Friday, April 8, 2011

Paris Shutters

Lately, all my post-writing begins with uploading photos -- on this wee netbook (and with recent problems I've encountered with Blogger), it's been easier that way. But it has the effect of allowing the visuals to dictate my writing -- and there are important elements of travel that escape the visual. So I'm going to try to begin a few posts over the next few weeks just thinking and writing and recalling, without the interference of photos (although I may add those later).

I have a mental list of topics for such posts -- the various pleasures of renting an apartment and making a longer visit, the chaotic brilliance of the neighbourhood cafes at lunchtime, under the influence of the cheque dejeuner, the conversation with an older (73), recently-bereaved woman who joined me on a parkbench in the 9th last weekend while Pater was off scouting out a lunch, the delight of knowing Paris and its ways enough that we regularly have dinner coude à coude (elbow to elbow) on tiny tables covered with red gingham, chatting just the right amount with our dining neighbours, the way visits layer upon visits so that we walk streets now remembering the time when . . .

But instead, I'm trying to pinpoint the exact quality of the teeniest bit of melancholy I feel this morning -- Pater still sleeping just beyond the partial wall, me having tiptoed around getting my morning cup of tea, drinking it gratefully while checking my e-mail, hearing the changes in his breathing and movements so that I know I have only a few more moments on my own. Paris is a wonderful, wonderful cocoon for the two of us, and I am already dragging my feet at the thought of leaving it in just over two weeks. And yet . . .

Before teasing out that "and yet," let me take apart my metaphor. It feels right, but only if qualified: after all, surely life should be without challenges in a cocoon. Here we regularly wrestle with language. Getting better just means that we try more and thus expose ourselves to more errors -- believe me, we're learning humility, vulnerability, if not absolute humiliation. And while we never get lost, we occasionally take longer than planned to get where we're going, maps consulted en route. And these stresses occasionally result in squabbling, even sustained arguments and hurt feelings. So all is not soft and wooly inside this cocoon.

And the cocoon, as far as my limited entomological knowledge goes, is generally for a single occupant. Coddling the two of us together might be beyond the abilities of the average cocoon, yet I like the metaphor for the notion that each time we arrive here, we bring our relationship again to a state of newness, with the possibility of growth. We go back to relying on each other -- for problem-solving, for entertainment, for comfort and security and intellectual challenge. With the netbook along, as it has been the past few years, this is less concentrated an effect than previously (and if we break down and get smartphones soon, this may be even more so), but we are isolated from the choices that tend to separate us through the rest of the year.

And perhaps here is where the melancholy creeps in. Part of me is a wee bit restless for some of those separating choices while another part is beginning, already, to mourn the loss of the cocoon.  The restless part is not so because Pater bores or irritates me. Rather, I'd say, the strength I gain from our time together restores me to a self that's ready to get back to real life -- a life with gardening and cooking and working hard on a demanding project and listening to my kids' news and playing with my granddaughter. Yet I know that, inevitably, as I immerse myself again in that fuller life, Pater will also be taking up a wealth of activities, kayaking and wood-chopping and landscaping and consulting and bread-baking. And sometimes those various activities will feel like a wedge between us, so busy will we become that we haven't time to catch each other up.

Until next spring, in Paris, when life slows down for us, when we can spend most of the day in a small apartment with beautifully refinished old wooden floors and charming wrought iron grilles at the window to guard us from falling as we reach out to open or close the shutters. Opening and closing the shutters to the world -- a privilege Paris affords us, spring after spring. Bien chanceux .  . . 

And when we leave these shutters behind, emerging again into our daily life together at home, what new creature will we be as a couple -- and how will we honour that couple, our marriage of selves, in our individual lives? Jennifer, our Paris hotelier-become-good friend, once asked us, in response to our comments about friends and family questioning our choice to return so repeatedly to this city, what Paris represents to us. More than any other city, for a variety of reasons, Paris represents a cocoon which offers us many challenges, many experiences that immerse us both together, insisting that we remain together in the present for at least the time that we are here. Not every minute of every day (the other day, as you know, I went shopping with a GF and Pater decided he'd just as soon hang out in Jardins du Luxembourg with Le Monde), but enough that we catch each other's rhythm, that we pay attention to each other's perspective, appreciate each other's wit and worries and wisdom.

The metaphor only works, though, if one recognizes all the growth that's happening in the cocoon's protected world. I suppose the teeny bit of melancholy I'm feeling might be something like growing pains . . . For now, I have two more weeks to open and close the shutters at will.


  1. Yes, that travel-woven cocoon. It's a wonderful restorer yet can be uncomfortable and a bit stifling too at times. Maybe the boundaries of the relationship shift and have to be redefined in a different space and without the usual distrations? Change so often seems to bring both excitement and melancholy.

    (Le monsieur and I spent the better part of our first Paris trip just readjusting to being on our own together, and to learning each other's travel rhythms and preferences (and often squabbling to hash out the differences). After that trip we learned to voice our expectations and especially to do some itinerary planning in advance taking into account sometimes divergent priorities for how to spend those days. We still bicker at times, but I think we travel together much better now.)

  2. Well said!! Cocoons are a lovely respite, but the time comes to break out and fly on your own. Your trip sounds so magical and restorative. I will heed your words when my spouse and I spend a week in London in May.d

  3. How beautifully written this is. My own cocoon/Paris experience always starts with my husband being completely knocked out by jet lag a day after we arrive, so almost immediately I have time to myself (albeit my somewhat bleary self, but the bleariness adds a piquancy to my ventures).

    Can't say I am happy with him being flat on his back for 24 hours because he probably finds it uncomfortable, but I do enjoy the first day of arrival, when we are both exhausted but congratulating ourselves on having arrived in one piece and reacquainted ourselves slightly with the city we love. Then I get a day to myself, and after that he joins the living once again. I've never been in Paris long enough to get homesick. I'd like to try.

  4. Traveling together, like nothing else, mimics the mother-infant experience. Here we are, a strange world, there's nothing but you and me and we are all we have. Thank you so much for sharing this Mater - you are a generous soul.

  5. My DH and I feel that traveling is one of the best things we do together. We are just so in sync when we are away. I think LPC has put it so well with the mother child analogy. I do get homesick sometimes, especially in the early evenings, seeing others thru lit windows while walking about. Makes me miss my cosy home! Lovely, heartfelt post Mater.

  6. You so eloquently describe the travel/relationship dynamic. (One of them; there is also the eye-opener of travel in a new relationship.) Like you, we return to Paris often, taking an apt. and living, not "touring". I sometimes take most of a day on my own, and though miss the safety of being with a Francophone, it's exhilarating, too.

    I am recalling your last trip and a similar post about feeling blue and weepy. Without the routines of home life, these ups and downs can sometimes create an unmoored feeling.

  7. Pseu: We still bicker occasionally, but generally we travel really well together. At this stage in our lives, spending more time together with Pater's retirement and change of through-the-week address, it's good to have time away from the homefront, on neutral yet engaging territory.
    Pavlova: 'So you're in the fun planning stage -- any shows lined up? The Tate has a Miro exhibition that's probably on through May, and I'm really looking forward to it.
    Marsha: I love the way you've phrased your comment -- reminding me that I'm lucky to be able to get homesick in Paris -- it's true!
    Your husband's jetlag is another kind of twisted luck, isn't it, giving you some time on yo9ur own in this magical city.
    LPC: So true -- sometimes there's a real intensity about that recognition, the two of us -- not quite against, but together alone in the world.
    Marguerite: Again, I know we're very lucky to have a home we miss while away in such a wonderful spot -- I suppose part of the melancholy comes from my inability to be in two places at once!Duchesse: You are such an attentive reader with an impressive memory -- yes, I do seem to hit this point predictably, and then bounce back, sometimes just with a good night's sleep. We're heading to Metz tomorrow for a couple of days and then will change the dynamic again. . . and when we return, I'm taking a day on my own just to meander and window-shop.

  8. What you write of the challenges and joys of traveling together sounds very familiar to me :-).

    I find myself needing to slow down to stay calm and patient. It's not easy!

  9. Kitty gets these feelings too, she has learnt to pack early, as if just the process lets her touch base with home before she then enjoys the rest of the holiday.
    That cocoon moment you describe I first encountered with Emin when we were in Hawaii, way back when Leyla was 9 months old. We had found a slice of heaven to stay at on the big island and for the fist time in days Leyla was sleeping in her cot and playing without whining, neither of us wanted to go home, it was as if we knew there was a storm coming and we just finally felt we were a family.
    Of course we did go home, the storm came and continued to rain until recently when this feeling finally returned on a visit to Cyprus, there too we are thrown together with little or no distractions/children and it the distractions that occupy me that Emin hates, (I guess he wants me all to himself) and then he finally relaxes, that, and he feels more at home there. I do get twitchy but I have learned, like you, to enjoy the moment whilst looking forward the return.
    So what of the return when I live there? Well I will learn to book flights home regularly I guess!

  10. Many thanks for mentioning the Miro exhibit...I have added that to my MUST see in London list. Sadly, the sunflower seeds end on May 2 prior to my arrival!

  11. You capture so well those feelings of traveling together and the special shared time of being alone together in a place apart from daily routines. I remember fondly those days of our travel and how they were such a change, a respite and sometimes a challenge, from our daily routines.

    We tended to return to Madrid and our experience is much like the one you describe. By the time we traveled to Paris together, travel was already becoming difficult, my spouse more confused and dependent out of his normal routine, and I more and more stressed as the practicalities and stresses of travel began to outweigh the joys.

    Your post reminds me of the good times. Thank you.


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