I have been telling people that I’m going to Paris the same way I’d tell people I’m going to the moon. The words come so easy, so naturally, because they’re exactly the words we perpetually want to be saying. They are loaded with a desire that ran deeper than I realized, a background wish running like a heartbeat that I’d long ceased to notice.
I have never been outside the United States, unless you count a few camping trips into British Columbia during a Washingtonian childhood or one ill-fated, 30-minute trip to Tijuana when I was 10 and we wandered a little too far away from Disneyland. I can’t count how many international flights I’ve priced to theoretical airports across the ocean, plugging arbitrary dates and shifting departures from Tuesdays to Thursdays and back, searching for some miracle fare that would transition travel out of the realm of theoretical.
This year though. This year has been different. The electric spirit of “fuck it” shoves me forward in some ways, when it’s not too busy pinning my chest to the floor. In January, spurred by fears of how Not Normal our country was about to become, I applied for my first passport. A couple of months later, Matt took his first international flight to Tokyo to cap off months of heavy work travel, and came back with a reward mile balance that would almost get us up to that moon.
“We should take a real vacation this year,” I told him. A REAL vacation, a first for the two of us, who only shared a plane for the first time as a couple two years ago for Disneyland. Next year was uncertain–my book comes out in March, and I’d need to take time off work to promote it. And who knows how long we’ve got?
I put together a PowerPoint with four Vacation Scenarios and emailed it to my husband, who’s no good with hypotheticals. I bulleted points of interest and totaled wild guess costs. He picked Door #2. “All right,” he said. “You plan it, we’ll do it.”
It didn’t feel real when I researched the opening date for Oktoberfest and mapped trains from Munich to Zurich to Dijon to Paris. It didn’t feel real when we figured out the airport codes for our destinations and pressed the Confirm Purchase button. I couldn’t imagine this was going to happen when I sent a note to our bed and breakfast in Burgundy and received a message back looking so forward to seeing us in Septembre. Putting in my time off request at the office felt like a joke, even when HR wrote back with “sounds like so much fun!” I blew the dust off my high school French and downloaded basic French podcasts onto my phone, but it felt like an elaborate ruse that would end like all of my elaborate ruses, crashed and burning up on the boundaries of reality.
Not until last week, when I was reading an article on What to Wear in France. Scarves. Boots. No flip flops. I catalogued the abstractions in my head as Jeopardy knowledge.
For autumn travelers, Paris can be a bit cool. Pack a colorful coat for a perfect photo in front of the Eiffel Tower.
In that moment, all of the uncertainty and caution snapped away into a vivid focus: my favorite coat, the yellow one that was literally made for me (with the brand Tabitha stitched on the collar). The matching gloves I found a few years ago at my favorite Bridgeport boutique. It was an elegant outfit that begged to go somewhere special.
We were going to Paris.
I cried suddenly realizing everything I’d ever wanted to see was going to be seen. I would stand in a place that was present my entire life, from the Le Centre Pompidou poster I sat under in two years of high school French to the stained glass of Notre Dame during my Disney renaissance childhood. The markets, the macarons. CREPES. I would come home with scarves.
I can’t quite picture the Oktoberfest tents, or café-squatting in Dijon, or absorbing the stained glass filtered light in Notre Dame. But me, my favorite coat and Instagram. I can absolutely taste it. C’est bon.