If you guess that it's much more difficult for me to decide what to pack than it is for my husband, you are so right! When I checked with him a few days before leaving, he hadn't yet packed but knew what he'd bring. Black v-neck pullover, 2 pairs of slim-cut dark denim jeans, a linen jacket, grey and black T-shirts, a few button-up shirts in linen and cotton, linen pants, and a mid-weight, tightly knit black wool cardigan, Hugo Boss, zip-up that would keep the chill off on its own but could also be layered under his (light, rainproof) overcoat. Shoes for everyday walking and a pair to pass muster at the opera. Running gear. His laptop. And so few toiletries that I get him to carry my overflow.
All well and good, but whether I simply envied the ease of his decision-making or, more insidiously, wanted to practice some sartorial imperialism, I sulked a little that he wasn't packing the gold-ochre Levis we'd bought in Bordeaux summer before last. Let's give me the benefit of the doubt and say I just enjoy the eye candy of variety, and with his build, my guy wears clothes well. I had to admit, though, that his "capsule wardrobe" (the quotation marks should indicate clearly that he never, but never, thinks of his packing in such terms. No time, when he packs a few hours before the flight!) was much more practical. Coloured jeans were a luxury our small cases wouldn't support.
So we packed ourselves up, did our two flights for a total of 14 hours in the air and 9 hours of time difference, and we were in Paris, in the Marais, happy, if jet-lagged, to have two days to catch our breath in a favourite city before heading to Bordeaux by train. Our only full day there (we had five days again at the end of our 7 weeks) was a Friday, and we squeezed in a long run in the morning, lunch at a new favourite restaurant, did some shoe-shopping (for him, not me! I know!) and in the afternoon, not surprisingly, we napped.
But I was set on picking up a special edition of Le Chocolate Français's gorgeously packaged bars, available for a limited time, and only at the Bon Marché. I forced myself out of my cozy bed at 4 planning to walk from the Marais over to the 7th-arrondissement department store with ample time to meet Paul for dinner. Truth be told, despite my fatigue and the reality that I was shocking my iPhone's fitness app by pushing the day's kilometres above 25, I knew I'd enjoy walking the route, soaking up the Paris vibe, the early September difference from the spring rhythms of our usual visits
The other truth that has to be told, though, is that I was cranky that Pater was going to continue
napping. It made no sense for him to come with me, and I had told him he didn't need to. I even knew I'd enjoy strolling at my own pace, stopping to look at windows with no apologies necessary, more than I might enjoy his faster-paced, longer-legged companionship. I didn't make a big fuss, but I was a bit sulky and he was a bit annoyed, and I headed off knowing that distance might be a good thing.
Working my way through the Marais's cobbled streets, admiring textured, richly coloured Fall fashions in ingeniously decorated windows, smiling at French Bulldogs on leashes, at grey-shorted boys and pleat-skirted girls on sidewalk scooters, noting the soigné athleticism of cyclists in pencil skirts and high heels, I let go of my mood, admitted just how petty I'd been, and texted a quick apology as I walked across Pont Louis Philippe. By the time I got to Saint-Germain, he'd texted back suggesting he meet me halfway on my way back, for a glass of wine or a beer somewhere before dinner.
Despite slowing down in the happy familiarity of Rue du Four, Rue de Sèvres, I was at the Bon Marché shortly after Paul and I had agreed on a meeting place. Just as well we had, because despite its crazy wealth of culinary offerings, the impressive chocolate section, shelves and shelves of beautifully wrapped delectables, the particular bars I'd trekked across town for hadn't yet arrived. Uh-oh! Is she going to get cranky again?
I'll admit (hmm, I've had to do a bit of that here, haven't I?) that I was disappointed and annoyed. The special-edition packaging (gorgeous illustrations of Paris made to be coloured, in keeping with the new craze for adult colouring books) would have made these bars the ultimate stocking stuffers. And the launch had been advertised on Instagram for weeks and weeks, the date and place precisely announced.
On the up side, though, my case would stay much lighter without a stash of chocolate bars to haul around for the next seven weeks. And I had a date with someone who would be right where he'd promised. . .
Sure enough, when I walked into the huge plaza in front of Notre Dame, scanning the crowd of tourists relaxing to the gentle folk strains of a guitar-playing busker, Parisians cutting through and around them, not too impatiently, on their way home from work, I spotted him standing on his own. Dear, familiar man, whom I do get too impatient, too cranky with, at times, and who will either be tolerant of me or push back, depending on his mood. It's such an intricate, intimate dance, 43 years in the making, some 15 or so trips to Paris together forming some of the steps.
He doesn't see me walking towards him until I'm within an embrace's reach. And by then, anyone watching might imagine our relationship much newer than it is. I can feel my face light up, my smile spread. No, not just because he's here, although I'm happy to see him, looking forward to our dinner. But when I spotted him there, all those ancient saints gazing down from their stone arches over the venerable doorways, I saw what I expected to see: his short brown coiffure at sufficient height (6 feet) to be spotted without too much trouble; a black v-neck pullover; a tan-coloured messenger bag, its leather worn rich with use.
And his pants? Now that I didn't expect at all.