Paris will always be my first love, at least as far as cities go. I’ve spent many, many days and nights loving Paris, and France, in the company of people I deeply love, as well as on my own.
Yet another ode here, yes, among many.
I cried when I heard of the mayhem in Paris, not because I feel less the suffering caused by similar events in other places, but because I know Paris and love her. It’s like watching a beloved friend suffering. I grieve, too, because the world seems to have gone insane, a world in which people – including many supposedly well-meaning commenters on social media – just cannot let go and allow others to live the way they chose to live and think, without trying to impose their cockamamie beliefs on everyone around them.
I know one thing: I was in love the minute I saw Paris. This love is not unique to me – it is something that comes with the culture common in the places where I grew up. From reading Camus’s L’Étranger with the help of Cliff Notes to studying the impact of the Impressionists, Paris and France made inroads on my psyche. And that of many others. I mean, think of the word that’s emblazoned on your milk carton: “pasteurized.” Louis Pasteur, yes, a French scientist. It’s that basic.
But my love really began with learning some French in high school, from Mrs. Lunham, a true lover of all things French, a passion that she conveyed to most of her students. More French language study at university, with the likes of Molière and Victor Hugo. And don’t forget Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Oh yes, Julia Child, whose love of French cooking captivated me, too. Not to mention the fact that my maiden name appears to have been derived from Norman French, “par dieu (pur die).” The Lost Generation, too, Hemingway and Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein and all the other Americans who felt more at home in Paris than in their own country.
Ties to France show up in all sorts of ways.
I recall hurtling through a narrow street near the Louvre, in central Paris, perched in the passenger seat of our Peugeot 505, fresh out of Morocco. Somehow, a few hours later, a bit battered and without GPS or even a decent map, we and the Peugeot cruised across the fabled Périphérique, on our way to a family reunion in Jutland in Denmark. That sums up my first visit to this fabled city. A few years later, for a few weeks, I attended the same Cordon Bleu cooking school as did Julia Child.
Paris, and France, are part of me. And always will be.
For a lover of Western history, to even catch a glimpse of Paris feels like coming home to a familiar place, ripe with a sense of déjà vu. Like it or not, Paris played a major role in the formation of Western life and culture. There’s something about being in the presence of all that history, standing on cold stone walkways and the seemingly endless nave of Notre Dame de Paris, thinking of the thousands of feet that have marched or walked in the same places, witnesses to the passage of time, and to the arrogance and delusions of powerful men.
Paris, mon amour, je suis tellement désolée.
© 2015 C. Bertelsen