At the age of thirty-seven she realized she'd never ride
through Parisin a sports car with the warm wind in her hair…
In my early 30s, I heard The Ballad of Lucy Jordan on the radio. It is a song about realizing that your life is a lot less than you expected. I had never heard it before and I haven’t heard it since, but I scribbled those two lines on a sticky note and buried them in a pocket of my planner.
At the time I was working for a foreign language publisher. My colleagues were smart, creative people, but were forever beginning their sentences with “When I lived in Paris," “When I was studying in Barcelona..." “On my trip to Portugal..." I had studied French a total of ten years from Kindergarten through college, but never had the opportunity to do the semester abroad like so many of my colleagues. My sense of accomplishment has always been tied up in the places I’ve been and by carrying those lyrics with me, I was saying “Please don’t let that be me.”
In truth, I was making progress in my career, I learned much from the publishing job; traveled to different states, met authors and teachers from many cultures, sampled different ethnic cuisine and a lot of fine wine, found focus. I started work on a Masters degree. My husband and I bought a house, traveled to Alaska and Hawaii, and began the debate over children and adoption.
Some years later, while planning our first adoption trip to Russia,the travel agent, who had worked with adopting families before, suggested an itinerary that involved a twenty-three hour layover in Paris. “I’ll find a nice little hotel, you can have dinner in Paris. A lot of couples do it. It is like a mini-vacation before the baby comes home.”
After the harrowing experience that was our first trip to Russia, I was thankful for this small retreat in a city I had read and learned about all my life. As the taxi zipped us from the airport to the heart of Paris, the stress left my shoulders, my smile returned.
Our hotel was blocks from the Louvre. We had dinner at a small sidewalk café, then walked for hours in the neighborhood, getting a glimpse of La Tour Eiffel from a distance, getting a little lost, getting acquainted with Paris. Then once again we crossed the courtyard of the Louvre, and returned to our hotel, exhausted but unable to sleep.
After breakfast we began with a stroll in the Tuileries. It was late March, not quite April in Paris, but warm with the trees sprouting tiny leaves. A student approached us, looking for the Metro. “Je suis Americaine,” I started to apologize, momentarily flattered to be mistaken for a French woman. But then I spotted a Metro station out of the corner of my eye and was able to help him after all.
We dashed from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, walked along the Seine and got as close to Notre Dame as time allowed. We didn’t actually go into anything, with only hours between breakfast and our departure, it was literally a whirlwind tour.
But however brief, the time spent in Paris was an extraordinary gift. A world I had known only through books or a movie screen came to life before my eyes. It was truly magical. Getting there once somehow meant that I could always come back.
My husband said he had rarely seen me happier. I was thirty-six.