The last time I visited Paris for more than one day was in 1983. That first visit is a blur to me, parts of memories are there but not quite fully formed. I went with Ann, two young 23 year olds on our own traveling internationally. The world was ours to explore.
Although I don’t remember all that we did on that first visit, I do remember how I felt about Paris when I left. There was a feeling of not connecting with the city or the people. The skies were gloomy, the people seemed unfriendly/impatient with us, and I really didn’t understand all the fuss about the city. As I got older, I yearned to return and try it out again, see if my assumptions were correct or not.
While Jim and I were in London the summer of 2018, we took the train to Paris for the day. We walked over 13 miles that day in blistering heat, but it didn’t matter. We were in Paris! Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Champs Elysées, all viewed from afar as we had no tickets. We vowed to come back some day. Well the day, or days, came this year.
My sisters had booked a European tour which included Paris and as the universe would have it, we were done with the Camino in time to join them in the city of lights. Now I would have a chance to truly compare the Paris from 1983 to the Paris from 2022, 39 years later.
Paris has the same majestic, iconic structures that make it one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In 1983, I remember only visiting the Louvre. All the other structures were more of a drive by via our tour bus. On this trip, Jim and I were intentional about getting close up to these long standing monuments, museums and buildings. We learned more about their importance and meaning in France’s history. Visiting them was an interactive history lesson for us.
Probably the most notable difference for me between my first visit to Paris and this latest visit was the ability to communicate with Parisians. While we by no means are bilingual in French, we did learn some phrases which helped us connect with residents. I found that using simple phrases show a respect and value of other’s language and it made it possible to have a small connection with them. So many times you hear the French do not like people from the U.S. Yet, we did not find that to be true in our encounters.
Another difference this time was my awareness of how people from all over the world visit Paris but also live there. It is a city much like New York. Multiple conversations, in varying languages, and all taking place at the same time surround you in the city. The day we were at the Eiffel Tower, I heard a group of people speaking Spanish and knew they were Puerto Rican. I turned and asked them, “Are you from Puerto Rico?” and they responded yes enthusiastically. A conversation ensued and it turns out they live in the same town as my family. We exchanged contact information to discuss doing the camino, they plan to do it when they retire. The world truly is smaller than we think.
However, the most memorable event in Paris was celebrating my baby sister’s birthday. For her 50th birthday, she wanted to take a European trip and eat a cupcake by the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the pandemic delayed her celebration but it did not dampen her desire and vision. Maurin, Mari and I made sure she got her wish. Rain and all, we brought out the balloons (thanks to Mari), Jim and I got the treats, and Maurin kept her distracted. She had a fabulous time.
Paris is no longer a blur for me. The days we spent there were filled with laughter, beautiful sites and most of all love. Love of family, love of friendships and love of being alive. Experiencing these loves never gets old. Soaking up every minute of joy and love should be our mission in life. I think I’ll work on making it my goal.
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