Departure – North and East

I love this moment – like that instant in the darkened theater when the trailers have ended, there’s a hushed paused, and you brace yourself for the immersion in what you’ve been anticipating: it’s starting, now. For me, I get that rush, a hundredfold stronger, when the plane has finished its lumbering down the runway and drags itself into the sky. This is it – the adventure is starting. Now.
In this case, the adventure is a week in Paris, visiting my favorite aunt. Come to think of it, she’s my only aunt, but she’d be anyone’s favorite. Trust me. My wife and kids are up at Tahoe with her parents, and my aunt’s friends are scattered across France and Bob-knows-where in honor of France’s annual get-the-heck-outta-town holiday (known in English as “August”), so it’s a chance to visit, hang out and explore the timeless City of Lights.
I’ve not been in Paris without parental duties in over a decade, somewhere in my mid-30’s. And the last time that it was just S and I – man, I was 14. So many lifetimes ago, so many lifetimes ago. This city is deep under my skin – it’s in my blood. In college, studying in Lyon for a semester; Jim Gill (“Jheeem Gheeel”, the French called him) and I would catch the train up weekends, bum the spare flat off my aunt, and hang out in left bank cafes’, trying to impress women.
We both fell for the same girl, Ariane. Younger sister of a girl one of us (maybe both?) had been set up on a date with. While we sat in the parlor waiting for her sister, Ariane asked us about life in America, our travels, our homes. She had a beautiful face and an angelic voice. She spoke English as well as we did, with a French accent that made it feel like her words were made of rose petals and sunshine. She corrected us on our use of the subjunctive tense. The English subjunctive tense – “Shouldn’t you have said ‘if it weren’t raining?'”.
And she was young – too young for college boys to be thinking such thoughts about her. But by the time her sister was ready to go, Jim and I were already dreaming of some day, a few years hence, when Ariane would be old enough for us to come calling. I do believe we even challenged each other (in a gentlemanly way) to a duel in the unspecified future, for the right to be the first one to call on her.
Then, a few years ago – my last time in Paris – with Devon at a luncheon for my aunt’s friends, the inevitable circled back on me. The elegant, eloquent businesswoman and her quiet, genial husband sitting across the table. We hadn’t been introduced, but had somehow fallen into animated conversation about Sony and the future of digital music distribution.
You’re seeing this coming from a mile away, of course. She didn’t remember Jim and me, of course – how could she have? It had been a few minutes, half a lifetime ago. And how many different lifetimes have I already had in Paris?
In any case, I’m not counting on any new lifetimes this week. Just a few laid-back days with my aunt. But this city has so many lifetimes hidden down down the winding streets of Ste. Germain, scattered across the Tuleries, and rippling in the banners of Notre Dame – it’s hard to predict when you’re going to stumble across one.

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