There is an often good-natured battle between my adopted Italy and her long-time rival, France, and as a writer and travel consultant living along Italy’s southern shores, I rarely get to write about my first love –France. No, France doesn’t win the battle of emotions inside my heart … Italy’s top place is safe and secure. Rather, France was my first love and like anyone who has loved and lost, I’ll never really let go. France was the setting for my first expat experience, my first ever international travel experience and yes, the place where I met the man who’d one day become my husband.
My mind is filled with memories from the time I spent in France, but my favorite experience and one I return to often is of the City of Lights herself … in one of my favorite neighborhoods, sitting underneath the protective shadow of one of the city’s most famous monuments-Notre Dame.
Photo Credit : Divillysausages on Flickr.
You see, contrary to popular belief, Mickey Mouse does not pay well, so my two closest friends and I created our own magic outside of our day jobs at Disneyland Paris. We’d take the Metro the 20 minutes or so into the heart of the city, stop by a wine shop for a six franc bottle of vin rouge and buy equally expensive gyros on the pebble-stone streets of Paris’ Quartier Latin.
With our hands full of tzatziki-covered fries that had been stuffed inside our sandwiches, we walked across the busy street to the Ile-de-la-Cite and through the main square of Notre Dame. Underneath the church, on the stairs that lead to the River Seine, we’d perch our vin du jour and watch the tourists-because we lived there, remember … we weren’t tourists!-passing on the riverboats. Sometimes they’d wave to us and we’d nonchalantly return the gesture, in a move that was decidedly not French but what we hoped passed as such by the masses from the boat.
I’ve returned to Paris a couple of times in the ten years since this ritual became a memory and on each occasion, I’d insist my travel companion join me on those stairs.
They’d go through the motions, drink the what is now much more than six franc wine and let me talk about my days as an expat in Paris … but somehow it was never the same.
Next year, our group is holding a reunion and I’ll be back in the City of Lights with those same two friends who haunted the stairs with me in Paris’ medieval center … and this is one experience I can’t wait to reenact.
They say you can’t go back and I now know-ten years older and hopefully somewhat wiser-that things won’t be the same. But I hope, that for just a moment, we’ll recapture that magic. Because if Paris can’t do it … no one can.