I was on the cross-trainer at the gym, flicking through the channels on the TV, and suddenly the screen was filled with cyclists: Le Tour de France was on. The same thing happened that always happens to me when I see the Tour on TV- I think "That's right near where we lived!" There was the Carrefour sign, the war memorial at the little place right across from the cafe, just around the corner from the bad boulangerie. That field full of cows, the crumbling stone wall, some rows of trees in even succession. Then as the cyclists descended and climbed and rounded another bend, there was the Carrefour sign, the war memorial at the little place right across from the cafe, around the corner from the bad boulangerie. That field full of cows, the crumbling stone wall, some more rows of trees in even succession. Then I decided they were at least in the same department, or maybe the next one over - the stone on the buildings looked familiar and there was a sign for St. Leonard, there's a St. Leonard in the Creuse, that makes sense, all those climbs, and the roofs have that certain pitch to them.
As they cycled on and I rode the cross trainer along with them, I finally thought it didn't matter where exactly they were, they were definitely in France and for those few moments I was right there with them.
It's four years ago this summer that Eric and I moved to the USA. I love living in the Hudson Valley, it's got so much beauty, like France, but a lot more to do, and it's only two hours from New York City. It was wonderful having the experience of living in France, and sometimes, like when I see it on TV, I get a pang. At the same time, when I find an official French document in my files, I get another kind of pang, and remember the pain of trying to navigate the system. There's plenty wrong with America but it's an easier place to live in many ways.
Living in Europe is what got me started blogging in earnest (I'm almost embarrassed to use the word anymore, that's how mid-last-decade it feels now) Writing my own and reading and commenting on other ex-pat blogs was a way to make sense of life in a new and different land. Nowadays I only check in with other blogs very occasionally but there was one Paris blogger I stayed with. I guess you could say I lurked, because I never commented. I kept my distance, but I regularly got a kick out of this American woman's posts about navigating life in Paris, through finding a French husband, trying to learn French and become a citizen, and her quest to publish a memoir based on her experiences moving to the Paris that really only exists in Americans' minds.
I've come to believe that place of dreams is a valuable one. If you imagine your reality is elevated by taking the you who's stuck in a rut in the states and paste that person on a boulevard with a baguette under one arm, even if the boulevard is now obstructed by traffic bollards and annoying metal fencing and you still have to do laundry and find meaningful employment or any job at all then more power to you.
This American in Paris blogger died the other day, so suddenly - didn't update her blog for a month and then her husband posted that she had passed away. I knew she was ill but I realize now she's gone how much I was rooting for her, because the real her came through the cliche of Paris. It's left a space, because she was a little link to the dream of France and so here I am on the cross trainer pedaling with the cyclists and getting choked up at the sight, not of an eleventh century church or a quaint tiled roof, but a blasted Carrefour supermarket sign and banner reading "Le Tour C'est Notre Tour!"
For Lisa, this Alexander Payne segment from Paris Je T'Aime