Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A visitor

This last week in Paris has been difficult. I have never been good at goodbyes. Is anyone really? I doubt it. Add to that I am a weepy person who is sentimental about nearly everything. Knowing that this week will eventually end, and I will in fact have to board a flight, which will leap into the air and take me away from here, has made how I look at the city come sharply into focus. At every turn I am struck by her beauty and grace. Even though I have been living on her streets for 12 weeks now, I continue to be enchanted by her sounds and smells. This is a city for those who truly love to live and to some extent, live to love.

My children, who have now grown annoyed with my teary eyes, have started to advise me that, Paris isn't going anywhere and that we can always come back to visit. Well, see, that is the thing. I don't want to come back to visit. I don't want to be a visitor. I like being one of her people. Her residents. A person with a key, and address, a boulangerie she likes and a fromagerie she loves.

At the age of 20 I lived in Florence, Italy for 3 months with an Italian family I came to adore. Franca, my Italian house mother took me in with the kind of Italian fervor you would expect. She wanted to help me understand what it was like to be Italian and worked on my language skills with me, gave me hugs when I needed them, and cooked me food that I will never forget. Everything she does comes from a heart the size of Texas.

If you have ever been to Florence you know that the city has a beauty that will enchant you. Not just the buildings, but the people, the food, the sounds, sights, and smells everywhere. When I had to leave that December in 1992, I remember crossing town on foot to the Santa Maria Novella train station. I was in love with Florence the way people are in love with each other. But with my full heart and my eyes leaking, I thought to myself, I will always have her. Florence will always be my city. I will bring my husband here. I will bring my children here. When I come back I will feel this again.

In 1999 I brought my husband to Florence on our first vacation as a married couple after our honeymoon. In 2002 I came back with our then 5 month old Sweet Pea. It was never the same. I looked around at the swarms of tourists I used to cut through to get to my classes all those years ago and thought to myself, Oh my God, I am one of them. I am a tourist. I am here visiting, not living.

You see, there is a difference. I am happy to have had the experiences in life to know this, but at the same time, this last week in Paris is a bit scary for me because I know when I come back I will be one of them. A visitor.

On Wednesday day nights we often will head to the Louvre for a Nocturne visit. Their evening hours. The crowds are fewer and the admission charge is lower. On this last Nocturne visit, we came into the courtyard of the Palais Royal from a different direction. We came in the back way and this was our view. It was dusk and the clouds were amazing. I just stood there and let the view seep into my soul. Then I reached for my camera to take these pictures of my family enjoying their beloved Louvre for the last time on this trip.

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