Sunday, May 3, 2009

To Paris and Back

In the air
“Flight attendants, please be seated for take off”, a reassuring and confident (always a hesitant traveler, I desperately wanted to believe that it contained both of these attributes) voice of the pilot resonated through the speakers. The engines roared, the airport structures started to flash through the window like in an old black and white movie, and in just seconds the plane was in the air. Every single time I fly, I am genuinely surprised when this happens. Could this heavy metallic bird lift its weight up and stay in the air? A miracle.

I looked out of the window and a breathless “wow” escaped out of me. It was a dark and clear late evening. No clouds to mess with the view. New York, in all it’s glory below the belly of the airplane, illuminated by hundreds of thousands of lights. I thought to myself “this looks like an overturned contents of a jewelry box.” I imagined that the sparkling is generated by diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires, aquamarines….all scattered around and glistening.

I sat like that glued to this incredible show of lights until we reached the Atlantic Ocean. My eyes fell on my wedding ring…a much more modest diamond and most important one in my jewelry box. I smiled.

The lights in the cabin were turned off and I dosed off for a while only to wake because of a small commotion around the lavatory. “We are still in the air. The big metallic bird is still flying”, a comforting thought registered in my mind. A window, my constant companion, lured me back into the abyss beyond.

Stars! More jewels, sprinkled generously on the vast black background. I thought, “this high up – are we closer to God?” And just then, a shooting star, exploded, painted a trajectory and disappeared. “Is that a ‘yes’?” I pondered…

First day in Paris
I love New York, almost as if it were a person. I feel married to it and it's a great marriage - loving, supportive, passionate. The first day I spent in Paris, though, this city managed to steal my heart. I felt that I've begun an affair that could last a lifetime. Or maybe it was the beginning of a stereotypical French-inspired fling. Time will tell.

I was eating a scrumptious chicken sandwich, watching Parisian life buzz with activity, I couldn't help but wonder...Is it okay to cheat on NY? But I knew it was a rhetorical question – it was too late. Paris’ magic has already seeped through and under my core. Like a fast-acting drug, it was making my head spin, creating an un-wipeable grin on my face.

How did it happen? When was I “drugged”? Hard to say. It all seems like a blur (is that the first confession AAA members make at their meetings?)

Could it have been the views from the tour bus that took me around the Sienna?
Could it have been the wind blowing through my hair?
Could it have been the view of the famous Notre Dame or the "0km" mark on the square in front of the cathedral from which all the roads in France are calculated? Could it have been the smell of croissants and coffee?
Could it have been the Louvre? Mona Lisa who may be smiling because she just had a third child?
Could it have been two vivacious elderly French ladies who seemed to have argued and then hugged each other before parting their ways?
Could it have the bridges, the intricate architecture, elegant lamp posts and myriad other things?
Of course it could.

Yet, among all this beauty, there was a turning point – the first time I saw the sun rise on the Champs Elysses. The bright, bold, blinding sun, stretching its rays, smiling, warming up freshly washed, broad sidewalk …I couldn’t help but return the smile, thinking “I could really get used to this”. The symbolism was unmistakable: in the beginning of the day I walked towards the sun (and the Egyptian obelisk) in the direction of my new Parisian office, and upon return the sun was saying good bye to me just slightly to the left of the Arc.

Love at first sight
In the elevators of the Eiffel tower, I really experienced the feeling of “butterflies in your stomach”. I promised the majestic lady – the Eiffel Tower - that we were going to see each other soon. She shone her bright lights on me and said, "Of course we will. You won't be able to stay away. What can I say, Chérie, I have that effect on people." “What a lovely French accent”, I thought, walking backwards away from her. She thought I wouldn't notice, but she blew me a kiss...

What I learned
One night, I had a fancy dinner at my company’s headquarters, in a room that looked like French kings just stepped out of it. I felt like I was in a museum. My colleagues around the globe looked at each other nervously, not willing to break the silence, clearly shy to speak.

To make things a bit more casual, I proposed that they share their childhood dreams with everyone, namely what they wanted to be when they were growing up. Usually, people don't dream of being in insurance.)So, the stories are often wild. It was no different this time. I heard everything from a flamingo dancer to a famous writer to a cook to a rock star to a train operator…to a flower.

And then in one flash, light bulb, “Aha” moment, I realized – all the people around the world are the same, we are one big whole. They dream, they love, they cry, they live, they love, they laugh, and they come to boring long meetings and day dream about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Now, I know it sounds ridiculous that it’s actually somehow surprising to me. Theoretically, I’ve always known this, but sitting at this elaborate table, in Paris, eating one of the most amazing dinners (albeit small) I’ve ever had, drunk from the enormity of it all, with my new-found friends from Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany...more than ever I felt connected with the rest of the world. I will miss them.

And back…
The car service pulled up. I rang the door bell. John’s face lit up. Our son was crying hysterically “Go back, Mommy, go back!”, upset that I’d disturb his idyllic daily routine with Daddy who adores (and spoils) him.

“How was it?”, John asked, relief and happiness on his face. “It was amazing. I’ll tell you all about it later. How was it here?” John lowered his eyes, “It was great. I love being with our son but without you this isn’t a home…” I kissed his scruffy cheek (didn’t he shave all this time??) and thought “Ah, Paris, the shootings stars, the ebbs and flows of the river of life…It’s here and now that I am closest to God.”

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