The first time I visited Paris, I had just turned 18. I remember vigorously walking the streets and feeling a connection with the city and its inhabitants that I could not explain. Every part of old Paris held something very dear, and every brasserie that looked like it had been there forever somehow seemed very familiar.
Frenchmen sitting in cafes and drinking their espressos had an air of peacefulness and assertiveness around them. No one appeared to be in a rush. As I sat among the madams and messieurs, enjoying each bite of my baguette while observing the crowd that slowly moved in front of me, I couldn’t help but ask myself: what was so special about Paris?
Was it the culture, so readily apparent in every square, every narrow street and every corner? Was it the architecture, which I grew up with and could so easily relate to? Or was it that life in Europe was so different from life in the U.S.?
As I searched for the answers within me, I sat for hours pondering the direction of my life. I recall wishing that I could get my hands on a crystal ball and peer into what my life would be like in 10 or 20 years. As with every teenage girl, I wanted to know who would I be when I grow up? Who would I marry? What was in the stars for my family and me? Would I be happy with the life that awaited me?
Fast-forward 25 years and the pace in Paris seems a bit faster. The fashion is a bit more audacious, and people are a lot friendlier than I remember from more than two decades ago. Aside from that, not much has changed. Tourists still line up to get into the Eiffel Tower. Frenchmen still sit in the brasseries, enjoying their croissants and smoking their cigarettes. People still come from all over the world to see the Mona Lisa. Only now instead of marveling at her smile, they debate whether it is a self-portrait of Leonardo DaVinci.
At two in the morning, the nightlife is still in full swing. Frenchmen continue to take pleasure dining late into the night, while they sit for hours observing and enjoying the ambience that is so prevalent in every Parisian establishment. Yet, there is an undercurrent of rumbling and discontent in this fair city.
Though not many will discuss the change that’s about to take place, everyone agrees that it will definitely rock their world. The French government has ruled that, starting next summer, restaurants must be entirely smoke-free. Of course, Parisians are distraught and dismayed. How will they now enjoy their espresso without puffing on their precious cigarettes? And what will they do with their hands while sitting and watching the world go by?
In time, Parisians will eventually embrace the painful fact that smoking is a bad habit and should not be imposed on others sitting next to them. There’s always the opera, theaters, symphonies, museums, shopping and much more to occupy their free time. And I’m sure they will find another hobby to occupy their manicured hands while sipping their espresso. Who knows? Perhaps they’ll take on writing a daily journal to capture their new smoke-free life?
As for me, this visit to Paris has special meaning because my husband brought me here to celebrate our anniversary. After so many years together, he is very much aware that Paris still occupies a special place in my heart. And what better way to celebrate our continuing love for each other than a romantic getaway to the City of Love?
These days, I don’t need a crystal ball to know who I am and where I’m going. I’m happy with my life, one that I worked very hard to design. I no longer stress about not being able to fit into the dress size that most French women deem necessary. Nor do I fret about my future.
As I sit at the brasserie, surrounded by my fellow Parisians, sipping my espresso and looking into the eyes of the man I adore, I feel empowered knowing that the best is yet to come.
All the best,