There’s something about Paris.
As I sip my thick, black coffee and gaze out a centuries-old window to the confused rooftops of this rue Saint-Honoré neighborhood, I feel a sense of home that I don’t really deserve to feel.
I’m an American. I live in a small town in Northern California. I studied French in school, but I’m not fluent. I enjoy art, but I don’t really “get” it. I love food, but I don’t cook. I love Project Runway, but I have no real fashion sense or style. My knowledge of history is spotty at best.
But I feel at home here.
I’ve visited this city more times than the average bear. But only for days at a time. I know Americans who’ve actually lived here. Stayed here. Studied here. Long enough to do laundry. Not me. I’m a visitor.
But it doesn’t feel like it.
I first came here with two of my sisters when I was a college student, and Paris and I began to develop a friendship. I admit I loved her for all the obvious reasons: the Eiffel Tower, the accordion music… After 12 years of study, I knew enough French to arrange a hotel. I practiced that phone call for a good 40 minutes before I dialed, and was stumped when the person on the line asked me a question that made me think I’d dialed the wrong number. When I hung up, my sisters asked, “Well? Did you get us a room?”
“I think so.”
One of the sisters I was with, who is educated in the arts, really understood the significance of the Louvre. When we were planning our limited time there, I made the mistake of saying, “Maybe we should just skip the Louvre. I mean, we could spend the whole day there!”
“‘The whole day?'” she said. “Kristi, people spend their whole lives studying at the Louvre.”
It has become one of the most oft-told family stories. And I didn’t go to the Louvre for 32 years after that. Never had the time.
Paris and I liked each other, nonetheless. She seemed to forgive my lack of sophistication, so I returned to her with my roommate as a young adult. I had just met a guy at the Bon Voyage party we threw for ourselves, and thoughts of him distracted me from my original plan to meet and marry a European prince. Paris knew better.
Then I began to give her my milestones.
I honeymooned in Paris with that guy from the Bon Voyage party. Sweet John. We stayed in a tiny room on the Left Bank. We strolled the Champs-Élysées in the early mornings while all of Paris slept. We visited John’s distant cousin and rekindled lost connections. It was lovely.
Our first child was born nine months later. That was 23 years ago.
I brought our two oldest daughters to Paris when they were young teens. I felt as though I was sharing a discovery I’d made. As though Paris was mine. Another one of my sisters came, too. We wandered through the Musee D’Orsay and savored macarons at Ladurée. We napped on the lawn at Versailles and even visited dear Parisian friends. It felt good to be here. Natural. She welcomed our kids and it made me love her more.
When my dear friend asked me where in the whole wide world I wanted go to celebrate my 50th birthday, and I hissed “PARIS“. So we did it. Two weeks later she and I were strolling along the icy Seine with my sister. The spontaneity of it all was delicious. We visited the Louvre that trip. I won’t tell you how long we stayed, but my other sister would not have been impressed.
Our son traveled to Paris in the summer of his 15th birthday. He stayed with our Parisian friends who have a son Louis’ age. We knew he would love it. And not just because the visit included a stay in St. Tropez. We knew he would love it because it was Paris. And he did.
And now I’ve brought our youngest daughter to celebrate her 16th birthday. Liza is the last of our four to be here. She brought her sketch book and wants to focus on museums. She can’t wait to feel the bohemian vibe of Montmartre. To sip wine with me in the cafés. No touristy itineraries for her.
And I am pleased to oblige.
After all, this is not my first trip to Paris.
And God willing, it will be far from the last.