It’s the big anniversary today. Five years since the 9/11. I know I’ve tried to forget, and that’s not a bad thing, to move on, but today it seems enough time has passed that maybe it’s time to take a look back and see what was, what is, and maybe that will lead us to some idea of what will be. The date has deep personal meaning for me (as for many people—it was a day of transition on so many levels!) because I returned from France at 3 am September 11, and my real life shifted irrevocably that day, because of the trip, because of an internal shift within, and because we did, that morning that we entered a new Age.
Now, this week, because I had a letter from my friend who took that trip with me, and because I hiked Pikes Peak last week, my thought drifted toward France and Provence, and to Paris, where I spent a few days this summer. When I sat down to write, this is what arrived, and I share it with you in a spirit of hope and optimism and encouragement.
Paris. Scares me. Enchants me. The bridges of golden stone. The shutters on tall windows. The smell of chocolate and coffee and cigarettes. Little dogs tripping along with bows in their hair, or their long leanness tripping up the narrow side streets. The idea that everyone in the entire city is speaking a language I don’t know. A beautiful language, to be sure, but I am a verbal person. I rely on it so much, talking, and it makes me lonely to think I could not sit and make light conversation with the person next to me at a café, as I do everywhere I go here and in England. The Parisians might not welcome it, anyway, but some would give me a smile if I made a joke or warm comment about the food or the drink or the weather, the day, the street.
But I cannot. In Paris, I stumble and bumble and feel enormous and clumsy and stupid, though I am still dazzled by it, in love with the proportions, the colors, the way the bridges span the city. I love the trees lining the long avenues and the cafes and tiny, narrow elevators that barely hold two people and a suitcase. I love the windows. Paris seems like a very sexy man just out of my reach, so I pretend I am not attracted to him, and yet, I find myself thinking of him, of what his skin might be like beneath that shirt.
Paris is often characterized as a woman, but I think of it as a man, a big, earthy Frenchman who knows how to eat, who understands the subtleties of a great glass of wine and a cigarette, a man who knows how to make love and have a great conversation. A lusty man, is Paris, with hair on the back of his square hands and impatience for the shortcomings of the world. Paris likes things his own way and dismisses anything not done that way.
I pretend I don’t want to be invited into his realm, but how can any artist, of any ilk not fall in love with him? I am in love with him, with his narrow alleyways and the men smoking in clusters of two or three and the Africans—very dark black Africans from the heart of the continent, and light skinned Arabic men, some in traditional white robes and some in tidy shirts and trousers with belts, very clean. I’m in love with those bridges and the churches and the golden stone. I am in love with music drifting out of shops, and the Metro signs and the history of a city that has been standing for thousands of years.
And there is, of course, a womanly side to Paris, too. I am in love with her, too, smitten with the bakery windows bursting with their offerings of croissants and fluffy white breads, and the cosmetic stores with all manner of potions and pots to make my lips red or eyes smoky or skin smooth. It seems in those shops, too, there is a spell, a land of magic knowledge that I do not have the keys to enter, but perhaps I could learn the tools if I were disciplined. Or perhaps I need a helper, a native with the local secrets, with whom I would trade my own secrets—of organic foods, perhaps, or yoga, or the secrets of good haircuts, since my words, my writing are not worth very much here where my language is derided—to unlock the alchemical mysteries.
Yesterday, walking with Christopher Robin and the dogs, I declared that one of my goals for the next five years is to be able to converse and read in both French and Spanish. I studied both in school, four years of each. Spanish will easier, since I’ve retained more. French will be more challenging, since I tend to speak it with a Spanish accent. But how exciting, to set a new goal, a new plan! It will help in traveling more easily, and there is the deep pleasure of uncovering cultural mysteries and patterns by learning new languages. But I am also excited to discover what new words and new shapes of sentences will bring to my work.
It’s a good day to think of the next five years. Is there something you haven’t dared dream about doing? Would you like to walk the Great Wall in China or learn to crochet or walk The Appalachian Trail or get married or write a book?
Or let’s all go to Paris and let it seduce us. Drink chocolate at Angelina’s and float down the Seine in a tourist boat and eat crepes at a sidewalk stand and brave the language to say something, anything, in our very best, most earnest French.