While I believe the saying “there’s no place like home” holds true, I must say that, to me, there is also no place like Paris. This April, I returned for the first time since living in France three years ago. In the weeks before my departure, I found myself oddly nervous about what this trip would be like. Had Paris changed? Had I? The moment I was on the flight speaking in French again and sipping wine, the butterflies in my stomach were replaced by excitement.
My former roommate Chantal offered that I could stay with her during my visit. I was looking forward to seeing her, but also a bit disappointed because she has moved from our old neighborhood. Even though it was strange not having the same home base that I once did, it was delightful seeing Chantal and I was able to apply hotel room costs to other adventures!
After unloading my suitcase at Chantal’s, I hopped on the Metro and glided into my favorite parts of the city. When I came to my old metro stop, I found myself feeling a bit lost in that I could not remember which exit I used to take. It did
not take me too long to get my land legs though and then I was off to explore my haunts. It was not long before I had a crêpe in my hand while watching the spring light dance on the Seine. I was home! Paris had changed, but not as much as me. Still, we found our way back to each other. I spent the day soaking up the language, music, food, and art and finally dined with Chantal where we talked about her new job, our new president, and much more.
The following morning (I can’t say bright and early because it was not even light out yet) I headed to the train station to traverse all of France to get to Toulouse where my beloved Winnie is living! I had anticipated this train ride looking forward to taking in the countryside and clearing my mind. Jetlag had other ideas and I basically woke up six hours later when a person bumped me with his valise. I perked up immediately because I knew I was near to seeing Winnie! She took me back to her lovely apartment and served me delicious quiche, bread, salad, cheese, and tart. La vie
est belle! It was so great to be with my dear friend. The slow and peaceful culture of the south immediately soothed me. Winnie showed me around the town and we spent time along the river catching up and sharing about the joys and challenges about this time in life. Then came more food!
On Easter Sunday, Winnie’s co-worker invited us to share a meal with his family in the country outside of Toulouse. What an event! Our hosts were this kind man, his wife, her parents, and three young children. The family was relieved that I spoke French, and I was overjoyed to dust off my skills. Not much time was wasted at the start of our visit so immediately we were seated at the table. Hang on to your hats ladies and gentlemen, because this meal might blow you away!
-aperitif of Porto from Portugal
- oysters (my first time having them!) with an oyster wine
-shrimp and boudin (a large snail, bigger than your usual escargot!)
-foie gras (again a first!), served with a white wine
- salad of tomatoes, radish, and olives, with a red wine
-lamb and beans with a new red wine
-cheese plate of seven different cheeses
-an Algerian cake (the grandmother is a pied noir) in a fruit syrup served with Champagne
-and finally the fine French chocolates and coffee
After this four-hour meal, we headed for a walk around the town, Moissac, where we visited the cathedral and strolled along the winding streets. The time spent with this family was so warm and comfortable. The food was delicious, the conversation interesting, and the family beautiful. AND I was able to experience Winnie’s wonderful French!
Winnie showed me many parts of Toulouse over our next few days. We had the liquorish tasting drink Pastis, drank coffee, visited markets, experienced the modern art museum, and meandered in its many parks. We even tried the local delicacy of cassolet which is composed of beans and meat. Yummy! It was so sad to say goodbye, but now I know Winnie is coming to NYC next year, so we will get more time together!
I took the night train from Toulouse back to Paris which was full of its own misadventures. None of the cars were labeled so I walked up and down the train with about twenty other
people trying to find any sign. Finally, at about 2 a.m. I just took a seat and went to sleep not knowing or caring which car or seat I was in. Upon arriving back in Paris, I was excited to get back into my groove. I had varied motivations for what I wanted to see and do. I wanted to go back to favorite cafés, see favorite pieces of art, walk certain neighborhoods, and also go to the touristy places to take photos for my French class. After meeting up with my former program director, I had even more suggestions of things to do with my rapidly fleeting time in Paris. So, I just woke up earlier and walked a little faster.
I happened upon a graffiti expo at the Grand Palais that was truly impressive. I loved the curator’s work of it and it was really interesting to be with a different crowd than I usually see at art shows. I also made my way to the new Bradly Museum where I heard there was a great jazz exhibit. The exhibit was enormous but well developed so it was informative without being overwhelming. I found the museum’s permanent
In her Katie Fox original scarf
collection of art from Africa, Oceana, and the Americas to be confusing and bordering on offensive. Perhaps I did not understand the museum’s mission enough and I only visited the Africa wing, but it seemed to me like, “Here, look at all the stuff we stole while we were colonizing Africa!” There was an entire room of drums and other instruments just sitting there collecting dust. The videos could have been wonderful, but I did not know if I was watching a funeral or a wedding dance nor which region of a country in which the film was taken. I left after only seeing a fraction of these collections because of my confusion and disappointment at what the museum appeared to be. I headed back outside so I could continue to walk the streets and soak up the sunshine that was making Paris sparkle.
I will not bore you with all the little stores, cafés, croissants, and galleries I saw, but I can easily say that being back in Paris was a homecoming. The pace and quality of life, the depth of conversation, the appreciation of art, the fine foods, and the language draw me in again and again
to this magical place. There is much here in NYC that fills me up and stimulates like Paris, but somehow it has not taken my heart as Paris did.
My students were so excited to see pictures, hear stories, disgusted by the description of some of the food I ate, and delighted by their surprise of Eiffel Tower key chains. I hope they are able to visit Paris and other parts of France and that they also find beauty and joy in life there.
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