Pining for Paris

Terry Fallis writing in Les Deux Magots at Hemingway’s favourite table 2012.

Now that we’re in the second wave of the pandemic, I’ve transitioned from just missing those many joys of our daily lives that we’ve given up for the last eight months, to abject, hardcore, unadulterated pining. I miss restaurants, particularly the part where someone else plans, cooks, and cleans up our dinner. I can barely remember the whole experience of being escorted to your glistening table, being introduced to the very talented wait staff who will serve you drinks, deliver your meals, and adroitly grind pepper from an impressive altitude, and eventually help you on with your coat when it’s all over. Ahhh, those were the days.

I also miss travel, within and outside our fair borders. Absent COVID-19, by this date, I’d have travelled to various literary and family events for which I’d been booked, including in Banff, Quebec City, Grande Prairie, Florida, and many other hotspots. I still managed to participate in all of the literary events, though my talks, readings, and panel discussions were all achieved through the miracle of Zoom. It all worked quite well and was certainly better than cancelling the events completely. I admit I’ve become quite adept at positioning my body in front of my laptop camera so it effectively blocks out the few messy (even chaotic) shelves in our third-floor library that I wrote about last month.

But now that it’s November, I’m really struggling with one biannual trip in particular that will not be happening this year. You see, my wife and I made a pact about a decade ago, that every two years, whether we felt the need or not (and believe me, we always seemed to feel the need), we’d spend a week in Paris. It is a luxury we feel blessed to indulge that helps mark the passing of the years. And it’s really just for the two of us. It’s our time to recharge and reset after what has almost always been a busy, hectic and tiring year, and we revel in every moment in that wonderful city.

It might seem a bit selfish not to take our sons with us, but they’re now 28 and 25. We did take them to Paris one August when they were about eight and five…arguably, neither the best ages to introduce them to Paris, nor the best time of year to visit. It was about 40C every day, which made sightseeing difficult…no, make that excruciating. Live and learn (and sweat, a lot).

Now just the two of us go in November. I can sense you asking, “Why November?” Well, beyond its not being August, there are fewer tourists clogging the Champs-Élysées and the Place de la Concorde (not that there’s anything wrong with tourists). And while November can be frigid in Canada, it’s reasonably fall-like in Paris.

After several visits now, we’ve seen most of the sights and toured most of the museums and galleries. So, for the last few trips, we’ve simply lived in Paris for a week. We stay on the left bank, our favourite part of the city. We start each morning with chocolate croissant and stroll the streets for much of the day. I often write in the same cafés Hemingway and Fitzgerald frequented in the 1920s. We’ve enjoyed a few walking tours (I’ve done the same Hemingway tour several times and will likely do it again), and multiple visits to the famous English bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, just across the Seine from Notre-Dame. And we eat…frequently and copiously.

I fully accept that missing one’s biannual sojourn to Paris seems like the very epitome of a first-world problem. In fact, it might well be the new standard by which we calibrate first-world problems. But I miss it anyway. On a positive note, Paris hasn’t changed much in the last 200 years or so (since that little revolution they had in the late 1700s). It’ll still be there when the pandemic has passed, and when the first safe November rolls around, we’ll be there, too.

About Terry Fallis 86 Articles
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of nine national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, A New Season, is now in bookstores.