Coming back from Paris wasn’t easy. As a friend said, you can leave Paris, but Paris never leaves you. I haven’t written much about going to Paris because I’m afraid to wrap words around it. It feels impossible. For a writer, that’s saying a lot. An experience that escapes language, or at least that you feel can’t quite be captured there. I understand now why there are a lot of songs about Paris.
Chopped summer salad
Sometimes I tell myself that the Ohio isn’t really that different from the Seine. After I’d been back a couple of weeks, I was walking along the river in the morning. A young man was fishing on the shore. He caught up with me after he’d climbed up the bank with his pole. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He couldn’t have been older than twenty-five. “M’am,” he said. “M’am. Excuse me. Do you see that deer over there? Isn’t that cool?”
I was in the bathroom at the airport in Paris and my skirt got stuck somehow, bunched up and exposing all my bits to the world, though I didn’t know. There was a French woman beside me at the sink. “Madame,” she said. Words in French followed which I didn’t understand, but her gesture was enough. “Merci,” I said. “Merci.” She was brisk and efficient. She didn’t insist on sharing a smile of embarrassment to ease my pain. She told me my skirt was bunched up and then she moved on. It felt very French and very kind and infinitely tender.
People in Madison do gather along the river, like they do along the Seine. They are more likely to be in their cars rather than sitting in small groups on the sidewalk or the grass. They are generally less likely to be drinking wine. And, yes, the food they bring to the river is much different, but everyone understands the appeal of water.
On Saturday night, we went to the Harvest Dinner and Beer Pairing in the alley beside the Off Broadway Tap Room. We sat at a long table decorated with fern leaves and flowers. We were surrounded by good friends and people we’d just met. It was sweltering in the southern Indiana summer heat. The food was delicious. It was magic. Madison continues to surprise me like this. Just when I think I know all there is to know, something new appears. “I am still a mystery, too,” the town whispers.
Goat cheese cheesecake
Coming home from Paris was hard. It was as if I’d glimpsed some other version of my life and for a moment, it seemed altogether better. It seemed like the life I should be leading. But maybe the physicists are right and in some other dimension, there is a version of me living that Parisian life. In Paris, we caught glimpses of each other like distant cousins. The Paris version wore better shoes and enjoyed the luxury of staring at people for longer than Americans can tolerate. She walked in beauty, but then, so do I. We both have our rivers. In Paris, I saw that other version of myself. And then I came home.