A Month in Paris

Photo credit Alla Umanskiy

Last summer, a dream that has been gestating for many years finally came true.  And it was so big, so overwhelming, so massive in its meaning, that I didn’t even write about it.  I guess I couldn’t. But it’s been inside of me, building, fizzing, waiting to be born in its time.

Last summer, I spent a month in Paris.

I should now pause, back up, explain, make all of this make sense for everyone, including myself. But how do you explain a month in Paris? Where every street has meaning. Where every coffee shop is a memory of the past and of the future. Where every corner promises the glimpse of the river. Where every bridge offers a view so spectacular you close your eyes, because it’s all too much. It’s all too much. Every cobblestone has already been described by Dumas and Baudelaire and Hugo. And Balzac. No one loved Paris more than Balzac. And no one loves Balzac more than me. But I digress, though Paris is all about digressions…

Last summer, I spent a month in Paris.

It wasn’t my first time in Paris. It was my fifth, or maybe sixth. I lose track of trips to Paris, as I lose track of myself while in Paris. I lose track of my thoughts; I lose my mind; I most definitely lose my heart and any ability to reason.  In any case, all the previous trips have been short – four or five days, a long weekend – quick sojourns to just dip my toe into the pulsating Parisian abyss, to waddle in in it for a bit, and then to leave.  The dream has always been to come and stay, to come for longer, to rent an apartment, to go grocery shopping, not to rush through the touristic hotspots, but just to live.  The dream for my husband and myself has also been to come with our girls.

So last summer, after much deliberating and planning, we finally took our daughters to Paris. For a month.

The apartment we rented in the 1st district was small, charming, and non-air conditioned. I couldn’t make the stove work, so all our food was either already hot take-out or had to be microwaved. The elevator in the building could only fit one person, comfortably. When we arrived, we had to send our suitcases up one by one in the tiny lift. At least a week out of our stay, the elevator didn’t work at all. The area was lively, full of boulangeries, patisseries, and bars, two blocks to the river, three blocks to world’s most famous art museum, two blocks to one of the world’s most famous churches (still under repairs after a fire four years ago).

At first, our daughters were stunned by the amount of walking that was forced upon them daily.  We walked roughly 8 miles per day, in our attempt to absorb everything this magnificent city had to offer.  Sometimes we walked with purpose – to the market, to the Louvre, to the Chabad house, over the Pont Neuf and to the boats.  Often, we meandered aimlessly, following the road curves, turning corners, getting lost, turning around. We sat down for lunches in cafes under the shade of a tree or awning, admiring varieties of French breads and pastries.  We discovered new beverages and at least 50 ways to eat a crepe. I had a traditional French café breakfast most mornings – cappuccino, baguette with butter and jam, and juice.

We went to museums, took boat tours down the Seine, admired Parisian architecture, spent a few days on the Mediterranean coast, wore down several pairs of shoes, learned how to grocery shop (bring your own bags), bought useless souvenirs, walked up countless stairs.

Mostly we just breathed it all in. And in, and in.  My husband and I, somewhat still living on Eastern Standard Time, took late-evening walks every night. Just us, by ourselves, and Paris.  Combining my three favorite things in the world (walking, Paris, and the guy), these evening promenades were enchanting, full of exploring, learning, seeing, absorbing.  We sat in bars; we wandered through street festivals. One night we made it a point to visit cafes made famous during the 1920s by Picasso and Fitzgerald and the other greats who lived in France after World War I.  Other evenings, we simply explored neighborhoods, learning about the locals by staring at their windows and balconies, their bicycles tied next to buildings.

Paris is a city for wanderers, literally and metaphorically.  You can walk in Paris all day. You can walk in Paris your whole life.  Or it can take you your whole life to get TO Paris, and then you’ll wonder why it took this long.  You’ll wonder when you’ll get to come back.

I suppose here is where I should mention whether my daughters enjoyed the trip.  I should, but I won’t. It’s too early to tell.   Paris is a city that must sit with you, that must stay with you.  It’s an idea that must build inside you, hopefully one day bearing fruit, or not. My beautiful girls liked this beautiful city, yes. But what fruit that will bear remains to be seen. What I hope for the most though is for them to become wanderers, to know the beauty of just walking, just searching, just learning, just admiring, just tasting, just breathing it all in.

Last summer, I spent a month in Paris.  It was a month of touching the magical, the mythical, the quaint and the immense. Paris is all these things and all the other things that I can’t ever hope to describe, because I don’t know the words. I only know the feelings. It’s a chasm into which you hope to fall with no desire of ever climbing out.  It’s a world the lives within you, within me, for a second or forever. If you’re lucky.

About the Author
Alla Umanskiy is a writer, Jewish mother, wife, an amateur runner, and a mediocre figure skater, living, working, and raising a family in the Atlanta area. Alla holds an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Georgia State University and a graduate degree in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University. She's been published in various local and national publications, and recently finished translating a book from Russian to English.
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