I went to Paris looking for answers to questions that bothered me so. It was the summer of 2009. While I was studying in Oxford that summer, I found a great deal via the Eurostar from St. Pancras to La Gare du Nord. I disappeared into the French cafes, restaurants and museums for three solid days. I don’t know if I have ever had a more fabulous vacation.
I decided when I left that I would only speak French. If you know me, you know that’s not necessarily a wise decision. But I figured, if they spoke English, they would reply in English if my French was that bad. Wise decision actually. I did pretty well, and I’m glad that I made that choice. It was fun.
I chose to take a leave from grad work while I was gone despite my better judgment. I had an enormous paper on Ulysses due the following week. But I didn’t care. I took the Metro everywhere, leaving my hotel at nine in the morning, and returning around eleven or midnight. I took probably 500 photos that weekend. I tried on French clothes, only to be disappointed that they didn’t fit a curvy girl well. I smoked French cigarettes, and ordered wine and cheese for my lunch.
So what were these questions that bothered me so? I still am not sure. They could be about losing a good amount of weight, but not feeling any different. They could be about a shitty relationship the fall prior. They could be related to a novel that I desperately wanted to write. They could be about not ever feeling like I fit in anywhere. I knew the answer actually–stop making your self feel marginalized. But I couldn’t seem to ask the question properly to myself.
When I missed my train accidentally to return to Oxford, I secretly was thrilled. Looking back on it, I should have allowed myself to stay for one more night. But I didn’t. When I reflected on my pictures from the trip, and the courses and items from the amazing dinners I had, and the conversations I experienced with people on the train, people on the Metro, people in shops and museums and restaurants, I realized that my life was pretty bad ass. The question was why the hell am I not doing things that really make me happy?
Sadly, I didn’t change that day. It’s taken almost three years to put some of those changes into place. I loved my trip, and I think about it all the time. I experienced the Calder and Kandinsky exhibit at the Centre Pompidou, braised squab at L’Ardoise, a cheer from French youth on the Metro when I said I was American, followed by chants of “O-Ba-Ma!”, and a lump in my throat as I pulled away from the station.
Jimmy Buffet’s song reminds me of my dad. It’s a really sad song I think. But maybe it’s just the sad harmonica crooning. One of the lines from the song is “Through 86 years of perpetual motion…some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way”. I guess Jimmy Buffet is trying to tell me that wherever life takes us, regardless of when things don’t go our way, you can’t seek out all the questions and answers that bother you so. Sometimes you just have to miss the train, take a breath, and hang out at the station until the next one arrives, get on, and move forward. I think it’s okay to look back and remember and wish and miss, but forward is the right direction.
Bette Davis Eyes–Kim Carnes
He Went to Paris–Jimmy Buffett
Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)–Otis Redding
Little Wing–The Jimi Hendrix Experience