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Leaving Paris

June 17, 2010

I left Paris yesterday. Before catching the train at Gare de Nord I said goodbye.

There are so many ways to say “goodbye”. Some people don’t believe in goodbyes; they simply walk away. It’s not that they don’t mind leaving, or that they do not care about what they are leaving behind, rather, they are simply moving on. These people fully understand that they may or may not return, and in knowing this, they see no value in the formality of saying “goodbye”. Other people hate to say goodbye. This sort of person clings to the past, refusing to let go, and distrusting the move forwards. This is the person you will see partaking of extended emotional departure scenes at airport gates and train stations. For them, every “goodbye” heralds a change, and change is to be feared. There are also those for whom saying goodbye is routine — for one reason or another their lives have given them cause to say goodbye so many times that the process has begun to lose its significance. Perhaps the best example of such an individual would be a business traveler who leaves on frequent trips, mobile to ear and briefcase in hand; no backward glances or thoughts.

If I fall into any of these categories I would be forced to admit that I belong to the second. Despite my constant movement, the constant change and motion that is my life, I have always clung to the past. I hate to say goodbye more than almost anything else I can imagine. So when it comes time to say goodbye to Paris I have a very specific ritual. Somehow in ritualizing my departure, I remind myself that this has happened before, and most certainly will occur again. The ritual itself becomes a link from past to present to future. So long as I continue the pattern, I know I will return.

I finished packing the night before I left. I had never truly unpacked, as I had been expecting to continue on to Italy yesterday rather than go to London. Therefore packing was a simple matter of folding and slipping things back into their rightful places. My ritual began yesterday morning. Despite my exhaustion I awoke early and got my traditional breakfast of hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat. I then walked to the Louvre. I am sure that there are many locations where one could say goodbye to Paris, but for me there is only one — the Louvre. For as clichéd as it may sound I believe Paris, or at least my experience of Paris, is embodied within the walls of that ancient palace.

Never knowing exactly when I might be staying in, or passing through Paris, I always keep a valid card of entry with me. I obtain this card from the history department at my old university, who arranges that I be credited as a student of art. This card allows me to avoid the long lines and incessant noise of tourists by providing entry to the small almost hidden rear student’s entry. After entering in this discreet manner, I begin my wandering. While I know the location of my desired destination, I attempt to re-create that first overpowering experience of stumbling upon Her. To attain this goal, I began walking in the direction I know to be correct, but without any reference to maps or to posted signs. On my way I pause and greet old friends, pieces of the collection I have seen so many times before. The Louvre holds many treasures, and during one month-long stay in Paris, I made it my business to visit every room of the great Museum. This experience created a somehow possessive feeling within me; this space belongs to me more than it does to the visitors who simply wander through on their audio-guided tours — I belong here.

As I wander, time slips away; my train is not until later — I do not worry.

Suddenly, there She is. This time I have arrived from a side gallery and find myself looking up at Her. Yes, there She is: La Victoire de Samothrace. Despite being headless, her expression is clear. She stands braced against the wind, wings spread, garments confused. She is Joy, Glory, Light, Beauty — She, is Paris.

I stand for a minute, eyes on her. My thoughts are not specific; I am simply watching her, contemplating her age, her antiquity. My mind touches on her history, both in the ancient world, and now, after rediscovery. After a timeless minute I look around me and see others — people who, like me, understand her. We catch each other’s eyes briefly, nod gently and return our eyes to the Beautiful One.

Goodbye. Au revoir. Until I see you again, dear Paris.

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From → Art, General, Goodbyes, Love, Paris

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