A Tale of Two Cities

Last month, we spent 10 days in London and Paris. The trip started as a meetup in London with our daughter, Taylor, planned months ago when we thought we’d still be living in Paris and could easily pop over.

Things changed. We moved to Philadelphia.

But Taylor had a flight booked and I had bought tickets to Hamilton and Buckingham Palace. The timing wasn’t perfect, but we went.

I’d forgotten that Taylor travels with the exuberance of youth coupled with the reality of limited time and money. Our days in London took us from Shoreditch to Notting Hill. Soho to Victoria. We walked and walked—no day under 20,000 steps—from Brick Lane to Portobello Road. She wanted to hit some museums: The Cabinet War Rooms. The Tower of London. Buckingham palace.

It was exhausting. Exhilarating. That sort of trip that when it’s over you feel like you really did something. It’s the kind of travel that Taylor was weaned on in those days when I wanted to do and see everything, everywhere.

After five days, Taylor flew home, and Pat and I caught a train to Paris.

There, I meandered alone and lunched in out-of-the way cafes. Pat played pétanque every afternoon with his friends. Our lives diverged into well-worn patterns. It was boring. Blissful.

These two cities exemplified our two lives, and two travel styles.

Pat basked in his pétanque friendships. His teammates lined up to kiss him when he arrived and hug him when he left. Pat, much more than I, has a fully developed French life in Paris with real French friends.

One night he dined with his photographer friend, Vincent, who is 25. It was a true Parisian tete-a-tete discussing and debating politics, their respective countries, their favorite photographers. Pat crawled back to the hotel sometime past midnight.

I, on the other hand, touched base with a much smaller group of expat friends, all of whom are Americans. My only local “friends” are vendors—purveyors of fruit, wine and foie gras. I love them, to the degree you can love someone when your deepest conversation is the relative merits of French versus Spanish oranges.

In this respect, our French life is not unlike our 40 years of American life. Me, holed up somewhere doing something. Pat out everywhere doing everything. It defines us, and it draws our battle lines. 

Pat clings to friends and routine. I cling to ephemera. 

We discuss this constantly: How do we maintain the excitement of the new within the comfort of the well-known?

When we lived nomadically, I loved an ever-changing home—the ability to knit a handful of the beloved together with a raft of new places that we could explore from a long-term perch.

Pat clung to the idea that someday we’d have a base. Permanence. A place we can travel from extensively yet return to often.

To me, a base is the worst of all worlds. It’s an anchor cast with none of the benefits of a permanent port: I forego my CSA. I miss the monthly book club meetings. I don’t sign up to audit classes at the local university. Home becomes a cupboard to stow my things–a distraction from the task at hand. An illusion that permanence exists. Worst of all, it allows me to retreat.

If you think about this, it’s non-sensical. The guy who can construct a meaningful life out of a ball of twine and a rubber band should be the nomad. The person who is happiest tucked in a quiet corner with a good book, should stay put. 

So why can’t I get the big lug to embrace his strengths? Pull anchor? Cruise the world?

When he proofed this blog post, he rolled his eyes. I won’t panic. We have time. I’ll just read until he’s ready.

Categories: Life in Paris, Ruminations

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. I love this and am in a somewhat similar situation. You should stack up books to read. I wouldn’t count on him changing character.

  2. Lol…. he and I both know who’s gonna win!

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