May 08, 2006

Paris is Paris is Paris

Thirty-two years ago, I first came to Paris with my family. Thirty-two years, it occurs to me, is longer than the time that my dad spent on earth with us. It is a strange sensation. Paris is, outside of Wonderland, the only city in which I have ever lived -- done the food shopping, seen the doctor, run all manner of mundane errands and learned a new language and an appreciation of a different culture in the process.

On the television in my hotel room, CNN International broadcast The Daily Show: Global Edition. Yes, Comedy Central has secured a place on a "real" news channel. That fine line between satire and reality? Gone forever. And Jon Stewart has a piece of that action. The mind boggles.

In Paris, I stay in a familiar quartier (I've lived in several), and visit family friends I've known since I was 12 or so. Jean-Pierre loved my father like a brother, or like the brother he never had and wished he did. We are still laughing at some of my dad's jokes from the mid-1980s. And he and Annie, his wife, tell me stories about my dad in Paris that no one else would know, much less share with me.

It is odd, to be reminiscing about my father, gone 15 years now, with people who loved him and are not related to him. (Being related in my family means we don't talk about the past, or no one wants to hear my memories.)

When I was a teenager, Jean-Pierre was my French father, the guardian angel my dad appointed for me. Now, we are much closer in years, emotionally, and we both miss the same man, how he made us laugh, how he brought us to tears, how much joie de vivre he had.

I travel to Normandy for the weekend, to see a friend from college and her family, who hightailed it out of the U.S. shortly after the first Gulf War. Her children are perfectly bilingual, very musical and creative, and don't watch television. Leisurely meals are built in to their days, and multitasking means going outside with hands wet from washing vegetables to tell the kids it's dinnertime.

It is enough to make me consider decamping from Wonderland, to live in the land of five-week summer vacations and many national holidays that are celebrated not by a retail sales extravaganza but by an actual commemoration of events that make the day special. Yet my ties to Wonderland are fierce, and, to rephase Gertrude Stein, there is a there here.

Paris is Paris is Paris. That it is -- my home away from home. There is a there there, too, but it is one bred of affection and familiarity, not the there to which I was born.

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Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Somehow I missed this post. You make it all sound so wonderful and poignant at the same time. It's a good thing you only know me through virtual reality, since I am just a country bumpkin compared to you.

2:26 AM  

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