It's not really the type of painting that I'd usually hang over a baby's crib. Yet we've moved our bedroom to the oddly shaped, gabled master bedroom of our Cape Cod home. The flirty painting hangs on the only straight wall in the room. My son's crib is shoved next to the straight wall to maximize space. Hence, the baby sleeps under a flirty painting of Paris, instead of some typical baby motif like marching giraffes.
When I put my son down for a nap yesterday, I saw the painting. I felt a pang of regret. I've never taken my husband to Paris, my favorite city.
Years ago in my 20s, I took a certain viewpoint that traveling Europe should never be done in a rushed Continental Tour. I felt that countries should be explored slowly and fully. For our one year anniversary, I took my husband on a 7 day trip to Ireland, Scotland, and the gloomy town of Manchester. I didn't drive him down to see the Tate Museum in London. I didn't hop the channel to see Paris. As a newlywed at age 27, I thought there would be plenty of time to explore Paris.
Then the babies came. A lot of babies. Now trips to Paris with my husband seem out of reach.
I felt regret that I'd never shown my husband Paris in that brief moment it takes to skillfully transfer a napping baby to his crib. I resolved in those seconds to "Live Paris" in spirit, if not in actual travel plans. In surprise, I realize that we were actually pretty close to the feeling of Paris inside this weirdly shaped bedroom in West Virginia. I buy Anjou Pears from Aldi's which we eat cut up with cheese and cheap white wine. We bake Madelines with real lemon zest. We have time for conversations about Art and stacks of books and a French Coffee press in the tea caddy by our bed.
It's not Paris. Yet it kind of is Paris, non?
Then in the middle of the night, after I woke up to nurse one baby and to sooth the nightmares of toddler, I started reading Travel Writing instead of going back to sleep. I found myself reading about another writer, in Paris, who wished he was in West Virginia as the parent of six sleeping children. (Okay, maybe not six children, since that is excessive marital love to most people--but he did wish that he was the father of one, beautiful, sleeping son). The "I wish I was over there" circle seemed complete.
Here is the passage from Peter LaSalle's "Au Train De Vie" where he describes the loneliness that he felt after his nephew's departure from Paris.
"Which meant that when he left, I drifted into a funk for a few days. I missed his company. The many rooms of the apartment seemed beyond empty, and then the all-too-predictable doubts and the big questions set in. You know, that recurrent self-interrogation that perhaps many writers getting a bit older tend to conduct. And had I spent all too much of my own life sitting in a room alone and conjuring up in my fiction-with the endless flow of words and words and more words still-merely some phantom life, not real in the least and surely as incorporeal as the moonlight on the complicated mansard rooftops sprouting their ancient chimney pots I'd often stare at outside the apartment in Paris on those summer nights? It all brought up memories of past girlfriends I probably should have married along the way, starting a family of my own, that kind of dangerous thinking. (Best American Travel writing, page 68)."