One winter a few years ago (who can keep track anymore, really) I took my semi-annual jaunt to London (my second city, in a sense) and then booked a Chunnel to Paris for a long weekend with some best friends. It had been my first time in Paris since the first time, which in turn had been during my worth-every-cliche backpacking trip post-college-graduation in the summer of 2001. (Oh, what a different world it was then!) Paris is really something else. I'm reading a GWN colleague's accounts of her January spent there (as well as in London -- I suppose those two cities really are the perfect pair when one is looking for a fancy, yet gritty and completely unforgettable, tryst in Europe) and the memories are just flooding into the corners of my swirled brain like that time the bay invaded our house when I was in eighth grade. My first time in France in 2001 was transformative; I remember sitting in a cafe in Avignon (such an amazing city), conversing with some locals, and having it strike me without a shred of doubt: I could live here. I could live in this foreign city halfway across the world from the tiny, sleepy town I was raised and it would all be okay -- the whole world could be mine. Which is a necessary, if not entirely unoriginal, concept that every young person should experience at some point.
And then Paris...Paris! That city is like everything you've ever heard about it and then some. My second trip there was nearly as magical as the first, despite my needing to sit down for hot tea every few hours due to some nasty cold I had been battling (but if one is going to suffer from a chest cold, there's really no better place to do it than along the Champs-Elysee, when the holiday lights are still looped around the trees and people are wearing slate gray scarves and capes and Carla Gugino passes by you, speaking lovely French, and you feel that perfect blend of American and global citizen, whatever that means.
Then, of course, I fell in love with London (not to mention in London) a few years later, when my job required me to be there fairly often; my life almost took a permanent detour there, and it felt like all signs were leading me to a move. There are still neighborhoods in that city, and the way the shadows fall in them during the late afternoons, when I am so overwhelmed with memories that I can't remember what year it is, who I'm supposed to be meeting, and whether I even needed a passport to get there. In a way, I often feel more at home in London than I do in New York.
I too have daydreams of skipping out of town for a few weeks or months and taking up a little studio in the 18th arrondissement, or a flat in the West End , to just immerse myself back into the language, the people, the world, and fling caution to the wind. No matter how modern the world gets, or how quickly we transform into our future selves, there's still something that feels so early-20th-century American about leaving New York behind to find some space in the best of Europe.
I'm off to London again next month for a dear friend's wedding (the second English wedding I'm attending in less than a year's time), and I'm getting all swoony and reminiscent as I book my flights. Um, and a little nervous, since my passport expired and it's currently somewhere in the renewal process, with me crossing my fingers that it gets here in time.