“… you’ll have to fall in love at least once in your life, or Paris has failed to rub off on you.” —E.A. Buchianerie, Brushstrokes of a Gladfly
Merde! I’m in love. I know, I know, quelle surprise. It all sounds so predictable: burnt-out, disgruntled, overworked American goes abroad and rediscovers her joie de vivre over steaming bowls of cafe au lait, greasy pain au chocolat, and long moonlit walks along cobblestone streets. The sentimentality and sweetness of it all makes me more than uneasy, more like downright queasy.
With my predisposition towards pragmatism, American pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, stick-with-it-even-if-it-almost-kills-you-stubbornness, cynicism, and penchant for literature that explores the universal condition of struggle and hardship, I am hardly a candidate for immersive experiences of self-discovery.
In fact, a few years ago one of my close friends half-enthusiastically handed me Elizabeth Gilbert’s now infamous first memoir and said: I just read this, I enjoyed it enough, but you are going to hate it. She was right. I scowled my way through the first chapter and passed it on to someone more romantic.
So, I will have you know, that I did not fall willingly. But I did fall … hard. And I am not just talking about the farm-fresh food at the market, or the perfectly balanced cool-warm colors of Provence, or the vineyards, or the cobblestone streets of the old town, or the vibrant ochre buildings with their fading grey-blue shutters in the morning light, but all of it.
I smiled so often that my forehead frown wrinkles faded a bit and my smiley eye creases grew even deeper. When French shop owners inquired as to why I was smiling, I would always respond, La vie est belle, non? Who does that? When my younger son joined me, he said: Mom, every morning you say, just look at the light, when we turn this exact corner on our way to your job. Every single morning.
I know, I responded, wistfully, isn’t it just beautiful?
Even running back and forth through the Marseilles airport customs, sweating and stressed, my child being watched by a security guard as I dealt with the logistics of trying to bring home a set of boules (heavy, metal bocce-like balls) in a carry-on as the plane was nearly taking off without us, I still felt it. That gut-wrenching, heart-pounding feeling that makes you forgive your love anything, for all of the wrong reasons.
Then the plane lifted us up and my ears popped. I swallowed hard as I placed the palm of my hand on the filmy plastic window and looking out onto the undulating hills, whispered:
Ce n’est pas adieu mon amour. This is not goodbye, my love.
Oh, great … [scowling and listening to this song]
I’ve got you under my skin.