This morning, I’m dreaming of an escape to a place I’ve been before.
There never seems to be a time when Paris doesn’t hold with it all dreams of romance, all images of beauty, all the whispers of inspiration and imagination. If I lived there, would I be in a constant daze? Would I be able to hold down a job and stick to commitments, or would I use my last Euros to drink a cafe au lait and smoke cigarettes at an outdoor cafe, my dress catching on the wicker chair while I watch passersby, my last possession a tattered journal?
See? Even near poverty and dirty lungs sound alluring when Paris is the backdrop.
What’s so special about traveling is that a place stays with you much longer than the few days you spend there. It lives in pictures and in your memory, in the way the sun shines in your bedroom window on a May morning, and sometimes, in dreams. When I arrived in Paris for a second time, I was astounded that it was not just an imaginary place that existed in my memory. It was real. Parisians were everywhere, walking to work, eating breakfast, setting up chairs outside a cafe. They had done it since I left, and they would continue every day while I went about my own business in a separate corner of the world.
I was five months pregnant with my daughter. The opportunity was a total fluke. In June, I sat at my desk in an asbestos-ridden high school outside of Philadelphia, grading final exams. Minutes later, my husband called and told me it was possible for him to take me to Paris that summer while he worked on a project at one of the nicest hotels in the city. One month later, my nerves were more jittery than usual as the plane took off, knowing my son would miss us for the seven-day sojourn. And I, him.
But it was seven days! In Paris! The most beautiful city in the world!
As much as I had vowed to take it easy, I couldn’t remain static in a city with so much to see. Each day, I explored a new arrondissement. After walking many blocks, I often succumbed to Braxton-Hicks contractions. What’s a pregnant girl to do? Have a glass of champagne and an omelette at Cafe de Flore. Then buy a new pair of sandals.
I took a bath in the large tub the hotel had before getting an authentic French pedicure. After, like a child, I was delighted by orange juice and a pink macaroon.
I drank hot chocolate. In summer. In July.
I gazed at the Parisian clouds, practicing “Bonjour,” “S’il vous plait,” “Merci.”
I napped. I photographed. I wandered around Belleville.
(Four months later, the image of those clouds helped get me through one of the hardest parts of labor.)
What’s so significant about Paris to my family is that it’s where we began. My son was with my husband and I our first time in Paris, though I didn’t know it yet. My daughter moved and kicked and swayed in my womb while I traversed the same city streets. Now, I dream about us all being together in front of the same columns and statues. I want to photograph my kids in one of the beautiful parks or outside an ornate building, a vivid blue sky the picture’s frame. I can’t wait to show Mr. B the Eiffel Tower while we picnic on the lawn with chocolate crepes filling our hands. I imagine my little family moving through a small apartment in a quiet part of the city, laughing, eating warm croissants, planning our day as the city wakes up.
I just hope I don’t have to wait too long.
Where do you want to escape to, or what place holds warm memories for you?