Sep 23, 2011

Conversations With A Débutante

Pont Alexandre III in Winter

Conversations With A Débutante

I was recently asked why I love France so much. I had to start at the beginning, with a story of a trip that launched a thousand plane tickets.  

The first time I saw Paris it was covered in snow.  Along the banks of the Seine, on branches of leafless trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, in the crevices of the scrolling ironwork on the windows and balconies, winter had dressed Paris in the pearly white grace of a débutante at her ball.

Débutante. Débuter. To begin; to start out; to make one’s debut. 

That was a December morning over 20 years ago and I was experiencing my own kind of beginning. I crunched along the frosty sidewalks over the Pont Alexandre III and huddled in my not-so-sensible (yet only) jacket, and I made an out loud confession. “I Love You Paris.”  She didn’t answer back, but I knew she heard me. It would be a repartee we would have many more times.

 As a child, I had always wanted to travel. I grew up not far from the cement-encased stars along Hollywood Boulevard.  While most of my friends had posters of their heartthrobs---Sean Cassidy, Farrah Fawcett, Scott Baio---all over their walls, I had my own coups de coeur.  The Eiffel Tower, The Great Wall of China, and The Matterhorn decorated my closet doors for many years. They were sexy to me.

I’m not sure from where my wanderlust hatched. I come from non-traveling parents, though my grandmother and grandfather have been all over the world.  Maybe it was books. I loved Heidi and Madeleine, Aesop’s Fables and Gulliver’s Travels. Anne of Green Gables inspired me to travel alone to Prince Edward Island one summer, much to the confusion of family members. But I think my real love of leaving started much earlier, on a baseball diamond when I was about nine.  I was up to bat and when the aluminum connected with the rubber, I set out around the bases.  Somewhere between second and third I had a sort of layered epiphany.  One:  I realized I hated playing baseball. And two: I realized the journey between the bases was way more fun than running home.  From that moment I thought of how fun it would be to live life running between the bases, between places, with an occasional slide in at home plate, point scoring and resting being necessary from time to time. It was my high school French teacher who aimed me more precisely at L’Hexagone. Her love of France and the language was so infectious I aced AP French and went into university as a French major, and have never stopped studying the language or the culture. Merci Madame Danne!

That wintery lover’s confession in Paris came after graduation. My roommate at the time invited me to join her on a trip to visit an old boyfriend over Christmas. I said yes without thinking, and then told my family I would not be home for the holidays for the first time in my life. They said they had always known that someday I’d leave for France, and wished me a life changing experience. That it was.

Like the bronze stars on Hollywood Boulevard that so many of my friends admired, the bronze star in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was my idol. It’s from here that all distances in France are measured. It’s point zéro des routes de France, point zero for French roads. And it was my starting point too.  Since that winter, I have traveled to France every year, sometimes twice a year, and even moved to Brussels (as close as I could get with my husband’s job) for six years. I bought a small apartment in the south of France to call 'home'---a place I picture when I am far away yearning to return, like I am now.  I’ve eaten gourmet meals in Lyon, surfed in Biarritz, skied in the French Alps, hot air ballooned over the Dordogne, and sunbathed on the Riviera. I’ve driven along the pink granite coast, tried pastis (not my favorite) in Provence and sipped champagne in Champagne.  I love France and am, and always will be, a student of the country, the language, the culture.

Pont Alexandre III in Summer
But Paris---ah Paris. She’s still my first love, and I still love her best in winter. When I close my eyes I see her dressed in white, surrounded by falling flakes, her pearls. She’s an image of everlasting grace. A débutante. I still confess my love to her each time I visit, just as I did 20 years ago. One day I expect she’ll answer back.  She might ask, “Why me?” And I’ll simply respond,  “Because you gave me a beginning.”


Pippi said...

I stumbled upon your blog by accident, and I just couldn't leave without thanking you for this beautiful post about Paris, the city that, just like for you, became my starting point.
Thank you for sharing your love for this magical city!

Kimberley Lovato said...

Pippi, thanks so much for reading and for your kind words. I'm happy to hear Paris is as magical for you as it is for me.

Erin Hargrove said...

Just wonderful! I feel I can relate, having just spent three months in Haarlem, Netherlands after college graduation and finding myself in love with the city almost instantly. I feel that I will be fighting to return every chance that I get in the future, and your blog inspires me to do just that! (and visit Paris, while I'm at it!)

Kimberley Lovato said...

Erin, thanks for your note. It's amazing to feel a draw to a place like you have with Haarlem. The Dutch are so friendly and open, I can understand the appeal! Thanks for writing and I look forward to reading your blog!

Austin said...

Kimberely, Thanks so much for putting words to the way many of us feel about our love, Paris. I first saw her 3 years ago and set a burning passion for all things french. It was my first love and now I feel ashamed as i am on a student exchange to poland and find my self falling for her as well. But i will always know that Paris oh beautiful Paris is my first love. Thank You.

William Widmaier said...

Wonderful. A beautiful post. Your love for the magic that is Paris inspires.
Strange, yet wonderful is it not, how we can fall in love with a city? Your article reminds me of the song "A Paris" by Yves Montand. Does any other city have as many love songs written about it? Is it that Paris does both beautiful romance and beautiful heartache so well? Maybe it’s the passion that drifts out of her beautiful old cornerstones, parks and bridges, and like a heady perfume envelopes more than just young lovers, but also inspires the artists, painters, chefs, designers, writers, actors, musicians, etc., to chase their passions regardless of travail. Part of her magic is that regardless of the season, Paris is a city that deeply loves all who struggle for their art, and celebrates so well those who have succeeded. She is an eternal beauty that fondly hands out gilded stars to any passionate player who demonstrates an elan for the art of life, in all its glory and its foibles.

Kimberley Lovato said...

Austin, I think Paris will let you make room for other loves, like Poland. Thanks for reading, and perhaps we'll hear or read about Poland someday, in your words. William, as usual, thank you for your kind words. Paris is indeed the muse of many.

Eunice said...

I dream to be at that place. Actually my favorite dong is Moonlight Over Paris even though the song don't have a strong connection to the place I love it. Hope I can visit the place too. Great post there.

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