Paris. Wednesday morning. May 11, 2022. 8AM
There’s a communal newspaper on the zinc bar. Every few minutes a new patron enters, browses the headlines, tosses back an espresso, races out to join the race. Families come and go. Kids with backpacks and scooters on their way to school. Mothers and fathers freshly pressed and suited on their way to work.
I’m sipping an espresso and eating a croissant. My Wednesday breakfast place is not my every-other-day-of-the-week place, so I’m a bit more engaged in people watching. Contemplating life. Writing this post.
Pat stops in on his way to play ping pong in the north Marais. He’s a regular player now, the sole American delegate to a United Nations of serious players. Many days, a man stops on his way to work and immediately someone concedes their spot while the commuter rifles off a game. Sated, he hustles on and play resumes.
Soon I’ll walk Rue Oberkampf—a cornucopia of small food shops near our apartment. I will probably buy strawberries at the corner and a sandwich across the way. When I pass Guido, he will smile and say “Ciao bella.”
Generally, I’m dismissive of young men who pay insincere compliments to aging women. Unless they’re Italian. And own a wine and cicchetti place a few doors down from our apartment. In which case I will say to Pat when he returns, “Let’s make sure we go to Guido’s this weekend.”
(As I typed that, I put it on my calendar for Saturday afternoon.)
Later, I’ll work for a few hours while Pat plays pétanque. Then I’ll return to Oberkampf—a head of lettuce, a baguette, a roasted chicken. I’ll say hello to Arno who will be fussing over sidewalk tables in preparation for his evening service. He’ll remind me that we need to try his new restaurant.
(Update: I passed Arno on my way home and made a reservation for Friday.)
I’m thinking about all of this as I contemplate our future.
For the past year, we have shared an apartment in Paris with our friends, and former neighbors, Mark and Mary. By the time we leave in June, we will have spent five months here over the last year. It’s been the perfect arrangement except for some untenable issues with loud and/or crazy neighbors. Consequently, we are giving up the apartment this summer after a seven year tryst with Rue Ternaux.
Last month, during a walking tour in Paris, I met a couple in their 70s who have lived nomadically for twenty years. “We still want to see the world,”she said, “I doubt we’ll ever come back to Paris!” (Had she left out that last bit, we might have become friends.)
I’ve thought a lot about their story in the context of our decision. While freedom can be exhilarating, untethered freedom is no longer my drug of choice.
Our life in Paris didn’t simply materialize. It was formed through seven years of showing up—engaging relentlessly with a culture and a language that will still occasionally kick my shins. Paris is hard-earned wealth. Each time we return, our life effortlessly resumes. I don’t plan to fritter that away.
Each of us is born into a home. Over the years, we spin additional cocoons. Our children go off and spin their own. Some slice of this becomes our beloved world.
The rest is someplace else—the stuff of Instagram photos and bucket lists. Dalliances and daydreams.
As I write this, our plans are crystallizing: A July trip to Montana to see our granddaughter. An August reunion with our entire family in Michigan. September in Paris. January in Seville.
For me, the focus will be on embracing both my beloved world and my unknown world. The metamorphosis of my life’s journey will guide me on a path that is wholly unique, creating a world that layers old with new in a way that is fully satisfying. And completely mine.
Categories: Life in Paris