There is a picture on my desk – my husband, in white shirt and dark suit, stands next to August Rodin’s statue depicting young lovers locked in a passionate embrace. That picture was taken in Paris seventeen years ago. Just recently, I put another one next to it, a picture of my grandchildren looking out from the Eiffel Tower.
The first time my husband and I went out, he wore a bright blue raincoat and Russian-Army-style high boots. He offered no excuse for the flashy raincoat, but the boots, I soon found out, were supposed to show me how much he admired my culture, and so, I decided to give him another chance.
Things did work out between us, and half a year later, I found myself planning our honeymoon in Paris. The first thing on my agenda was letting him know that the boots were not going with us, nor would they be welcomed in our house afterwards. As for the raincoat, there was no time to find a substitute for it, and since the weather forecast for Paris was rainy, I had to put up with it.
I know what you think — a honeymoon in Paris sounds both indulgent and clichéd. Well, the only excuse I can offer is that I was already forty-five, and that trip to France was going to be my second overseas adventure – the first being my immigration from Moscow, Russia, to Columbia, MO.
The weather forecast turned out to be half-true: it rained for three days out of six. Most of those days, we, armed with a library guide-book, kept busy visiting numerous Parisian museums. (To our great disappointment, the Louvre happened to be on strike (!) for all but three hours of our stay in Paris.) The rest of the time, we spent strolling along the Champs-Élysées, exploring the Latin Quarter, and climbing everything that could be climbed in the great city of Paris.
We listened to a lot of music, too – from chamber music in old cathedrals to Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin in the Paris Opera. The latter was performed in German (here’s an opera tradition for you :)) with French subtitles, and the tickets were much more expensive than I care to remember. Yet we had a great time there – that is, after we got over the sight of mythical medieval characters hanging about the stage in the clothes of street people of the 1930s. And how could we not enjoy it? After all, it was our honeymoon, and the sounds of the famous wedding march made me feel both tearful and special
By the end of our visit, the weather improved, the fountains in the Tuileries Garden sprang to life, and my husband put away his rain coat whose color raised quite a few Parisian eyebrows (they all wore black that spring :)). I’m not saying that we greatly improved our fashion sense, but we improved our understanding of the city about which Hemingway wrote: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
My second trip to Paris, which took place in October, was very different, and not only because I am much older now, but also because the main purpose of it was — yes, I’m not kidding – visiting the French Disneyland. Of course, it wasn’t me who wanted to do it but my grandchildren, who happen to live in England — a land without Disneyland. (Now, not to confuse you with my family affairs, the honeymoon I described above was not with my grandchildren’s blood-grandfather, but with my second husband, with whom we have seven grandchildren together – five on his side and two on mine).
I rented an apartment on Rue de Moscou (what a fate for somebody from Moscow!), and we all stayed there. Once again, the weather in Paris was rainy, but Disney brimmed with visitors who walked around in rain ponchos crowned with Mickey and Minnie Mouse Ears (adults included :)). The souvenir shops and the restaurants were full, and lines for the rides varied from long to very long — the only one that didn’t require a wait was an open boat ride, which, on a rainy day, seemed appealing only to very few die-hards.
It rained on and off for the rest of our stay in Paris. Yet the city was still beautiful, with wide boulevards crossing its heart, old buildings gracing its streets, and the Seine, calmly floating under its bridges, carrying boatloads of tourists.
The grandchildren never complained about the weather. They ran through the Tuileries Garden scaring lazy pigeons, speeded along the Champs-Élysées, climbed the Eiffel Tower — my five-year-old granddaughter ahead of me, and her nine-year-old brother ahead of her — admired the gargoyles of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and stopped at every gift shop on our way. Did they notice the magic of the city? I don’t know. They seemed to enjoy it. Every night, they came back to our apartments happy and tired – the younger one falling asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
The night before I left, I kissed her on the cheek and said, “Goodbye, my love. I’ll miss you.” “Good-bye, grandma.” She said, sleepily.
Then I turned to my grandson. “Good bye, Alex. I love you.”
“I know that.” He answered with the self-assurance of the young, and I closed my eyes and quietly said my brief irreligious prayer, “Let you never experience malevolence and hatred, or be rejected.” Then I closed the door.
It is said that ancient Greeks believed in four kinds of love: Storge, a brotherly love; Philia, the love between friends; Eros, romantic, passionate love; and Agape or, in English, Charity, the love that brings forth caring. The kind of love about which the Kings James Bible says, “But now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; and the greatest of these is charity.”
And so, the city where, seventeen years ago, I drank from a cup of Eros, this time around handed me a chalice with charity – unselfish, protective love we experience toward the young. But again, one way of another, Paris has always been known as the City of Love.