Can I fall in love, in just 12 hours? If I do, will it last?
Well, this wasn’t my first trip to Paris – I’d spent three weeks there as a child, when I was old enough to think I wasn’t a child and young enough to be fooled by my own, foolish, ideas. I was a child, I realize now – just a 6th grader who didn’t speak more than a few phrases of French – but I was on a big adventure, and I fell in love.
As I reflect on that trip, and the 12-hour layover I had in Paris last fall, on my way to Nairobi, Kenya, I realize that I was falling in love with travel.
With that long plane ride, a first in my young life, I was falling in love with having a sense of wanderlust. I was falling in love with being surrounded by sights I’d never seen before, flavors I’d never tasted, a language I didn’t understand and people I did, because in the end we’re all just the same, deep down.
I’m touched by the fact that I had this experience so young. My parents had taken us all over the country as children, camping and swimming, on road trips, visiting museums and roadside attractions. It was a chance to get away from our routine, but there was always something familiar about it.
Perhaps my mother’s insistence that we bring an “Activity Bag” with us, to keep us quiet in the back seat of the station wagon, meant that we were bringing a bit of home along with us – books and crayons, a Walkman, which played all of our favorite music, and familiar snacks.
I loved to stretch out on the worn seat of the family van, reading a book, then closing my eyes while I listened to the sound of the wheels spinning across American asphalt. My breathing would slow, as I began to drift off, but before I did my parents would start to talk, as if we weren’t in the car with them.
The sound of their voices would perk me up, but I’d keep my eyes closed, quietly listening to them make new plans, or share old stories, or wonder aloud if my sister and I were asleep, or just pretending. I was pretending. I felt invisible, a fly on the wall, and I was enjoying every minute of it.
Those family vacations helped define who I was, where my roots were, buried deep into American soil. The trip to Paris, which almost didn’t happen, helped define who I wanted to be, even if I didn’t realize it then.
My family was supposed to host a French exchange student, for three weeks at the end of 6th grade, and we happily opened our home to Massiva. She arrived in a flourish, with wild hair and a colorful fashion, more worldly than anyone I’d ever met, with an exotic taste for chocolate croissants that my sweet mother tried to fulfill with “pastries” from the Dunkin Donuts two blocks down the street.
I was not supposed to visit Paris that year – my parents thought I was too young to fully appreciate it and wanted me to wait until high school. They were right, but I protested loudly, so that when an extra spot opened on the trip, my parents relented, and I began cramming in extra French lessons, thinking it would make a difference. It did not make a bit of difference; I was thrilled to pack my bags anyway!
The story of my first experiences in Paris, as a 13-year-old, is a tale for another day, but I can share one treasured blessing I came away from that trip with. I was about to enter middle school, which was not always a happy time, with its awkward braces, frizzy hair, questionable fashion and the extra weight and moodiness brought on by puberty. I was soon struggling to keep up in 7th grade French class, which quite often brought me to tears, the social hierarchy was abruptly brought center stage, and the boys who I had crushes on never liked me back.
Hope wasn’t lost, however, because I had learned that there’s a whole big world out there that knows (and cares) nothing of my private adolescent struggles. I’d experienced a time difference that meant I was having breakfast in Paris while my classmates were still fast asleep, in the middle of the night, back home. I didn’t have much time there, but my eyes were opened to the cultural similarities and the societal differences.
By the time I was in 6th grade I was an avid reader, just like so many of my family members. By the time I walked into my first day of 7th grade I realized, deep down, that I could travel to so many of the places I’d read about!
My father’s ongoing international travel, during my childhood, had planted the idea of global adventure in my mind – I had a doll from every country he’d visited, dressed in “traditional” clothing. That first trip to Paris brought adventure to life, it opened a world of possibilities, and made my Wanderlust real!
On my way to Naraobi, Kenya, in the fall of 2019, I had a 12-hour layover in Paris. I was a tourist, but I didn’t visit the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame or the Champs-Elysees. Several years earlier I’d done all of that, with a photographer friend who had never experienced any of these – we experienced it all, on our brief stopovers on the way to and from the deserts of Morocco.
Those experiences were iconic, and wonderful, but this trip had an itinerary that was off the beaten path, thanks to a wonderful travel companion who loves to explore the hidden gems you might find in the French version of Atlas Obscura.
We took the train from the airport to the 11th Arrondissement of Paris, where we took a short walk through the busy streets, crammed with cafes, trendy clothing stores, and colorful murals. We stopped for a croissant and a coffee drink with extra espresso, to fight off the jetlag we were both experiencing.
When you can’t read the street signs, newspapers or advertisements all you can do is notice the splashes of color, the patterns in the architecture and the way the light and shadows dance across the sidewalk. (Be careful – you might trip,or miss a curb!) It’s all new. It’s all fascinating!
Our destination was Atelier de Lumieres – “Atelier” means workshop or studio, and “Lumieres” denotes lght, or the Age of Enlightenment. Set to music, the animated exhibit is larger than life, and brings famous paintings to life. We were immersed in the vibrant yellows, deep blues and mysterious greens of Van Gogh’s work. Starry Night swirled around us, in a dizzying fashion.
Many visitors were seated, on benches, the staircase or even on the floor. At first, I thought they were “doing it wrong,” and that they ought to be moving around the space, so as not to miss anything. My head was spinning, as were my feet, as I tried to take it all in. I quickly realized that there was no “right” way to experience something like this – we were each feeling something unique, even if it was clouded by jetlag.
We stayed as long as we could, without risking long delays getting back through airport security. There was just enough time to pick up French bread and stinky cheese (the best kind!), to enjoy at the terminal, while flipping through artsy magazines, gallery brochures and colorful maps. I was falling in love with Paris all over again, but there were many more adventures ahead!
So, I’ll leave the City of Love behind, and follow my passion for new places!
Join me on my next adventure,
Atlas Obscura: https://www.atlasobscura.com/
Atlas Obseura on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/atlasobscura
Atelier de Lumineres: https://www.atelier-lumieres.com/en/home