It had been a while since my last visit to the City of Light, but it always feels like coming home.
Not that Paris is specifically welcoming or cozy – if anything, the city seems to hum on without you just fine, and your presence within her arrondissements creates nary a ripple.
Instead, the feeling of familiarity comes from novels read, movies seen, prior experiences. It comes from expectations of buttery croissants and bistro tables spilling out of cafes and the general bustle and beauty of the city.
For me, Paris always existed as more of an idea, a concept, a representation rather than a real place. But even upon close inspection, the grime of the streets, the graffiti on the walls, the smells in the metro and general grit of a city traversed by so many people, it still seems to stand for something bigger than itself.
Even when faced with the reality of Paris, the symbol of it, its deeper meaning is ever-present. There’s something beautiful even in the chain coffee shops and plain grocers. Nothing exceptional about this fruit stand or that wine shop; there’s a dozen like them in the streets surrounding you. You could almost trade one for another in their sameness. But the grocer on your street becomes special. It’s the place where you grab a snack before heading to your hotel. The wine shop is where you grab a bottle to take to enjoy on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. The pharmacist on your street is the place where you grab Band-Aids when you develop blisters from walking around so much. So, in that way, whenever you’re visiting any city (but somehow especially Paris) the shops and necessary markets and stores, cafes and bistros become your own little neighborhood. It is so easy in Paris to slip into something that approaches feeling like a local.
Not quite, of course – but the laid back glamor, the lingering over a glass after dinner or the pure enjoyment of a flaky pastry, those experiences become familiar ones, as if suddenly you are able to truly appreciate the gastronomic pleasures we take for granted on a daily basis.
I don’t see many people talking on cell phones. Most couples are deep in private conversation and groups of friends are talking and sipping, sometimes gesturing wildly while telling a story. Even in it’s strangeness there’s a comfort, especially in knowing that even when you return to your hometown and settle back into your normal life routine, there will still be Parisians and tourists alike sitting at those tables, taking in the night air, noshing on something delicately and tasting their wine appreciatively. Even when I’m gone and back to my daily life, people will be standing in line at my grocer, grabbing a coffee at my café or eating my favorite dish at the little local place in my Paris neighborhood.
So this most recent trip was a little different than others, a little more nerve wracking than the ones I took with my ex-husband in years gone by. But there was also less guilt about not “doing” enough. More acceptance of simply sitting in the moment, relaxing at the table, wandering around the city with no particular aim or goal. Paris was our oyster, and all of our moments the pearls.
And when we left our little piece of Paris to go home, we took our own little pieces of Paris with us and looked forward to all of the new little slices of life waiting for us when we returned.