On being in Paris alone.
A few people (mostly Graeme) have asked how I experienced traveling alone to Paris. You need to understand that as a mother, wife and business owner, my life is pretty packed full of commitments and responsibilities. Obviously so is Graeme’s! The thought of being completely alone if even for a few days to do only what I wanted to do, was very appealing. I spend a lot of my time feeling guilty. If I take the boys to get new shoes, I’d feel guilty if I stopped to look at a cute top. When I’m working in the afternoon, I feel bad if I haven’t taken the dogs for a walk, or spent enough time with the kids. I feel bad when I ask Graeme to read the bed time stories because I’m too tired. Or if I wasn’t organized enough to get the kids bathed, lunch boxes packed and dinner ready by the time G got home from work. Of course he doesn’t expect all of that, and definitely not on the clock (and tells me frequently) but this is my family and I want to take care of them. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I like to have these things taken care of for the boys. I feel bad when I don’t hand school forms in on time, or forget the odd change for a bake sale. I can’t attend every school trip and cringe when I tick the “unable to assist” or “unable to accompany” boxes on the permission slips. I know that all parents feel this kind of guilt in some form, and I know that it bites in to all of us.
I feel guilty when I have to cancel a play date, or when I’ve forgotten the dogs’ flea and de-worming schedules. When I haven’t made a nutritionally balanced lunch for the boys and shove a bowl of noodles in the microwave. When I’ve broken a promise on taking them to a movie, or for a milkshake. It’s taxing, emotionally. It’s not a quest for balance, it’s about feeling okay with your efforts in relation to your results.
For me, the prospect of being freed from obligation even if just for 5 days was quite attractive. An actual holiday, from my emotions and the darkness found in the depths of self evaluation. It’s not that I was running from responsibility, because I completely love being a mother, wife and business owner. I ain’t no hussy. I really do love my life, if it’s okay to say that… without sounding conceited.
There’s a vulnerability to traveling alone. An excitement. A sense of anticipation. What will happen? What will I do? Who will I meet and how will I feel? In a world of responsibilities, routine and having Graeme available to run to at every opportunity – I craved a little bit of mystery and wondered how I would feel too. Would I get sad? Scared? What if I got lost or in to some kind of trouble. Being anonymous and vulnerable in a foreign city filled me with anticipation. A sense of greatness. Strength. Independence. I wanted to learn, experience, grow and make myself susceptible and available to foreign experiences.
If Graeme was with me, he would have carried our backpack when it got too heavy. We’d dine together, so nobody would have approached me, or confided in me. I wouldn’t have got lost or missed that train because Graeme never gets lost. I would never have felt afraid or vulnerable, because G makes me feel so safe. I wouldn’t have struck up accidental friendships, or spent an hour at the Eiffel Tower taking photos for tourists, just for fun. I wouldn’t have sat in silence at the Luxembourg Gardens pond for two hours, feeling desperately lonely. I wouldn’t have cried at the Degas for 20 minutes, because being alone in front of my favourite painting with nobody to share it with… allowed me to experience and absorb it in silence and in solitude. Without conversation and company as distractions and comfort, I think that I felt and experienced so much more. Of myself.
There were times that I really longed for Graeme. I had a particularly bad day when I really just struggled with everything. I got lost in translation between 6 floors and 2 information systems that gave me conflicting routes. I missed my train to Monet’s house by 6 minutes (there’s only one every 3 hours) and cried at the station for what felt like most of the day. I put my sunglasses on, I sat on a chair surrounded by strangers and foreigners and I just cried. I missed Graeme when I flooded my hotel room (a disagreement between a tiny shower and it’s curtain) and realized there was no towel in my suite. I missed him when I was queuing at the Louvre and had nobody to share the excitement with. When I saw something beautiful. When I went to bed at night.
I feel like I really and genuinely connected and engaged with myself for the first time in years. It wasn’t just about the sites and the art or the people and the history. It was about adding another layer to my character, my experience. I feel different. Empowered. Humbled. Satisfied. I mostly think, act, plan and react based on what the people I love need and want. The kids, their milestones and achievements. My relationship with my husband. My business and other projects. Obligations.
Eventually, I’m going to tell you about the people I met. Conversations that struck up in ticketing queues. In bookshops. In cafe’s. While waiting for drinks or a meal. While being lost. I want to talk about the man from Norway who went to Paris to fulfill his dreams, and now works in a bar at the Moulin Rouge. A 27 year old girl from Italy who was about to return home to break up with her boyfriend of 8 years. She drank a lot of red wine, and I kept her company until midnight. A 20 year old French girl with a broken heart, who doesn’t understand how young she is. A 31 year old man who was distraught after converting from Catholicism to Hinduism for his wife and was about to walk away, without their 2 year old daughter. A young boy who got lost in the Carousel de Louvre and cried desperately until I took his hand and soothed him, waiting for his mother to find him. A baker from Los Angeles who had traveled to Paris for a funeral. A lady from Milan who was visiting her oldest friend, and wouldn’t let her pay for anything at lunch. An American woman named Tasha who travels the world and hates it, and also cries in stations. Her dad likes to take a lot of pictures, and it embarrasses her deeply. A French painter who has been painting for 35 years, and now spends her days doing portraits of tourists at Place du Tertre, for 30 euros a piece.
I have so much to talk about, and so much that I want to remember about this trip. I haven’t even touched the photos and memories on my camera yet. I haven’t had time to absorb everything, but yesterday was probably my favourite day in Paris. We’ll talk soon.