Outside my window, multiple chimneys appearing in every direction punctuate the grey Parisian sky. Maybe it’s because of images I’d seen in coffee table books about ‘The Lost Generation’ of Hemingway’s day, but as I float in the deep, warm water of a claw-foot bathtub admiring this classic view, I feel as if I’ve been here before. Alone in my friend’s apartment on Rue Pergolese, I’m awakened from my reverie as the phone rings.

“Why are you still there?”

“I am nervous leaving. I don’t even know how to order food.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, just say café crème and deux croissant.”

I am 24 years old. It is my first trip to Europe.

After being prodded out the door, I wander the streets of this glorious city on a diet of café crème and croissant. By days end, albeit a little jittery from all the coffee, I am madly in love with Paris.

Part of the thrill of being there, I think, came from the fact that I was alone, able to discover its beauty at my own pace. I usually agree that, as a foreigner, having a friend who knows their way around is the best way to find your way in a strange city.

But not in Paris.

Four years later, I went to Paris on my honeymoon, and for years after we visited the city often, with and without our children. It was always grand and sometimes chaotic with children in tow, but it was never the same as that first magical time. It saddened me to think maybe I was maybe living a French version of the famous Samuel Johnson quote, “When you tire of London you tire of life.”

I am happy to report that I am tired of neither life nor Paris.

Recently, my husband went to Ireland for a wedding and asked if I would meet him in Dublin. A Parisian bolt of lighting hit me and I suggested that we meet in Paris instead. We left on the same day but to different countries. A giddy sense of exploration came back to me as I buckled into my window seat. By the time I landed at Charles de Gaulle, with my fractured French and renewed sense of discovery, the 24-year-old woman in the claw foot tub was born again.

Once in the city I found that not having someone to cross-reference with on Metro directions or menu deciphering put me in touch with my slightly bewildered but excited younger self. I also did not have to worry about someone else’s schedule or taste. It was totally self indulgent and divine.

There is a guilty pleasure being alone in a city that must have been created for women.

Standing on Pont Neuf overlooking the Seine I remember thinking I agreed with what a friend had said: “In Paris I always feel beautiful.”

(Photos by Dore Hammond.)

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  • L Sorensen-Jolink January 3, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    My 24-year-old self was flying around the world as a Pan Am crew member. Paris was my favorite city when I started flying, it was my favorite city when I retired eight years hence, and it remains my favorite city three decades later. Whether I go there alone or with my husband, children or a friend, I spend at least some time wandering the streets by myself, soaking up the language and following my own whims. I must admit, though, that an even better way to actually meet residents of Paris is to walk the city with a friendly dog.

    Thank you for the lovely reflections on a lifetime of visiting this glorious city!

    Reply
  • Lois January 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Paris may be the greatest city in the world — its seed is always within us. When you visited you said you felt you’d been there before. I believe that’s part of the magic. I think Paris is some kind of DNA code to the spirit that speaks to all that is aesthetic within.

    That you have been able to discover it as an individual, a wife and a parent is a great blessing. Each layer is different and your children will take away a souvenir that they will never forget.

    You say: “In Paris I will always feel beautiful.” That sums up so much in my own experience. A city where the language, clothing, food, architecture, art makes you feel beautiful inside and out. I had this experience in Mexico City of all places — a crowded metropolis full of urban blight and economic duress — yet, I felt beautiful. It is the people that bring that out — their warmth and willingness to know you. I think that is another kind of beauty too.

    Thank you for this lovely way to begin my 2012!

    Lois

    Reply
  • dore hammond November 28, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for your comments Judith!

    Reply
  • Judith A.Ross November 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Dear Dore,
    You may have planted a seed here! I have been to Paris twice, but never alone. And yet, even at my advanced age, I feel I need to get better a being happy while traveling on my own. Perhaps Paris will be the place to start.

    And I definitely will make sure my room has that claw foot tub — or at least a bathtub. I’m still footsore from walking around there for hours with my husband last summer.

    Reply