You can’t go home again. The phrase lends itself to a number of interpretations, except for the literal. Of course we can go home again. We do it all the time. But revisiting the past with the expectation that it will be the same is disappointing. Nothing stays the same. We don’t stay the same. My long-awaited trip to Paris is a perfect example.
My first visit was in July of 1971. I was 18 years old and two of my best friends were with me. The City of Light was pure magic. On Bastille Day, jubilant, inebriated and unwashed, the young of Paris filled the streets in numbers so great we moved together as a wave, linking arms, laughing, singing the national anthem. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc d’ Triumph sparkled with thousands of lights. Boats floated on the Seine. The city throbbed with an energy that was heady, intoxicating, a perfect foil for three young girls, hopeful and optimistic with the anticipation of all of life ahead.
Forty years later, Paris and I are different animals. The 14th of July is still a huge celebration for Parisians and those who make their way to the capital from the provinces. The Eiffel Tower still sparkles, crowds still throng the streets. But I am no longer 18. My fiancé and I are past the naïve phase of our lives. We know what lies ahead. We’ve planned for the obvious. More importantly, and a bit sadly, we understand the potential for what could go wrong. The crowds of tipsy young people, the reduced Metro routes due to the holiday, the lateness of the hour and the police presence brought home possibilities not even considered forty years ago. We decided against waiting for the fireworks and made our way back to our hotel.
Paris is still Paris, one of the most magnificent cities in the world. But this time I appreciated what I hadn’t forty years ago, lunch on the Eiffel Tower, shopping at the Lafayette Galleries, experiences out of reach when I was a teenager without a credit card, counting pennies. This time, night life consisted of a good dinner and a glass of wine in restaurants on the Left Bank and along the Champs Elysees. Days were spent visiting museums, the Palace at Versailles, Notre Dame, the Sacre Coeur at Montmartre, walking the streets and truly appreciating their history and architecture.
Pizza Pino, a favorite haunt in 1971, is still there, a prime location on the boulevard of the Champs Elysees. Forty years ago, the three of us sat upstairs at window seats, eating our sundaes, eyes glued to the magic of the ever-changing tableau below. Today, the upstairs was closed. The food is still good but the ice cream isn’t quite as wonderful as the ice cream I remember. On the other hand the Musee D’Orsay is incredible as are the lacey balconies and beautiful buildings, the magnificent monuments and the expressive enthusiasm and friendliness of the French people.
Forty years ago, I didn’t notice the clothes. Maybe, as a self-conscious teen, I was too concerned with the way I looked to others. This time I noticed. The women of Paris wear wonderful clothes, tiny jackets nipped in at the waist, jeans, slim skirts and the most wonderful shoes, high-heeled, multi-colored, strappy, beautiful. The people are also very fit. I didn’t see a single gym or, for that matter, any overt exercise, but they do walk and climb, and climb and walk. And so did I. Incredibly, despite croissants for breakfast, sandwiches wrapped in French bread for lunch and dessert for dinner, I returned home weighing less than when I left. Bless the unending stairs of the Paris Metro system.