Living Unscripted: Connecting the Dots in Paris

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I decided to make Paris the first stop on my six-month journey when my friend Karen and I went to a revival of Jacque Brel. Swept up in the music, I had an urge to reacquaint myself with the language, my mind conjuring up a picture perfect postcard of Paris in winter. Paris was also the first stop on my first trip to Europe when I was 14, and I remember being infatuated then with this deliciously romantic city.

After all, Venus de Milo lives here. A curvaceous babe with a bit of belly and a sculpted head of curly hair, she’s taken up residence in the Louvre. The sight of her is an aphrodisiac arousing millions who come here every year, turning us on the sounds, the sights, the flavors and the scents of what appears to be an easier, less aggressive, more sensual life . . . The City of Love.

In my few weeks here, I found all of that to be true. I experienced the mystical sound of the Benedictine Nuns Choir on Christmas Eve at The Sacra Coeur Cathedral; I watched the snow falling on the Arch de Triumph with the Eiffel Tower silhouetted in the distance. I tasted the best duck, the best chocolate, the best wine, the best cheese . . . and I inhaled deeply walking past the local patisserie to and from the Métro.

I connected the dots . . .

The music of Serge Reggiani, a favorite in 1968 when I was an exchange student in Germany . . .  My two best friends and I racing home after school to listen to his records; our favorite song “Sarah” -

La femme qui est dans mon lit n’a plus vingt ans depuis longtemps

 

Les yeux cernés par les années, par les amours au jour le jour

La bouche usée par les baisers trop souvent, mais trop mal donnés

 

We listened intently to the dramatic lyrics about a woman who hadn’t been 20 for a long time, her eyes worn by years of disappointment, lips bruised by lousy lovers . . . We sighed in unison as we wondered what our fate would be.

I’ve never forgotten his music. I rediscovered him earlier this year when I absentmindedly hummed this particular song–and it was, shockingly, recognized by Surfer Dude.  I found the CD, downloaded it on to my ipod — and play it often chez moi. The unexpected was finding an old DVD at a video store featuring Monsieur Reggiani in one of the leading roles, on my first evening wandering about.  Now I’m the femme who hasn’t seen 20 in many years . . .

 

 

I walked almost every day here . . . at least an hour, often longer. On one longer walk I passed “Franz Liszt Place” — and stopped. I took piano lessons from his illegitimate granddaughter for eight years growing up.  I made note of the upcoming Nöel Concert in the Church on his square — and went to it on a cold rainy night with my American pal, Puppy à Paris, paying homage to Ms. Zalotti (my old teacher) -- and the Spanish speaking guy in the donut shop around the corner who made me oversized sugar donuts before my lessons . . .

 

Eliza’s father sang his landmark song “Get Me To The Church On Time” in MY FAIR LADY. Closing my eyes, I saw my dad belting out that song, my mom on our upright piano . . . and me, dancing around him, ringing the bells.

 

And OMG !!! goes to the final item at the Bvlgari exhibit at the Grand Palais . . .  Guided through on Audio tape, the narrator pointed out “a surprise gift” from an American husband to his wife, who would realize the surprise “when he flies her to Paris, to see the exhibit.” Connection: The lucky lady is none other than an investor of mine who forgot to call me when she was here…busy maybe? Ya think?!!

 

I figured out the Métro and the bistro, Montmârtre and the Marais. I learned a little bit about their Royals, their chocolate and the Nazi Occupation. I shopped as a local and as a tourist. I wandered through museums and galleries.  I’ve seen four plays, two movies and three cabarets . . . I finally got the girl behind the counter in the Patisserie to smile — and I loved my animated chitchats with the couple who own the laundry.

 

I saw Surfer Dude and heard from Doc and the 8-year-on-again-off-again-BF with holiday emails. But it’s Bond, James, who put his feet next to mine again, saying things a woman on – or off the road likes to hear. When he arrived, my routine changed . . . The GPS on his iPhone became our constant companion; I no longer worried about finding my way.  My horizons widened with fancier meals in fancier places, more cheese, more wine — “us,” together, skyping Karen and Toolman, Pailey and Emma  — happy faces, loving the visual connection.  And then, of course, there’s waking up Christmas morning with a handsome naked man in my bed. And no language barrier.

 

My niece, Brigitte, was my anchor but I met the others on my own:

  • Jim Haynes (infamous ex-pat, modern Gertrude Stein) through friends of Bond,James who heard about him through other friends.
  • Janet (American, Fulbright Scholar on extended sabbatical)
  • Marie (French, happy housewife) at the theater.
  • Puppy (American, 40, divorced with 3 adorable boys) on an express train back from the airport,.
  • Monsieur Magret (ex-pat, retired entertainment lawyer with a fun personality, a beautiful French girlfriend and a magnificent apartment off the Champs Élysée) through a mutual friend who caught me on SKYPE and introduced us on Facebook.
  • Catherine (French, gallery owner) in Pilates class.

Those are the folks who allowed me to peep through a window into their lives for my short stay, giving me a sense of belonging.

And yet it’s ultimately about me:

La femme qui est dans mon lit n’a plus vingt ans depuis longtemps

Ne riez pas, n’y touchez pas, gardez vos larmes et vos sarcasmes

Lorsque la nuit nous réunit, son corps, ses mains s’offrent aux miens

Et c’est son cœur couvert de pleurs et de blessures qui me rassure.

 

. . . .that woman who’s long past 20 . . . wounded and hurt, she’s still admired by our singer for willingly offering him the comfort of her body and her open heart.

There isn’t a morning I’ve woken up here without feeling grateful for my children, my extended family, my friends and the couple who own my tiny pied-à-terre for graciously allowing me to claim it for six weeks.

Now the year and my stay here are coming to an end — I finally bought a red beret and a snow globe. I’m making time for au revoirs: my new pals are meeting us at Angelina’s for a cup of hot chocolate to kiss off 2010 and we’re going to Jim Haynes’ New Year’s Eve party to welcome in 2011. But the best part? An email from my hosts inviting me to “keep the key” and come back to Paris.  I couldn’t think of a kinder finale to a year of bittersweet changes.

NOTE TO SELF: BONNE ANNÉE. (Happy New Year!)

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.

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