I have to admit to being something of a saver of clothes. I wear them for years if they are favorites (which means if they are easy, comfortable, familiar-feeling, and have little to do with current fashion), and, though I do send a few on trips to the thrift store each season, I am sure to miss one or two when they are gone. I would have to say that my recurring wardrobe concept is best called whatever works.
That Friday, though, remembering the wearable choices I pulled out of my small suitcase each day of our trip, it suddenly came over me to look at clothes quite differently. As I put back the dresses, skirts, slacks, etc., I traveled with, I also looked with a new eye at the ones which had stayed at home (and which usually do). Taking them out hanger by hanger, I asked myself, Would I wear this in Paris?
If the answer lay in a vision of myself in it on the Boulevard Raspail, I put it back more respectfully. If I couldn't imagine it, it slipped to a growing pile on the floor, destined to be passed on. I did make sure each season and occasion was represented among the saved, including hanging out in the park or heading out with no destination in mind. Otherwise, the cast-offs went off with a ruthlessness I have rarely shown. Equally ruthlessly, I made no plans to replace them.
Don't mistake me: there was no idea of turning myself into a Chanel model, even if I could. I just wanted to feel like I was dressing for an ordinary Paris day again.
I mention this because in many other ways, our time in Provence and Paris is still on my mind. Enjoying the manner in which our days were spent, my sister and I talked quite a few times about what we would keep, if we could, of the pleasant, relaxing, sustaining kinds of things that life there offered...the cafe in the morning, the parks only a few blocks away wherever you were,
the ability to walk everywhere on walkable streets, the clear neighborhoods, the ease of late-night strolls after dinner, the bus at the door, the beauty around us, purposely left from earlier eras.
Utopian dreams, to be sure. But, as my sister Ann says, dreams are so important.
And there is always the reality of a puzzle left on a busy corner of two boulevards for any passerby to stop and help solve.
So back here, I am still looking for what is possible to transplant to what for most of us comes down to a car culture and the way cities, suburbs and country areas are designed and re-designed to accommodate the car over the village.
Writing this, I am remembering an evening we were planning in Paris with a young woman, a friend of Mary Ellen's who lives and works there. As we discussed restaurants Dina could conveniently get to from her office, I realized suddenly that Mary Ellen kept mentioning Dina's "drive" to get here or there. She's not going to drive, I told her. She doesn't drive to work in Paris...there's no need. She'll likely just walk across the park to wherever we will be. And so she did, and after a wonderful long dinner and conversation (she's a fascinating genetic scientist), she picked up a bike on the street to ride home. There are bikes around every corner; an app on her phone found one half a block away. We walked the block and a half back to our hotel, taking our time and wandering a bit, because it was Paris, at night, and why not.
Paris, even more than other major cities, is expensive. Green spaces, though numerous and large, are common more than private. Bureaucratic complications are notorious. Politically it has its problems, as we all do, some of us more unimaginably horrendous than others. All around us on the streets were signs that multi-culturalism flourished, still the city seems to struggle with crossed social lines (not exactly something we are strangers to, either). I recognize all that and more.
A lot of that is a matter of habit, I know. I do walk, actually. I stop for coffee at the cafe across the street after my morning walk and sit for a while planning my day. There is a not very good chain grocery there and a better one up about half a mile with shops, the bank, and restaurants nearby I don't need the car for. Medical offices, the few times I need them, are barely a mile in the other direction, and goodness knows Mary Ellen and I walked 10 times that distance each day in France. If it rains, I have a raincoat and umbrella, several in fact. In winter, there's that bus.
For all our exhilarating adventures, beautiful sights, delicious food, wine, coffee...all the ones that come through in photographs like this...
...I'm going to confess that one of my favorite moments was a late afternoon on which I took my shopping bag out to find us some picnic things. Discovering a small street I hadn't before noticed, lined with small fresh markets and boulangeries, I happily spent time gathering provisions and talking with the shopkeepers a bit. At one small place, no bigger than a walk-in closet but displaying amazingly bright and fresh fruit under its front awning, its owner stopped my hand from picking up a basket of figs and indicated that I should let him help.
First, he pointed out the difference between the three types he had...black, red, sunset-orange...and then noted which were ripest. Next, he asked when I planned on eating them. An odd question? Not at all. If today, this batch, ripest of all. If tomorrow, then he and I would choose from that basket, which needed a day (no more) to be perfect. While he wrapped them carefully, I reached for some cashews and crackers from his back shelves. I left happy, nodding to other shoppers, and then, feeling so much part of the scene, wound my way back up another small street, this one lined with more creperies than I would ever think supportable in one block, and there between them was a narrow gallery window with a poster for a small but fascinating textile exhibit we would visit later that night.
That walk was an ordinary, every day kind of thing to do, and so satisfying that I am still smiling about it. It was journeying at its best.
It's that kind of moment I guess that I am trying to bring home, a more lasting souvenir than one that merely collects dust on the shelf or in the mind, one that becomes part of you as you go on.
Is it just the wishful thinking of vacation fantasies? Or is it a lesson in how seeing alternatives in other parts of the world makes it possible to live a little better than one can imagine if one simply stays at home?
If this post seems a strange version of a travelogue, I apologize. But it is, besides our great pleasure in being there (and being there together), the strongest image from my latest foray into another country.