Paris. Wedding lately accomplished, and the bride and groom sitting in the Westin Vendôme. Incomparable May weather. As much sun and wind in the sky, as if winter had been ordered out specifically for the occasion of their arrival and, having been, in the fashion of a typical Parisian tenant, slow to go, was now being tossed out on its heels with a show of force, for effect.
The bride, having slept much of the twenty-hours trip from Los Angeles, is yet tired, and, declining the offer of a delivered sandwich or pastry or other such victuals as might be obtained at that inhospitable hour between lunch service and dinner, preferring instead to evaluate, with an eye towards a proper hibernation later that evening, the serviceability of the innumerably threaded bed linens, yawns and waves and smiles at the groom as he heads out the door.
Having slept little, yet feeling almost boyish in his enthusiasm, almost panicked in expectancy, the groom steps briskly out onto Rue de Rivoli, weaving through the staggered blockages of hawkers and gawkers in his best Manhattan slalom, laughing at the folly of the long unutterable, even now almost unacknowledgable hope that if he set his face just right and pretended just the right amount of haste he might be mistaken for a local—and the stubborn, uncaring persistence of that hope, malgré the sore-thumbness of his baggy jeans and Carhartt T and Sauconys—and, giddy with the proximity of the Seine and the presence of that iron spire poking up (just there!) from the horizon, arrives at Place de la Concorde, and stops.
It is not crowded. It is shimmering in the afternoon sun. It is overwhelming.
He’s thankful for the dry wind and the sleep-deprivation he can offer to himself as excuses, and the anonymity, and the Ray Bans he reaches fingers under to squeeze his wet eyes against.
For this is where an empire erected its wares, where splendor reigned and fell, where Madame La exercised her jaw and the tumbrels creaked to a stop. Where Nazis lock-stepped and Allies celebrated. Where civilians have on innumerable occasions protested and several times been shot. So many shouts have echoed here, and so much blood run, and so much been written about both that it is impossible for someone as steeped in Western European history and lore as our groom not to be immobilized under the weight of his first encounter with that piece of Earth—impossible for someone who has read A Tale of Two Cities twice too many times (if such a thing is possible) and who harbors an embarrassing but ill-concealable penchant for sentimentality not to weep.
This was day one, hour one, stop one, of our seventeen-day trip through central, western, and southern France. Twenty-two-hundred kilometers in a little four-banger. Lord knows how many more on foot. Many sites to see, as you can imagine, and things to eat, and oohs to ah. It was five months ago—long enough that I just might have a thing or two to say about it. Definitely long enough to want to go back and double-check my own facts.
It’ll be Yelp!y in parts, introspective in others (can you believe it?), and un peu romantique, bien sûr. Mostly I want to try to make sense of the notes I took and find one or two decent photos.
I hope you’ll join me.