Travelblog: Paris is Like Visiting an Old Lover

Paris is a city full of statues of horses. They’re everywhere, I noticed on my first visit. The statues are still there now, but stands are being built for the upcoming Olympics. No, that isn’t why I went.

Paris and I have history. It isn’t just my love for Collette. This is the teen angst part. My sister took Spanish, an exchange student came to stay with us, and my sister then went to Mexico. My parents promised me the same. I took French in high school, but by the time I was the right age, the family was unraveling, and the offer was withdrawn. I moved to Colorado as soon as possible, but the dream of Paris didn’t fade.

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. ~Oscar Wilde

Long story short, I finally made it to Paris for my thirtieth birthday. I worked a miracle with the help of my friends to do it, and I had an entire month there. After two weeks, I took the TGV train (train à grande vitesse) to Marseille, was disappointed, turned around, and came right back to Paris. I only wanted to be there. I had given myself permission to move there if I wanted. It wasn’t a stretch. By then I was showing in art galleries in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and a scattering of other cities. A friend and I had written a screenplay that was produced, but it ended up being a heartbreaking experience. And I was divorced. I had a talent to take along and nothing to lose.

Now it’s forty years later. My life took turns I would never have imagined, and I’m touchy about turning seventy. I needed to go back. For all the changes I’d seen, I wanted to go where things didn’t change. My hotel was a mansion built in the 18th century, in the center of the Left Bank, the heart of old Paris. I unpacked and went to find dinner, not wearing my usual horse trainer clothes. I am someone else here.

I walked down the street to a sidewalk restaurant near the Parthenon and ordered the Suprême de Poulet and wine. Dinner lasted an hour and forty-five minutes. No reason to rush, even eating is an art in Paris.

Back at the hotel, the concierge asked for my room number, and I said fifty-two. He tilted his head and said, “En français, madame?” I was befuddled, but then I remembered and blurted out, “Cinq deux!” I wasn’t strictly correct, but he smiled and handed me the key. After not understanding half of what people said to me from Glasgow to London, at least now it isn’t my birth language. “Bon soir,” I chirp, lousy accent and all. I totally slaughter the French language, but I flounder on to let them know I’m shameless.

Paris is a city of art. That is a rare thing. In Colorado, sports are our priority. More than that, Paris is a city of love. The love embraces you, regardless of the details of your life, if you allow yourself the vulnerability. I came to soak my tired heart in it.

The next morning, I took a long walk through the backstreets to the Musee d’Orsay. During my previous visit, this hundred-year-old train station was being restored. Now it’s where the Impressionists are. I had a long walk inside the museum, but you don’t want to get me started. You never want to go to an art museum with me. Let’s leave it at that.

Then I crossed the Seine and walked in the Jardin des Tuileries, beautiful straight lines of mature trees. I thought there would be a toilette there. (I was corrected when I asked for the “salle de bain.“) None by any name, and I ended up walking almost to the Arc de Triomphe before I found one. On the way back, I stopped for lunch, which is a shorter meal and clocked in at an hour and a half. I continued the trek to my hotel. Two people stopped me and asked en français for directions. “Je suis Américain,” I said, a little proud for their mistake. The police sirens brayed hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw.

Strolling back went slower. Forty-years ago, I skipped the whole way. Today had been more than seven miles over cobblestones and cement. I got to my hotel and yes, there was someone else behind the desk and another pop quiz. This time I confidently said, “Cinq deux.” This concierge shook her head. “Madame, tu veux dire cinquante-deux?” I repeated the number back and thanked her. This pard always cracks me up.

I gingerly lowered myself onto the bed and kicked off my all-terrain Crocs. There is an end of day ritual I do on clinic days, when I finally surrender. I lie down and take stock, a kind of body-part roll call. I took a fall on my right hip recently and it was sore when I started that day. It felt like broken glass now. The foot that had the surgery was swollen and my shins ached. You’ll be spared the rest of the list. I always think of myself as healthy as I was at thirty. But last year I broke my wrist and I watch my step more closely now. I have hearing aids and glasses. My hands have frozen joints and barbed wire tears still show on the top of my hands next to bulging dark veins. And my nose is almost healed where the carcinoma was cut off. Who is this vieille femme?

In quiet moments like this, he still comes to me. My Grandfather Horse travels easier since his death. I think about his last years. One health concern after another. Each one could be doctored and he recuperated to about 80% of his former strength. Until the next issue, which he survived again, but only back to 80% of himself. Diminished, always less than before. Until he gradually became decrepit. Other horses died younger, quicker. The Grandfather Horse died in slow motion.

Is that what’s happening to me? Is that why I was so desperate to come to Paris now? I tried to think of a more positive way to say that I know my best years weren’t ahead. I can feel big changes happening. I’ll need courage to face them, a softer heart to hold the inevitable losses, and I’m not a fan of denial. I think about death, not that I’m afraid, but that I want to live this part of life well. I want to please myself. Here’s what I came up with: These years are my swansong.

It was a beautiful bittersweet week. Rain fell as soft as tears and each day started with strong coffee and petit-déjeuner. I did tourist things, drank champagne on the bateau mouche, ate dinner in La Tour Eiffel, always my favorite building. There were small galleries that might have been mine if I had stayed. I spent hours and hours in sidewalk cafes, writing and sipping. And writing some more. Then I used their toilette, and walked on. When my feet got tired, I called an Uber to take me back, because it’s not 1984. I can do that now.

Of course, I needed to get a haircut. Who could come to Paris and not? Besides, I’ve been cutting my own hair practically since my last trip here. I tried for an online appointment and was halfway through, but the form wouldn’t take my phone number. Uncertain whether I had the appointment, I walked over the next day. It’s the ultimate game of charades to get your haircut in a foreign country without a shared language. I think we all try harder. I walked in and you can imagine my baffling explanation.

Deux coiffeurs were working, and they welcomed me. The coiffeur masculin volunteered, I agreed, and he asked his assistant to wash my hair. She is young. I had forgotten what someone else shampooing my hair felt like. Merci beaucoup. She asked if I spoke more languages. Of course, I don’t understand. Finally, I figure it out and say, “Non, et vous?” She has Portuguese. She is that cool.

And then I’m in the chair. The coiffeur and I have no words in common. We particularly and especially don’t understand each other. We practically raise it to an artform. He’s probably asking what I’d like, so I point at his bald head and nod. Now others in the room act nervous and I wonder if I’ve offended him.

“Même chose?” he asks. We repeat it to back and forth a few times but I can’t call the meaning up. I make a buzzing sound and run my fingers through my hair. And he nods, goes silent, and begins cutting in a way I’ve never seen. Think Edward Scissorhands. He gives me little sissy bangs on one side and leaves the other side long. Well, comparatively. The clippers come out for the back.

Apparently, there is a universal hand signal for hair product, and I smile my answer. He artistically fluffs the crown. Adjusts the sissy bangs. Then the cape comes off and my glasses are back on. Standing up, I declare, “I look wonderful.” I laugh and my wattle wiggles. The coiffeur gives me a toothy grin. A woman with a towel around her head applauds. The other coiffeur half shook her head, maybe a relieved smile.

The coiffeur and I continue our ongoing stumbling conversation, as unintelligible as ever. Not only is he having me repeat things back in French, but then he says something in what might be another language and it’s clear I should repeat it, but it takes me a few tries. “Are you Italian?” I finally ask. He nods. And just like that, I’m slaughtering a whole new language.

…to be continued.

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62 thoughts on “Travelblog: Paris is Like Visiting an Old Lover”

  1. loved seeing Paris through your eyes, i did not get on well there!! always felt i had missed something ,somehow. I too am at that later stage of life…..”I’ll need courage to face them, a softer heart to hold the inevitable losses, and I’m not a fan of denial. I think about death, not that I’m afraid, but that I want to live this part of life well. I want to please myself. Here’s what I came up with: These years are my swansong.” so beautifully put. thats how im feeling now.
    thank you for saying that so eloquently.
    i may write it on the mirror in old, unused lipstick!

    • Note taken, Susan. But I write, so all you get is the photo in words. Or maybe I’m too old for selfies. Either way, thank you for reading to the end of this long essay.

  2. I love the statues both in England and France but I want to see the great fountain at Trieste and go to Vienna. I worked for a French aircraft rivet company and spent about two months there mostly in Toulouse but also got to go to their sites in Casa Blanca and Morroco. I love the trains. Once I retire we want to go back. I can slaughter Spanish German and French

  3. Yes, Anna, I remember well my youthful, Parisian days (as a flight attendant with a mid-east airline). Happy times.
    I shared a London flat with another F/A — from Mantes La Jolie, so she knew the city inch by inch and I followed
    her around. I love all things French.

    So happy you are reconnecting with your favorite city.


  4. I don’t love the loss of muscle that came with 70; it makes everything so much harder to do and I’m too stubborn to stop, tho I do slow down. But Crones are lucky in that they stop caring so much about the silly things, using Death as their advisor. And can really enjoy things. And Crones are the teachers for the Maidens and Mothers. You are a wonderful Crone!

  5. I am so envious of the Escargot Bourguignonne, one of my favorite dishes. My most often-used Wilde quote is “I can resist anything except temptation”. I am also jealous of the Musee d’Orsay. I spent so much time during my teenage years at the Chicago Art Institute, much of it in their Impressionist rooms, that I am anxious to visit my old friends, (paintings) on every trip home. Only my brothers arouse the same level of devotion. I have the requisite courage to risk a museum trip with you, we would most likely drift apart, captivated by different paintings. Nobody likes to go to museums with me either, it is not a social outing.

  6. The haircut scene had me laughing out loud. I can totally see and hear you making the universal buzzing sound and motion for clippers 🤣. I also want to see the haircut!

  7. Thanks for the trip to Paris! And yeah, really wanted to see the coiffure. You woke up my 4 years of high school French. That was fun. As for museums, I speed through them, editing for my internal magazine. If I were Queen, all museums would have a room dedicated to the new, the unknown, the unsung. Every day I’d curate another batch as my morning meditation. 70 arrived with a lot of denial; 71 with a sense of now or never. So I got a rowing machine. It never spooks.

  8. Oh, Anna. This is such a beautiful reflection of your life’s journey.
    A while ago, a really, really smart lady recommended that her followers live in the moment. Good advice, eh?
    Ahh, Paris. My time was circa 1970.

  9. Wonderful article.! Can’t wait to finish it, have been to Paris not expecting to like it. And I loved it. Would love to return…..

  10. Such an enjoyable post. Thank you for sharing your trip with us and for your reflections on aging. I’m just 2 years behind you and having some of the same thoughts. But I have two questions for you:

    1. I want to travel, too, but my horses keep me at home because I am afraid to leave them. The last time, when I was gone for 3 weeks, one of my horses suffered the consequences. So, what arrangements did you make for the care of your horses? And do you have any words of advice for how to be able to travel and fulfill non-horsey dreams when there isn’t much time left and you have horsey responsibilities at home? (Perhaps a good subject for a blog post?)

    2. When I return to France (I was there last in 1977!) I want to visit the great riding schools. Any recommendations along this line? Do you know if it is possible to take lessons? Who among the great French riding masters are your favorites?

    • Thanks Alice. Not sure if you know, but I am a clinician that has traveled so much in the last years. It’s a huge challenge to find good care and I’ll be talking about it. As for French riding schools, I have not done the research. Sorry.

  11. Brava, very pleased to hear you are visiting Paris!
    I visited, alone, in 2004. France has been calling me ever since.
    Your gorgeous words evoke sweet memories.
    Thank you, Anna.

  12. What an incredible way with words Anna.
    I loved every minute of your Paris adventure and share so many things in common. But not your lively ability to bring everything as simple as a haircut to a hysterical in the moment with you vision.
    I never have spare time with a jam packed horsey life but gobbled your essay up with glee.
    Kudos to your many talents.

  13. Oh Anna, how delightful !! Sooo happy for your ongoing love affair and reunion with Paris. C’est merveilleux. Et j’aime bien tes pensées au sujet du processus de vieillissement. Qu’il soit doux.

  14. Anna, brave and beautiful writing. “I can feel big changes happening”- yes, I get that too. Aging is daunting. Hooray for you, going to Paris alone and ESPECIALLY getting a haircut there! I love it.

  15. Wonderful wonderful writing! I love it all! I’m happy you’re having a wonderful experience abroad. BTW: I relate. I’m 77, a 14 yr. volunteer with retired tb racehorses in Satatoga Springs, and spend summers in our Irish cottage in CO Mayo.
    Thanks for everything!💗🐎

  16. This was wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing this journey with us. I, too, had to walk a long way to find a loo in Paris, and also found one near the Arc de Triomphe. Revisiting places is such an interesting experience; time kind of collapses and I find myself noticing the changes in myself in ways I can’t do in my everyday life. I hope the last bit of your journey is beautiful.

  17. I have been thoroughly enjoying your most recent travel pieces. I liked you before but I think you are doing the best writing now.
    I wrestle with similar issues and so I much enjoy vicariously taking this journey with you. Thanks! Steve

    • Thanks so much, Steve, for noticing. I work to improve my writing. Glad to have you along for the ride. This age is awkward!

  18. You are taking us right with you on your travels. I love the sentimental notions.
    Now can we see your haircut? 😉

  19. Dear Anna,
    I appreciate your writing so much, and you have ‘nailed’ my feelings about getting older🥴 when it comes to my riding, and feelings of fragility. I tell people “I fall as well as I ever did, I just don’t bounce up like I used to!” It’s been hard for me to explain to folks why I don’t ride anymore… I still enjoy my horses – I love musical freestyle ground work!
    Anywho – I recently retired, and we are headed to France in a couple of weeks. My husband has been there several times, but I’ve never been, and your recent blog(?) about it was perfect timing for me! It made me feel excited, rather than worried how an older, more comfortable in barn clothes, heavier-set American woman would be viewed… My husband keeps telling me how wonderful it is, and now I believe him (can you tell we’ve been married a long time? LOL). We’ve had some wonderful European vacations, so I don’t know why France is intimidating to me, but I just want to say “Thank you!” for sharing, and not just your horse life.

    • Oh Carolyn… I felt so free, especially at this age. Maybe for every new physical limitation, I trade embarrassment. People were kind and willing to help. One server said she appreciated being able to practice her English, after I slaughtered my order… You’ll have a great time. Give La Tour Eiffel a wave from me.

      And here’s to Freestyle anything!

  20. Anna, you never fail to inspire in all things equine, canine, etc. But traveling alone in a foreign country with only a moderate grasp on the language is heroic! You captivate with your words. I will read your travel blogs, horse blogs, maybe even a blog on sand.
    Maybe the best part of aging is that for every infirmity we endure, we gain “mas cojones”.

    • Wait, is that french?? Thanks for reading, Laurie. Maybe I will write about sand. (I think I’ll be wandering off more in my blog writing in the future.)

  21. Anna,
    I clicked on this for a quick read and fell into hour long trip through this city I’ve never seen.
    Pausing, dreaming of the Parisian soul you invoke, rereading sentences, savoring simultaneously the words and my imaginations journey.

    Looking forward to reading the next chapter

    • Thanks Sheri. So kind to say so.
      Paris was the last stop, there are previous blogs about Scotland and England… and a follow up blog tomorrow.


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