But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.
– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
In February, eee and PG and I had gone to Paris, on a platonic-romantic little mini-holiday.
Afterwards, eee had sent me a postcard with Hemingway’s line about Paris being an old city. It was written in her high-peaks-no-caps hand, and I saved it, because it seemed a thing worth saving.
For our part, eee, PG, and I had that strange comfort of companions who could share a bed with nothing weird about it — like children do when they are young. We were far too old to be so young. And as bedfellows, I was the monkey-in-the-middle: eee on one side of me, and PG on the other side.
So the nights were long and cold and scary in a Paris February, but I was safe nestled between my two tall companions as I stood at the beginning of one of the most important moments of my career.
Nothing was simple.
Fast forward three months, through the ups-and-downs of February-March-April.
It is, today, The Day of Reckoning, and I am talking to a friend, who happens to be in Paris. And for the eleventy-billionth time, I tell him my unfavourable opinion of the place.
Suddenly, he says: I would punch the bastard who coloured your view of this great city.
Paris, the City of (B)light. Paris, where, each time I visit, some unfortunate series of events befalls me and leads me to believe that the arrondissements are some tongue-in-cheek metaphor for the various circles of Hell.
Nothing is simple in Paris; nothing is easy. New York is straightforward in a that aggressive way that everyone expects. The minute you step off the plane at JFK, New York slaps you in the face with its putrid air, and its offensive accent, and, if you’re lucky enough to be coming in from overseas, its intrusive American border control. And London is straightforward in that way that always seems sort-of startled-but-pleased to see you like the bumbling Hugh Grant character in a rom-com. However, it will always keep you at arm’s length and snicker at your accent behind your back.
I double-back and tell my friend that I maybe I could stomach Hemingway’s Paris, if it indeed existed. But I am not sure that it did. And he tries to convince me that there is a Paris beyond the sad place I have known. The place where hearts are broken, and people come down with foodborne illness, and my iPhone is stolen by gypsies at Notre Dame.
The thing is: All the men I know have gone to Paris to love women who are not me.
Wives, and girlfriends, and the City itself.
But not me.
What was it Hemingway said? I ask my friend, “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love”?
That was a lesson I had learned not in Paris, but in Innsbruck one Christmas many years ago, on the slopes at Axamer-Lizum. We had flown into Zurich and taken a train through the Alps and into Austria, versus flying into Vienna and taking the much more boring train west-bound train. I was still sick, and our marriage was ending, and I had flatly refused to attend Christmas with my then-husband’s family. Innsbruck was a last-ditch attempt to Save Things.
It was Christmas morning, and the sun was brilliant on the snow. Skiing is the only sport that has ever come naturally to me; all others require work and concentration. And my then-husband refused to ski downhill.
I have come to know that there are two types of people in this world: Those who go take the plunge, and those who do not.
That Christmas morning, I pushed off and never looked back.
But back to Paris.
The night in Paris is ending and the work day in New York is ending, and my friend says: There was a time when this conversation would’ve taken place over a single-malt and a dodgy sherry.
And it is true. But he is kind enough to leave off the bit about the one time that I knocked a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream all over him; he mercifully fails to mention the time I almost threw up all over him.
I can’t believe it has been four years! I say, filling space. And I do not mention the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, or the New York nights, or Hong Kong to London, or meeting at the end of a jetbridge, or the lobbies and bars of luxury hotels, or all of the other strange and magical adventures.
All I know is that Paris is a terribly old city, but we will always be very young.