I Love Paris in the Autumn

October 16, 2007

This is a completely indulgent post, brought on by an evocative sentence by New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov, where he described walking out into a warm, misty evening in Paris. As I read his words, I was transported back to a particular evening that has, for whatever reason, stayed with me all these years.

I was 20 and had just moved to Paris after spending the end of the summer at school in the Loire for a last-ditch, this-is-all-you’re-gonna-get month of French grammar and culture courses before starting classes at the Sorbonne. It had been my dream to live in Paris and attend the ParisSorbonne from the time I was ten years old, in fifth grade. I used to read French novels for extra credit, I chose Tulane because of their rigorous French program (you had to be fluent to be one of the 15 accepted into the Junior Year Abroad program). I was a bona fide Francophile at a very early age.

But my dream had tarnished a bit during my first few days in Paris. As the first communication student in the Tulane program, I was let loose in the university system (the university system in Paris has colleges scattered all over the city) and told to find my own classes—ones that had to count towards my major . . . and yet I couldn’t enroll or pay, since I was officially enrolled at the Sorbonne. So I literally had to go door to door at each applicable university and try to find course schedules and professors and set up appointments and beg them to let me audit their classes. It wasn’t the welcome I had hoped for and I was feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and very much alone.  

That evening, the one I remember so clearly, I put on my running shoes and popped INXS into my Walkman, wound down the spiral staircase that wrapped around the old-fashioned grate elevator in my building, and stepped out into the streets of Paris. It was that time of day the French call “entre chien et loup”—between the dog and the wolf—when the sky seems to pulsate with the last rays of light, even more so when back lighting the autumn fog. As I ran towards the Jardin du Luxembourg, the streets grew dim and the statues loomed in the mist like specters. “The Stairs” was playing on my Walkman.

In a room above a busy street, the echoes of a life.

I turned back towards Boulevard Raspail. As my heart pounded, windows illuminated one by one under the Mansard roofs of Boulevard St. Michel.

There are reasons here to give your life, and follow in your way. The passion lives to keep your faith, though all are different all are great.

I was amongst a city full of strangers. Yet as each person returned home and flicked on their lamps, they were lighting my way too.

Climbing as we fall, we dare to hold on to our fate. And steal away our destiny, to catch ourselves with quiet grace.

The damp air literally seemed to glow around me.

Story to story, building to building.

I opened the heavy door, crossed the courtyard and climbed back up the winding staircase to my room.

Street to street, we pass each other on the stairs.

I walked to the window and looked out at the shimmering, golden Paris night. And then I turned on my own light. I was home.

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17 Responses to “I Love Paris in the Autumn”

  1. This is truly a lovely memory, very nicely narrated! I bet you wished you could still be running in the Jardin du Luxembourg

  2. jo Says:

    This was so well done! I really enjoyed reading, Paris is one of my favourite cities and you conjured it perfectly in just a few sweet sentences.

  3. Isabelle Says:

    What a great post! Thanks for the memory and bringing me back to my hometown.

  4. Katiez Says:

    Absolutely lovely….makes me want to go there right now and watch the lights come on in the apartments….

  5. lia Says:

    Thanks you guys, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes memories of specific moments are so personal you wonder if it’s possible at all to share them. And you all must check out Bea’s photos of Paris on La Tartine Gourmande . . . talk about taking you there!

  6. izzy's mama Says:

    I love Paris anytime. I too was a francophile from a very young age, having only some vague notion of what that meant. I dreamed of speaking French and living in there and I spent the summer in Cannes when I was 20! I returned at 21 to attend classes at the Sorbonne and then ended up staying there for a few years.

  7. Maninas Says:

    This is a beautifully told, evocative story. 🙂

  8. izzy's mama Says:

    Strange, I thought I left a comment already. I love Paris in any season. I also spent a summer in Nice when I was 20 and then when I was 21, I went to the Sorbonne to take classes. I ended up living in Paris on and off for a few years. I, too, had a terrible experience when I first arrived in Paris but of course grew to love it soon enough.

  9. lia Says:

    Sorry izzy’s mama, I’ll be upgrading my blog platform soon so I’ll have one of those “fill in these letters so we know you’re human” posting mechanisms, but for the time being, I’m the human moderator slowing up the process ;-). Wild that you were there too at the same age, and how wonderful that you were able to go back to live there for a few more years. I tried for a while, but it just didn’t work out. Did you, by any chance, know the Maison des Etudiantes on Boulevard Raspail? That was where I lived, and I know some students took satellite classes from the Sorbonne there too.

    Maninas . . . I’m so glad you enjoyed! Thanks for stopping by.

  10. izzy's mama Says:

    Aha…funny too that I just reread my posts and noticed that I must have been quite tired when I wrote one of them. I was in Cannes as I stated in the first post, not Nice, though I did visit there. I am only vaguely familiar with La Maison des Etudiantes. I lived in the 15eme, and then the Marais. This summer I spent two weeks there with Izzy which you can read about on my blog. We had a wonderful time!

  11. That was a beautifully written post. You captured Paris at twilight for a traveler perfectly ! When do you start on your book?…published by a literary fiction house no doubt,it seems by the evocative writing style!

  12. Makes me miss Paris! I posted my braised duck recipe from Piedmont, and I linked to you.

  13. lia Says:

    izzy’s mama . . . love the Marais. We stayed there last time we visited. Oh my, all this talk of Paris is making for serious wanderlust!

    NQCP . . . Thank you! And thanks for asking about the book. It’s done, sort of. I’m working with an agent (although not officially signed yet . . . fingers crossed) on tightening up the scenes in the middle. I’ve been blessed with terrific mentors throughout the process, and I feel like this woman, Julie, is now the midwife, helping me through the last painful push to get this book out to the world. The all-consuming mommy role I’ve taken on in recent months definitely makes focusing on a novel more challenging, though.

    Amanda . . . yea! I can’t wait to take a peek (j’adore le canard)! I’ll most definitely add it to my stack of “must-make dishes” from Figs, Olives, Wine already printed out in my kitchen. Thank you for taking me up on my braise tag . . . and thanks for the link too!

  14. Bobbie Says:

    Your post made me miss Paris, too. I lived there in 1977. After reading your post I had to go and dig out a recording of an old Joe Dassin song from that era: “Jardin du Luxembourg” of course.

  15. lia Says:

    I love it. I’ll have to look that up! A little different than “The Stairs,” but nonetheless, so wonderful how evocative a song can be.

  16. foodette Says:

    What a moving story. It’s an amazing thing to live out a dream that you had since you were ten. As frustrating as those first days must have been, I am sure the effort you had to make made your successes that much more rewarding. And, what beautiful memories you will always have. I hope I will someday get my wish of living in Italy. Thanks for the inspiration.

  17. lia Says:

    Great to see you foodette! It was an amazing thing, and it’s something that so shaped my life. You stick to your dream of living in Italy some day . . . you’ll make it real when the time is right!

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