A post-script in advance; I wrote and photographed this in May of 2013, during our trip. I'm only just now getting to put it up.
I secretly think this might be the last time I get to see Paris
I've always had a thing with firsts and lasts. Maybe we all do. When I think about possible lasts, I feel suddenly as though time swells in significance, like the shadow of a great clock tower falls over me, shading everything I see. I suddenly need to grab things a little more fiercely, to try a little harder.
Once I heard that the difference between a great leader and a poor one is whether or not they confront the temporal nature of life. I read that two examples of this were Roman emperor Nero, who threatened to put to death anyone who, in his presence, mentioned "death" in any form, and in contrast, Emperor Constantine, who charged a man to come before him every day and utter the words;
Momento Mori. One day, you will die.
I hope I can be like Constantine and look the end fearlessly in the face. I hope my character will bear in mind to value the moment before me and to imbue it with something worthy rather than wasteful. Because moments are the carriers of our legacy.
During our stay, we visit Abbesses.
And Sacre Coeur
Aaron arrives more refreshed this time, and forms a slightly better relationship with the city. A passing appreciation for some of her softer faces.
We revisit Rue Mouffetard, whose bricks and doors will always be the darlings of my heart. For dinner, I shop the street vendors. This time I am the one walking down the street with a baguette, it's aroma trailing me like perfume. I walk and snap photos, often of details I want so desperately to remember; the undersides of door-frames, the moldings around windows.
My shots are all crooked and un-composed, but I don't dare assume the pretension of trying to make artistic what is already art. I notice a slight twinge in my neck as I realize I've been staring up for hours.
Paris. She makes me lift my eyes and look up.
On the steps of Sacre Coeur, I see a man. He is sitting on the steps, playing his violin; another street busker of which there are many. He has his violin case open for tips, but I watch his face, closed eyes, and to me it looks like he's playing for the city, sprawled out at his feet. The sight of him reminds me of old photos of my grandfather whom I never met, whose name was Steven. Steven played the violin, too. I lift my camera to take a photo, but the man opens his eyes exactly then, lifts the bow from the strings, mid stroke and points it at me. I see you. Consumer. Tourist. Voyeur. he seems to say. But he holds still until he sees I've finished with my photo, as if giving permission. Then he resumes, exactly where he left off.
A consummate performer.
With our very small amount of time comes the acceptance that I won't be able to fit everything in. Arriving at our last few hours in Paris, still on the list of things forgone is the Eiffel Tower. I have been to the parks at her feet before, when I came with my mom and sister, and I had thought; at some point, somewhere in the city I will get one, full, perfect glimpse of her before we leave. But we were boarding the bus to Beauvais and I still hadn't seen her.
Until then, I don't think I realized just how much I was counting on that one good look, to feel my experience was complete. I strained to find her as we wound through La Defense, but headed the wrong way, through alleys between high buildings and diving under low tunnels. I failed to see even a small bit.
As the last edges of the city slipped by the window, remorse crawled into my chest and settled heavily. In memory, I was landing in Paris with Mom and Fern, throwing open our hotel windows, walking into a plaza where an impromptu orchestra played Bach, tasting our first Macaron, touching down years later on her birthday. All the best moments rolled out like so much road behind me, and all that was ahead was goodbye. Somehow I hung all the sadness of it on how I didn't visit the Eiffel Tower to say goodbye and I never even got my one good look. I sunk into my seat, eyes to the window to hide the wetness on my face. Grey sidewalls lined the corridor of the interstate and flashed by in sterile series, interrupted once or twice by meaningless graffiti.
I am sometimes a silly, desperate thing; and because I am, I watched for her long after it seemed reasonable.
Then, like walking around a corner and running into someone you didn't expect... for the swiftest flash, a heartbeat, no more, she appeared between a gap in the high, stentorian walls. Looking huge, even from so far, the full length of her stood in stark relief against the white-grey sky. She gracefully pointed up, as if to say, like so many other things here; "Lift your eyes and look up".
I sat forward, craning back at where she had been, fingers splayed on the glass, my earbud, just the one because Aaron had the other in, jerked out of my ear, pulling on Aaron's. He looks at me, puzzled, but I can't explain it right now. I have nothing adequate to say.
So, I smile at him, replace my earbud, grab his hand and settle back into my seat, finally able to accept goodbye. He watches me for a minute, noticing my red eyes. He is playing our traveling song. I sit very still and think;
For the sake of a second I never would've seen. It was hope. Hope beyond sense, that meant I was still watching for what my heart thought was lost to me.
"And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."*