On my first trip to Paris, I went alone. I was in my mid-20s and new to living in London, whilst my first husband was working in Africa. I knew, however, that I didn’t want to experience the City of Light with him. Whilst he wasn’t a bad man, he could be unpredictable at times, and my vision of Paris didn’t include emotional outbursts under the Eiffel Tower. And by emotional outbursts, I don’t mean passionately kissing.
My vision of Paris was not strolling hand-in-hand, sharing lingering kisses on postcard pretty corners.
I wanted to be free to walk for as long as I wished, taking in the stunning sights and capturing every detail on film without anyone urging me to move along. I wanted to be able to stop in cute cafés whenever the mood struck me, to drink cold champagne without the risk of it being spoiled by disappointed, post-fight tears. And truthfully, I wanted to be able to eat my body weight in baguettes and French butter without giving a second thought to how I might feel later, as another body pressed against mine.
I envisioned my evenings spent happily alone, sitting in candlelit restaurant corners, scribbling in my journal. Even though I’ve never smoked, I could clearly see a Gauloise hovering at my lips, lit by a most handsome waiter who would otherwise ignore me.
That was my idea of a perfect Paris weekend, and it was exactly how it turned out. Not as good as I’d anticipated, but far, far better.
Since then I’ve returned more times than I can recall. I’ve been on work trips, with my mother, with a lover, I’ve even been just for lunch. I’ve had the great fortune to be able to spend a month ‘living’ in Paris over Christmas and New Years with my beloved second husband – not just once, but twice.
We’ve made the most wonderful memories together and had the fun of decorating our little rented apartment with a Christmas tree hauled up several flights of stairs. We’ve made fabulous friends for life there and have a local haunt where the waiters know us by name and greet us with exuberant hugs and multiple kisses each time we return after an extended absence. No matter how many times we visit, it will never be enough.
But Paris will always belong to me.
Sometimes I glimpse my younger self when I’m there. I see her standing on corners, looking up in wonder, or I catch her shining eyes reflected back at me in beautiful store windows. I find her sitting in cafés, immersed in a book or writing. I see her looking sublimely happy, finally falling a little in love with herself in the most romantic of cities.
It’s wonderful to have shared memories with loved ones, but there’s also something very special about creating ones that are yours, and yours alone.