How I Miss Paris
I miss sitting in a cafe, sipping my cafe creme and writing, with no one looking at me strangely for it. I miss walking the streets alone at dawn, but never feeling alone because I had all of Paris around me.
I miss leaning on the bridge railings and gazing out across the shimmering Seine and watching the tour boats chug by.
I miss the grandeur of the Place du Pantheon, the intimacy of the Place Contrescarpe. I miss the surprising vistas that awaited me around every street corner, down every unpromising alleyway.
I miss the women bicycling to work alongside city buses, wearing skirts, high heels, and no helmets. I miss admiring and worrying about them.
I miss the inimitable green of the Seine when the light hits it just right. I miss that French pastry delicacy—airy and buttery with only a hint of sweet—pain au chocolat. I miss the Rodin museum cafe, where I had the best one of the two dozen I tried.
I don’t miss the rats, scurrying around after sunset in the tiny park outside Saint Julien Le Pauvre, nor worrying about encountering them on my morning or late night walks.
I do miss watching the children on pony rides in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I miss the bees they keep in the southwest corner of the park to pollinate all of the flowers. I miss the rows upon rows of sculpted trees and the canopies of shade.
I miss the Closerie Des Lilas, where my love and I had the best meal of our lives. I miss the perfect temperature of that fall afternoon on the terrace and the crispness of that chablis against the richness of the poached haddock in a beurre blanc sauce. I miss our waiter, Yousef, who had two college degrees in food service and was the best waiter I’ve ever seen. I even miss the haughty blonde hostess who sneered at my French and glanced at my shoes before giving us a table.
I miss Paris.
I miss the cobblestone streets, the scooters riding up on the sidewalks. I miss the smell of fresh bread from the boulangerie when his door opened in the morning.
I miss being the first customer at the Cafe St. Regis and sitting down with my little red notebook while the floors were still wet and the waiter sliced the baguettes on the sideboard for petit dejeuner. I miss the locals streaming in the side door at 7:30 and drinking espressos while standing at the bar. I miss their joking and ribbing and fast talk in French, and I miss only understanding every sixth word. I miss the female manager’s quick wit and the group’s raucous laughter.
I miss the pretty young woman in a black dress with a white apron, and I miss the rose tattoo on the inside of her right wrist that I saw as she sprayed and wiped the windows, and I miss her lilting accent that broke my heart and made me pine for my youth every time she opened her pouty mouth. (And it was pouty, God bless her.)
I miss the strange, two-tone police sirens in the middle of the night. I miss announcing “Bonjour” every time I entered an establishment. I miss the water trickling down the street gutters twice a day to keep Paris pristine.
I miss the ducks roasting on rotisseries on Rue Montorgueil as people on their way to work congregated in the street for a cigarette. I miss the waiter who miraculously de-boned my sole at the table, and I miss strolling down Rue Descartes in the twilight, past the hotel where Ernest Hemingway once worked, and seeing the young hipster couple kissing passionately and unabashedly outside a noisy bar.
I miss the bread. God, how I miss the bread—the baguettes, the croissants, the pain au chocolat.
I miss the spiraling marble stairs up to the top of Notre Dame. I miss the glorious burst of color and the gasp of my own breath when walking into Saint Chapelle for the first time, and I miss those precious few minutes when my love and I had that holy place to ourselves.
I miss the sight of the sea of Paris rooftops from the top of Sacre Coeur. I miss that pastel sunrise, that haze in the air, and that woman and her dog staring out at the scene together. I miss the nuns singing in the basilica at my back as I struggled to capture the moment on paper.
I miss Paris.
I miss the canary yellow leaves on the stairs leading down to the cobblestone promenades on the banks of the Seine. I miss the fat and gnarled chestnuts in the Square du Vert-Galant, that pointy park at the tip of Ile de la Cité, but I don’t miss the annoying guitar player who played a foot away from me until I relented and dropped a Euro in the hole of his guitar.
Then there was the old woman who stopped me on the street my last morning in Paris and asked me for directions in French. I miss her too. I miss her because I understood her and was able to reply in French, and she understood me in return. I miss her for making one of my dreams for the trip come true: to learn French well enough that I could give a Parisian directions.
I miss the young woman in a charcoal suit that Alexas and I watched in a cafe across the street from the Musée d’Orsay. I miss her sitting down at a table outdoors, crossing her legs and adding a tube of sugar to her tiny espresso. I miss her dark hair, her chic glasses, her fine jawline. I miss her lighting a cigarette and studying the world as it went by, and I miss wondering if she was happy with her life, if she had romance and work she enjoyed.
I miss the stairs in our apartment building, warped and off-kilter like they were undulating beneath our feet, like they were out of a Van Gogh painting. I miss the Franprix grocery store down Rue Galande. I miss engaging the cashiers in my charmingly rudimentary French, and I miss being able to make those weary women smile.
I miss the Metro, the crush of passengers at rush hour, and the announcements I couldn’t understand. I miss seeing all of those book readers on the trains and hoping that someday they would be reading my works in French. I miss the poor man whose foot I stepped on when the train slowed suddenly, and I miss saying “Pardon” to get out at my stop.
I miss the Champagne corks in the gutter on a Sunday morning.
I miss the mammoth falafel sandwich from L’as du Falafel—the layers of falafel, tahini, cucumber, two kinds of cabbage, tomato and eggplant—the best falafel in the world, some say. I miss the exquisite softness of that pita as I tried to take a bite.
Surprisingly, I miss the crowds at the Louvre. I miss the stupefied people in front of the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and Michelangelo’s Slaves. I miss the endless maze of rooms and getting lost in there and not being sure I’d ever find my way out.
I miss Paris.
I miss walking on the sidewalk beside Notre Dame when the streetlights switched on. I miss the way they continued endlessly into the distance, and their comforting amber glow.
I miss crossing Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, knowing it was the same bridge crossed by Descartes and Napoleon, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I miss the narrow barges plowing up-river and the pigeons flocking to their decks as if going to a party.
I miss gazing up at the Eiffel Tower, that perfect expression of art and engineering. I miss its braces upon braces, its arches upon arches, and I miss seeing the people as tiny dots circling down the stairs. I miss glimpsing the tower through the trees on dead-end side streets. I miss the glint of its rich light after dark.
And I miss conversing with the old cafe waiter my last morning, and his patting me on the shoulder, and my holding back tears. I miss seeing Venus glowing over the city at dawn, and I miss the pain of taking final glances at my favorite sights and forcing myself to turn and walk away, not knowing when I would be back again.