NOW THAT I’M HOME, it’s the bread I miss most.
I just got back from ten wonderful days in France—Paris, Normandy, and the Loire Valley. I took hundreds (OK, let’s be honest, more like thousands) of photos of French villages, gardens, chateaux, cafes, castles, churches, cathedrals, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
I did not take a single photo of the basket of crusty, chewy, delicious French bread that appeared on the table at every meal.
Now that I’m home, it’s the thing I miss most—and the thing I don’t think can be replicated here. Though I’m determined to try!
I have to say that it was pure joy to be able to travel again after these long years of being confined at home. Seeing the world again—my beloved London the week before the Queen’s funeral (more on that in future posts)—and then Paris and the river cruise on the Seine that my husband and I had booked in the fall of 2019 (for June 2020) was just so fun. We had a moment of giddy bliss when the steward had closed the door and we were alone in the stateroom we’d booked three years earlier—finally.
Of course, the food in France was amazing. I fell in love with a Frenchman (alas! our “affair” lasted only as long as my lunch). The experience of cruising the Seine was like living inside a Monet painting, and I finally visited Giverny as well as the American cemetery and the beaches of Normandy.
Jean-Pierre Victoire, the Frenchman I fell in love with, at his Parisian cafe.
So maybe now is the moment to confess that I have not always had this La Vie en Rose feeling about Paris.
My only other visit to the City of Light was in 2005 with my family; my husband, my daughter who’d just graduated from high school, and my then 16-year-old son. It was the last leg of a long trip which had begun in London on 7-7-05, the day of the London Tube bombings, and Europe was on edge. Getting off the Chunnel train at the Gare du Nord, the first thing I saw in Paris was a serious-looking group of gendarmes toting automatic weapons.
In addition, it was August, and it was hot, and I am never at my best in the heat. Fortunately, our travel adviser had insisted we rent a flat with A/C near the Place de la Madeleine—I think I would have expired otherwise. Since my French-speaking skills are limited, I was depending on my daughter’s excellent French, but I underestimated how much my inability to communicate with people would frustrate me. While trying to get oriented to the city on the Hop-on Hop-off tourist bus, I fell down the winding stair and got a huge, painful bruise on my hip. A couple of days later, we were trying to take the Metro near the Eiffel Tower and the rest of my family was already on when the doors closed in my face. My husband yelled frantically, “Two stops!” before the subway zoomed off.
I know I’m taking this too personally, but it felt like Paris was rejecting me.
We visited Versailles, which is beautiful but completely over-the-top exhausting. It wasn’t till we got to the Jardin du Luxembourg that I started to relax and enjoy Paris. So I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Paris this time around—and I fell in love.
La Vie en Rose, the famous song sung by Edith Piaf that everyone associates with Paris, translates to Life in Pink—and who wouldn’t want to live like that? I did a little research and found out that the theme of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses helped people believe that life could be good again and that beauty could still be found in everyday things, even after the trauma and devastation of WWII.
I’d never heard the song sung in English, but I came across this lovely, simple version by Emily Watts on YouTube. Listen here.
Hold me close and hold me fast,
This magic spell you cast
This is La Vie en Roses.
When you press me to your heart,
I’m in a world apart,
A world where roses bloom.
And when you speak, angels sing from above,
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs.
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La Vie en Rose.
As someone who’s always believed in the sustaining power of the beauty found in everyday things, I love these words. Even getting Covid near the end could not dim the pleasures of Paris for me—I’m already looking forward to my next trip.
But I still miss the bread.
Featured image by Adrien, courtesy of unsplash.com
Photo of me with Jean-Pierre Victoire: Kurt Maass