I’ve been writing you a love letter in my head for close to thirty years. Given recent events, now might be a good time to share it.
In 1988 I visited you for the first time. It was march break of Grade 10, and I was supposed to be spending the week on a family trip to Myrtle Beach. But that plan changed at the last minute and my parents let me join my high school’s trip to Paris and London. I will never forget stepping foot on a Paris street for the first time. You were beautiful, exotic, loud and exciting. You were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was 15 years old and IN PARIS. We stayed in a tiny hotel, sleeping two to a room the size of an en suite bathroom. We ate chocolate croissants and drank coffee. We walked the streets, saw the Louvre, toured Versailles, tried not to lose our passports and just breathed it all in. We were terribly cool.
I had always been interested in travel but it was never an obsession. But Paris changed that. You opened my eyes to everything that was different about the world I lived in the other 360 days a year. Remember, there was no internet then, at least not in my home or school. I didn’t even have my own computer. I had no idea that there was a world out there like Paris. You changed everything for me.
Paris helped me grow up, or at least it felt that way. I felt so worldly, so mature upon coming home. I felt like a different person and much of my life since then has been about where I’m going next. And it all started with you.
The second time, I skipped the city in favour of France’s glitzy beach towns. It was 10 years later and I was a backpacker on a budget. The South of France is not the easiest place to find budget accommodations but I knew I couldn’t skip the country entirely. At a hostel overlooking the sea I met a girl I would travel with for several more days. She was the best companion I’d met so far and we bonded instantly. She came along at the perfect time, when I needed a friend, and we stayed in touch for more than a year after that trip (pretty amazing for the pre-Facebook era).
The third time I fell in love with Paris was on my honeymoon in 2006. We stayed in a hotel around the corner from the Eiffel Tower and spent each night sitting on the grass, watching it light up. The Da Vinci Code was wildly popular at the time so we fought the crowds at the Louvre along with Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur and my favourite place in your entire city, Sainte-Chapelle.
But your appeal was never just about the tourist attractions. Not even the incredible churches, the architecture, the history. It was never just about the food, and I love food. Paris is the whole package. It is beautiful and exotic with enough flaws to provide just the right amount of character.
It was on this trip that I fell in love with the idea of being a mother, too. Sorry for being indelicate but I think you should know that I flushed my birth control pills down the toilet in your fair city. Things turned differently in terms of our route to parenthood, but once again it was Paris that inspired.
This July I’ll bring both my girls to Paris to visit their aunt and uncle and experience the city I love. We’ve rented a flat close to the Eiffel Tower so they can experience a picnic on the lawn and see the lights at night. We’ll take them to all our favourite spots and let them experience the magic of Paris. I hope it will initiate a lifelong love of travel and adventure for them, as it did for me.
Paris, you’ve been part of my life for almost thirty years. There are countless pictures of you in my home, in my photo albums, on my camera and in my heart. This has been an awful few days. Your citizens are in shock, and your streets are crowded with police. To some it might seem like you’ve become a symbol of bloodshed, radicalism and hate. But not to me. Never to me.