Returning To Paris
By Don George
You have returned to Paris,
to the place that changed your life four decades before.
You have three precious days to find the young you,
so you trace your former ways, making pilgrimages
to the Marais, Notre-Dame, the Musée d’Orsay.
You visit your old neighborhood and sit at a sidewalk café
and marvel at how Paris is so different today:
so many new faces and races in the passing parade.
You spend a long night wandering
the Île Saint-Louis and the Seine,
remembering the demoiselle from Mougins
and the bright-eyed Parisienne,
the first who infatuated you,
the second you opened your heart to.
You remember the lost American sisters
you guided back to the Ritz,
and how their parents presented a dizzying gift
— dinner at La Tour d’Argent
and stage-side seats at the Folies Bergère,
how possibility beckoned everywhere
that summer of endless walks and talks and seaside ease,
lamplit nights and youthful dreams.
Then you were restless,
wondering where life’s path would lead.
Now you have traveled that winding way
— but where has it led, and what does it mean?
On your last night you are determined
to go somewhere suffused with past sense.
But as you enter the cobbled,
tree-shaded Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine,
cast in the grainy gloaming, you find a Renoir scene:
a dozen tables with patrons exclaiming, laughing, and toasting,
calling for more Champagne, more fromages, more escargots.
Impetuously you take a seat,
order a kir royale and savor the tableau.
The couple on your left celebrate the resurgence of the revolution,
the foursome in front ardently debate cinema’s evolution,
and all around the air sings
with the merits of this Bordeaux and that rosé,
the proper way to prepare poulet,
the best beach for next Sunday.
One kir royale leads to another,
and you ask the waitress Virginie for a pitcher of rosé
and her recommendation for an entrée.
The tables around erupt with advice
— the charcuterie, the paté,
“You must try the duck Parmentier!” Eventually you order frites and faux-filet.
“Bravo!” your neighbors say,
and you are swept on a wave of bonhomie,
suddenly sailing a conversational sea
— French and American politics,
immigration, climate change, the allure of Paris:
“son histoire, sa beauté!”
After two hours, the film critics rise and nod au revoir,
and the regulars clap you on the back and proclaim
“A la prochaine fois!” — “See you again!” — as they leave.
Now you sit alone, willing the night not to end,
and Virginie brings you a complimentary pear digestif.
You take a grateful sip and suddenly
you understand the gift of this journey —
that summer four decades ago, these past three days.
You open your journal and scribble away:
This is to be young — whatever your age — and in Paris,
to immerse yourself in a celebration of life, art, light, sensuality,
elegance, intelligence, beauty, and philosophy.
Sitting in this enchanted place, in this enchanted city,
I am filled with one more Parisian epiphany:
There is no young me
out there waiting to be claimed.
I am the young me;
we are one and the same.
He has always been here,
and always will be —
deeply alive and in Paris, just as Paris
is deeply alive
and in me