing.
That’s one of this city’s charms. It’s always here, as it’s seemingly always been, moving through the seasons and the cycles of the year as it has for so many and as it will for many more. You can count on few things in this world the way you can count on Paris.
“Can I ask the taxi driver to stop at the boulangerie on our corner?” Jack asked as we pulled away from Charles de Gaulle. “I’ve saved 2 euro to buy a croissant and a pain au chocolat. Can we stop for them, if the bakery is still there?” Jack wanted to know.
“The bakery will be there, don’t worry. And, yes, we can stop.”
“What do you do when you’re in Paris?” asked a friend the other evening in Panama City.
We take long walks along the river. We wander up and down the tiny streets of the old city, on either side of the river, trying to lose our way. We go to the parks. We picnic in the Tuileries. We stop for pain au chocolat at the bakery on the corner…
We savor the chance to be part of a place that, for me, is the best of all that human kind has managed to build and to sustain.
On the face of it, we do next-to-nothing.
And, right now, we can’t wait to get at it.
P.S. “Ah, right…that’s why we’re in Panama,” said Lief as he walked back through the door carrying a single, small bag of groceries from the shop down the street.
“Milk, bread, eggs, cheese, and a bottle of Coke…and the total came to more than 21 euro. Even at the current exchange rate, that’s more than US$26. How did we ever afford to live here?”
FROM THE MAILBAG:
“Kathleen, I strongly recommend you have a look at Bali in Indonesia and consider adding it to your list.
“It is in nearly every respect superior to any of the countries you recommend, and I’m qualified to judge.
“I have lived since 1970 as an expat in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. I have visited numerous other countries as a guidebook writer and for business. I’ve started various businesses in Asia; I had a look at Panama in 2006, invested in an apartment there, but decided it’s not a place to enjoy and spend much time; and I am still spending three to four months per year traveling and visiting other countries I enjoy, including Australia and countries in Europe and the Americas.
“I have no vested interest in your promoting Bali; our business is very different from yours. I just feel you and your readers are missing something. You are recommending so many other destinations, when Bali has much more to offer!”
— Peter R., Bali
I admit that I know little about Bali, but this dear reader’s note has gotten my attention. I’ve asked him to send more information. Watch this space.