My Love Letter To Paris | Une lettre d’amour à Paris

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Dear Paris,

I dreamed of falling in love in your arms, among your rues and cafés.

In your cotton-candy sunsets the sky above The Seine blazed. A violet-blue blanket descended and your famous lights filled my soul––the flickering Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge’s flirty reds and the sacred aura of Sacre Coeur. But your lesser-known twinkles captivated me most.

Smiles of café owners and complete strangers who helped me find my way home very late one night. The kind words of Jacqué, the patisserie owner, who taught me new words in French every day––names of his delicacies. Electric blue eyes of Elisabeth, the sculptress, who encouraged my art and the idea of “why not,” bringing to life the trickiest form of sculpture––a woman, walking. And the soft surprise in a lady’s eyes when I took the time to ask her name. “Wisdom,” she said, before letting me know with a smile that it would be impossible to have my laundry done before the following week on Tuesday. I’d never met a woman named Wisdom before and instantly wondered why. Wisdom is always referred to as a woman in the Bible.

Up until living in the 18th Arrondissement, I had always imagined life among your great backdrop. I will never forget the day of your magnetic, electric, mysterious call. You had something to say. Something to show me. A point of view to share.

I came with a thirst to absorb your great art. I thought I’d understood you to say that you’d wanted me to write about it. But like all great loves you wished so much more for me than I could possibly understand. I began to open up to you completely.

I was vulnerable to being at home with you. And so you gave me one, then arranged for family and friends to visit. You showed me things I’d never seen before. You had patience with me, because you love me.

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“I am lying on the sofa after a simple dinner––some honey and oranges and wine and this feels incredible.”

This little piece I knew of you was the closest I’d had to home in a long time. I brought you flowers and put them in the window box. Instead of tossing the mostly dead geranium, I plucked her dead leaves and fed her water from my Finsterra shot glass. This made me incredibly happy.

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The flowers in the window box reminded me of the great works of art I’d seen at Museé de Orsay, works of Renoir and Jan Van Huysum. In the strokes of their petals I learned that every great artist has had doubts but great tenacity, vision, and ceaseless work always overcame them. Their passion-fueled spirt has given me courage.

Your spirit whispered to me that my readers want to discover and follow their dreams. You’ve embraced my failings and filled me with the desire to inspire and bring joy and hope to a world in pain. You encouraged me to learn to sculpt words and paint stories.

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You wrapped me in the love of my daughter. We filled the city with laughter. She called my journey ‘a great adventure.’ Your gentle reminder of what life is. My love, how many times will it take for me to truly believe? Forgive me.

“I lay in the home you made for me–so incredibly tired and overwhelmed. Tears roll. Doubts scream and all the while you tender-heartedly let them come and whisper, ‘onward, upward.’ I tell you I want to go home and you gently say I already am. There suddenly is an urgency to all that I want to create.”

Thank you for the holy dinner my daughter and I shared and our visit to crepe alley. For the sweet embrace you gave us both as we grieved together. Just when the overwhelm is too great you remind me to go big.

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On a Tuesday afternoon going big means walking into Elizabeth’s studio and saying “oui” when she asked if I’d like to start sculpting that day.

Trusting that I knew what to create in the clay, you opened a world I’d never known before. Showed me I could do with my hands what I hoped to do with my words. In Elisabeth’s studio, to the songs on French Radio we became lost in the pleasure of the clay––its coolness and smoothness. Knowing and not knowing what would materialize or how to massage emotion into the clay. Molding, forming and stretching, we transformed.

Did I ask too much of you, my love?

Some loves are magic. Their face lights up and their voice wraps a big bow around me and I am more in the world than I was before knowing them. You wrapped a bow around me. A cordon rouge. Thank you for teaching me what love is and what it should never be.

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When they visited from Begium, my host daughter’s boyfriend said he needed to descend the stairs of The Arc de Triumph ahead of us. Christophe wanted to break our fall if needs be.

My love, thank you for breaking my fall.

For showing me that in my favorite drink, Champagne, joy overcame pain. Champagne’s soil has absorbed countless bodies of slain warriors. Its geography required its people to battle every hoarding brood. Yet a solitary monk named Dom Perignon rose to create the most celebratory drink in the world. How is it that a region that has known so much pain is known all over the world for the joy it brings?

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I learn the heartbreaking history of Champagne in Reims, the home of the church of the smiling angel. Why are sculpted smiling angels so rare?

My love you connected me to myself and to a world that didn’t end. A world I had to find for myself. Where I learned to love in another language. You have taken the time to see me. Perhaps the only one in the world who really has. And for that I have fallen for you. My love, your pain is my pain and your joy is my joy.

I will always be here for you.

A pilgrim in Paris – Flechas amarillas (yellow arrows)


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Adjusting to Paris was one thing, life without flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) was another. I missed them. The way they appeared just when I thought I’d taken a wrong turn on El Camino. Their bright, even urgent call on the darkest foggy morning. Their playfulness. How they’d wink, sometimes yell the way. The lessons they’d taught and secrets we shared. How would I know which way to go without them?

One of the last verses El Señor left me on El Camino comforted me.

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

I continued my yoga stretches in bed every morning even though there were no more mountains to climb, no great distances to cross. Movement had become a way of life for me. This lovely new daily habit found me giving gratitude to my body for the privilege of discovering new vistas and creating lasting friendships.

I’d have to leave quickly to avoid the coming storm. The 40-minute walk to The Louvre a perfect way to get to know La Ville Luminére (The City of Light). El Señor called me to Paris and I had faith in time I’d discover why. Perhaps the trip was simply a beautiful gift, like fathers love to give their children. I looked forward to what He’d say to me through the great works of art He’d inspired. El Señor took my hand and we hit the streets.

I longed for the outdoors in a way I never did before, embracing my pace, harder to maintain as Parisians and tourists rushed by. I no longer felt any need to rush.

A light raincoat didn’t hold up to the downpour so I sought refuge at the opera house, The Palais Garnier, in one of its grand entrances where an older couple from Argentina stood watching the scene on Avenue de l’Opéra. How lovely to speak Spanish in the rain in Paris, a warm blanket around my culture-shocked heart. Roberto and his wife huddled with me over my map. He pointed out the nearest metro station. Together we figured out the metro line I’d take. When they asked where I was from I found it easier to tell them where I’d been. Roberto’s wife asked if I’d made it to Finsterra. I pulled out my phone and clicked on photos of the sea and the faro (lighthouse). “At one time people thought Finsterra was the end of the world,” I said.

The line at The Louvre was biblical. I stood with everyone else who enjoyed the idea of spending a rainy day walking the halls of what became my new school. I breathed into the overwhelm. I had time. Lots of time. To discover, to wander, to explore. El Señor made sure of it.

I’d seen her twice before and had no memorable reaction. But that day, standing in the crowded stairwell, the glorious sculpture of a split-second in time, set in stone took my breath away.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace depicts the exact moment an angel landed on the prow of a victorious boat. Scholars place the victory in either the 1st or 2nd century. What beauty lay in the disciplined and passionate hands of the ancients. The angel’s breasts jolt upon landing. A ghostly wind ripples translucent robes across her headless body. The artistry a type of time machine. The experience ethereal, whole-hearted.

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After visiting the great masterpieces I’d seen before, I ventured into the unknown. A statue of Psyche and Cupid brought me to tears and inspired me to sculpt my stories, always with attention to the split-second in time I depict. I’d write with the same sense of urgency about moments. Write like the disciplined and passionate hands of ancient sculptors.

Over a glass of wine and crème brulee at a café at The Louvre I wrote in my journal.

“Before the couple and I said hasta luego this morning, they invited me to visit Argentina and see the end of the world there. I’d wanted to go to Patagonia for years and accepted, jokingly calling it my end-of-the-world tour. What they didn’t know was that I thought mine had ended not-so-long ago. But here and now a whole new world has opened up to me.”

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Apparently this new world included new clothes and shoes too. I wanted and intended to experience day 2 at The Louvre but the weather stopped me. I had to get warm. El Señor and I went shopping. His great sense of humor and playfulness surprised me. But it shouldn’t have, He invented them.

I heard a wonderful phrase while shopping at a great store called Spree http://spree.fr/en/ (if you’re ever freezing in Monmartre and looking like you just hiked into Paris from the Maseta––the great desert of Spain––they are the perfect people to hook you up). The women there helped me put outfits together. Every time I raised an eyebrow and asked if the patterns went together the clerk always said, ‘well…why not?’

Ok, Lord. I got you. ‘Why not?’

After shopping until we dropped El Señor and I sat at a café for wine and cheese and charcuterie––enjoying the great blessing of warmth.

Outside a man parked his van diagonally across the middle of the intersection of a tiny cobblestone street. He got out, put a foot on the fender and lit a cigarette. A heavy woman wearing lots of makeup, dressed in a short skirt stood at the corner with her small poodle, staring. The man and the woman both had perfected the Parisian stare, searching but not searching, caring and not caring. Too deep to notice casual things and not alert enough to do anything about them. The art of being.

School kids, their mothers and occasional tourists walked by. Off and on cars stopped. Confused drivers drove around the unfazed, smoking man. I couldn’t figure out what on earth he was doing. No one in America would tolerate blocked traffic for a cigarette break.

The woman with the small poodle crossed from one corner to another, and struck a pose. As she lit a cigarette, the man left his van, walked into the cafe and ordered an espresso. He took his time drinking it.

A lady walked up to the front door of the apartment building at the corner and the smoking, expresso-drinking driver left the café to pull a large bag of ice out of his van. He and the lady disappeared into the apartment building. There seemed to be something more to their story. I loved it all.

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I loved being not-quite a tourist in Paris. Everything was so much more fun when I put the words “in Paris” after them. Even buying toilet paper or watching the plumber fix the sink or making a shopping list or finding the circuit breaker.

Each morning the city screamed to explore her. One particular night I ‘d stayed out very late and my phone had died. Thinking I knew that part of the city, I confidently walked home and got horribly lost. Luckily one French word didn’t elude me, m’aidez (help me). I asked every monsieur at each outdoor market on my way if I was close to Rue Lamark. Some knew the street, some mistook it for another. As I wandered, a yellow arrow winked at me, painted on a street corner. I turned right and walked home.

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“And mind my dear fellow, Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be here and if it became worse and harder even––the fresh air clears up the brain and does one good––a world of good.” – Letter from Vincent Van Gough to Horace Mann Livens, Paris 1886

A pilgrim in Paris (una peregrina en Paris)

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I soared above Santiago. Over The Bay of Biscay I spotted the Camino del Norte.

My heart began to understand what it meant to have walked across the entire fiesta-filled, rioja-swilling, bagpipe-playing, country of my literary idols where ancient wars had been won and lost, and a biblical amount of Syrian and African refugees sought safety to cries of Catalonian independence.

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I said a silent prayer for peace, for the welfare of the refugees and pelegrinas below and gave thanks to El Señor for the last metaphor of The Camino and the privilege of completing my pilgrimage.

A bittersweet adíos to the country that had been my home for over a month. I’d sold almost everything and stored the rest before traveling the world with El Señor in July. Home is and will continue to be where my heart and mochilla (backpack) are.

The early morning cab ride from Fisterra to the Santiago Airport found my body restless, wondering with every twitch why it wasn’t walking.

I’d ride in a taxi, plane, train and three metro lines before the short walk to my apartment in Monmartre. My body hardly knew what happened.

Paris was cold. Very cold. Tan and sporting a hiking skirt, I walked onto my train at Charles De Gaulle and rode to Garre del Nord to take the metro to Garre Leon. My feet bruised and bandaged, not for the likes of Parisian eyes–wild “lion” hair, no makeup, a mochilla and walking sticks completed my look. Rain pelted the windows of the train. Lightning strikes across a darkened Parisian skyline tracked the train.

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I was very tired with a big plan––to visit the Louvre for thirty days and write about it. Great art of the world would be my classroom.

El Señor had something to teach me. I had no idea what but was open and ready to learn. I totally surrendered to Him. To prepare for this part of my walk with The Lord I studied French with a tutor in Los Angeles. Problem was, by the time I’d arrived in Paris I’d been thinking, speaking and dreaming in Spanish for over a month. The best I could do was to think in French and speak in Spanish. A beautiful young lady that hardly spoke English gave me the keys to my apartment and helped me with where I might find stores to buy warm clothes and which metro lines to take.

There were a few things I needed to figure out right away.

How to make the shower work. How to turn the sofa into a bed. I would need so much help with this that the owner of the apartment sent me a youtube video. Valerie, a nice young man–go figure, I expected a woman too…ah, Paris–who lived upstairs, checked in on me to make sure I wouldn’t have to sleep on the sofa again for another night due to my serious lack of sofa conversion skills. I needed to sit in a café and drink champagne and write in my journal. Buy some warm clothes. Stop speaking Spanish to Parisians. And, I needed to figure out the best way to The Louvre. I needed to rest. A lot. More than a lot. Spanish took over the language of my dreams.

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The following day I woke up at 10 AM, bone-tired. Much too late for a peregrina. My sofa bed a magnet.

I couldn’t wrap my head around walking or taking the metro to The Louvre. It was all I could do to shower in a space so small I barely had room to turn around. No longer sleeping among an army of people in bunk beds, I found the solitude welcome but strange. I stumbled to the velvet curtains and opened the french windows. Peering out of the window into the courtyard and up seven stories, a sunny sky surprised. A nearly-dead geranium sat in the iron grillwork of the window box. I cradled the plant and watered it using my Finsterra shot glass.

In one plane ride life had changed from hand-washing clothes and sleeping in hammocks to daily metro rides, friends, family, coded locks, losing myself among Renoir’s streets and cafes, and the taste of rose marshmallows–a new pleasure.

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Showering led to walking which led to finding the perfect store to buy coffee for the next morning which led to strolling by a sculpting studio.

Beautiful female bodies frozen in rapture, others seated and stared into the unknown. They captivated me. Red coffee pots in a storefront reminded me of Lucy who I met the first day of The Camino and is now a life-long friend, mi hermana. I instantly wanted to buy a coffee grinder. Soon I walked the streets by Sacre Coeur. Men asked permission to draw my portrait as accordions and clarinets played.

 

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I ordered champagne and onion soup in a small café and picked up my pen.

“I can’t help but wonder how The Camino will shape my life. A greater sense of peace and confidence has been among The Lord’s great gifts. I am exhausted and my body needs to be still now, even as it glorified in the joy of walking. Moving forward. Ultreia (“Onward,” an ancient Latin pilgrim greeting). A joy I’ve always had and will God-willing never lose. I know the Lord has brought me to Paris for a reason and begin to feel He is preparing me for something big. I am open to all of it.” How wonderful walk in Montmartre, drink champagne and write in my journal.

A young Russian woman with red hair and raincoat to match shared that her husband was meeting her for a weekend in the city of love. 

The young couple next to me ordered a half bottle of rosé and sealed their first drink with a kiss. Young love so beautiful. Babies pass by in strollers. Sweet memories of my family. Touring Paris eleven years ago.

I meandered the streets that lead to Sacre Coeur and pass small snail sculptures. Inside a charming store I bought the perfect snail in Camino yellow and two coffee mugs. I want my own mugs for my daughter’s visit. The snail honored something very special my dear friend and fellow pilgrim Tatianna and I discovered, our own pace.

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“I’m still on The Way, following the signs. Before I had the challenge of crossing a country with its mountains and valleys. I now have the challenge of knowing an historic city with all of its people and rich artistic heritage. It occurs to me that the mountains and valleys of a city are perhaps more difficult to navigate. Sitting here in this café getting perhaps a little drunk this afternoon is a good introduction to Paris. A day of splurging. Splurging and sunshine and getting to know the terrain. Different than the mountains of Spain but similar too. It’s the beginning of another great adventure and I thank God for it.”

Banners draped over the front of Sacre Coeur read—“For over 125 years HERE NIGHT AND DAY someone is praying to the Lord.” Over a century of 24/7 continual prayer. I stare deeply into the eyes of my favorite statue of Mary. Of course my journey in Paris would begin here.

The newness of Sacre Coeur spoke to the comfort of the ancient ways I’d been wearing.

And it unsettled me. I enjoyed pilgrim life and had a hard time saying goodbye. Standing at the veranda below Sacre Coeur I looked out over Paris and wondered where this next adventure would lead.

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