Posts Tagged ‘paris’

Where to Live in Paris, France

Friday, October 31st, 2014

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In the Paris apartment, up the long winding staircase on the 5th floor — the 4th floor in Paris, as it were — I shower, or maybe I just bathe, in the cramped tub, taking turns between water and lather because you can’t do both at the same time. Otherwise you’ll drop the shower nozzle — the telephone shower, as we call it — and get water everywhere. I have had more comfortable bathing situations, no exaggeration, in parts of the developing world.

But this is Paris, and all I can remember as this is happening, is the warning at the beginning of Rick Steves Paris 2006 where he says something to the effect of: If you’re ready to travel, you have to accept that showers are not always hot, cups of coffee are not always the size of your big American face, and that beds are not always comfortable.

Well, let me go further. The showers in Paris are not always showers. Sometimes they’re just a faucet and a basin and a hot water tank that’s smaller than a mini-keg of Stella.

I rinse off my jetlag and wash my hair upside-down and the water pools around my ankles, blue-black with the dye from my new jeans. I leave my bracelet on because if I take it off, they may not re-admit me to the festival and that would be hundreds of dollars down the drain. And I would miss St. Vincent.

But for all the bathroom’s hazards, its soup bowl of a sink and slippery tiles, the apartment itself looks like the set of Last Tango in Paris. Plaster ceiling moldings and hardwood floors and fireplaces in two rooms. A brass doorbell. A wrought-iron window grate. Books on a shelf — Paul Auster, the same novel I brought to read on the plane. Collages with flowers. A kitchen smaller than the bathroom, and no trash can, and a view over the street below and the long row of buildings just like it, a march of wrought-iron and blue roof tiles and cream-colored stucco.

The heat is just little electric space heaters that cost a fortune to run and don’t heat the space very well anyway. And there’s no insulation. No soundproofing so the neighbor’s argument is your argument. The crying baby upstairs is your baby, your headache, your sleepless night.

My apartment in Paris, when I lived here, was just like this. Drafty, up a long flight of beautiful stairs, a nest above the city where I turned up the expensive heat as high as it would go and huddled under blankets in January and read news from home using the excellent free wifi. Where I got really good at taking 7-minute showers. It was all love and discomfort. I kept a bowl of clementines on the table and ate mache salads every night with balsamic and kiwi and whatever weird thing I found at the market — maybe the clementines. I don’t think I’ve even seen mache in New York. If I found it, I would buy it.

And the rental apartment of this vacation, this non-living situation, which looked so perfect in the photos, actually is perfect. What I had not realized, before I walked in the door. Before I twisted the complicated double-pronged key in the sticky lock — all Paris apartments of a certain age have a double-pronged key and a sticky lock — is that it would not be such a surprise or such an adventure. It would be perfectly typical — a thing that has not changed. That is what it is — sheltering and imperfect and sure of what it is.

In Paris on a cold autumn day…

Monday, October 13th, 2014

La Grisette

A photo I took. And still kind of like. This is a sculpture called La Grisette and it’s in the 11eme, near the Canal Saint-Martin. It’s meant to depict the working-class French girls of the 19th century who were so named for the gray color of their dresses. They worked as seamstresses, and later, in factories, and there was always a whiff of sexual mystery about them. (Maybe they were prostitutes? Maybe they weren’t? There was work, and work, after all, but in an era when employment opportunities for women were strictly limited, and the idea of women working was somewhat scandalous in and of itself, the lines were blurry.) Mimi and Musetta in La Boheme were both grisettes, as was Fantine in Les Miserables.

I took this on a very gray day in November a few years ago. A day that seemed very appropriate indeed for this very gray girl.

Wallace Fountains: Paris, Marseille, New Orleans

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

The Wallace Fountains are everywhere in Paris. Designed to bring water to every citizen of the city, from the richest to the poorest, they’re so much a part of the Parisian landscape that after a few days town, you stop really seeing them. They sort of blend with the boulevards and the green parks, the onion-domed advertising columns that are painted the same color. Take them away, though, and Paris is not Paris. They exist in a number of French cities besides Paris, and in handful around the globe, from Amman to Macau. Here are three that I’ve seen in Paris, Marseille (where the caryatid has been splashed with neon paint), and New Orleans. The latter isn’t painted that same gleaming, bulletproof green that you see in Paris, but has more of a coppery finish.

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Paris: The Thing That Everyone’s Seen

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

And the Sculptures at Trocadero

On the last night in Paris, I visit the Eiffel Tower, because no one can be cynical about the Eiffel Tower, even in February. I went up once, but not to the top. It was closed because of the wind. But I have never really needed to go up, to get the true bird’s eye. Once you have done it from the Tour Montparnasse or the Sacre Coeur, you don’t need to do it again, to see miniscule Paris. Or maybe I’m just leaving things, setting aside Paris experiences to have later. I never want to run out.

I always do the same thing, on that last night. I get off the Metro at Trocadero and I buy macarons at Carette, and I go see the Eiffel Tower, like paying a visit to an aging Aunt. There is no point in going during the daytime, when it is beautiful but not magical, when the tourists nearly injure themselves, tumbling over the steep wall, to get their thumbs-up photo. They do that at night too, but you can’t see them as well, which helps.

This time, I do what I always do. I snap photos in the cold. I wait the requisite 15 minutes for it to begin its pre-programmed shimmer—the thing that never fails to conjure a surprised gasp from the assembled crowd, like they had no idea it was going to happen. But then, maybe they truly had no idea. The people who gather at Trocadero to stare at the tower are the typical hodgepodge—businessmen in town for a night, weekenders from Italy and Belgium, elderly Japanese women on a tour. Maybe they missed that line in the guidebook. Or maybe they read it and the reality of it is still stunning—that sudden shimmer of sparks on the tower’s surface, the closest it will come to straightening up its bowlegs and doing a little dance, and all for no reason. For amusement. For the sake of being lovely. An iconic monument puts on a show. You can understand why people applaud.

The last time I was in Paris, I observed my little tradition. I got off at Metro Trocadero and crossed the nutty streets that loop around the square where people drive like they’re trying to kill themselves, or you. And I walked between the long wings of the Palais de Chaillot, the collection of museums and government buildings that crown the hill above the Eiffel Tower in grand fashion, all of it done in sleek art deco gold. In the open space between the two sides of the building, this is where people come to view the Eiffel Tower, and where men come to sell their wares. They are the famous, ubiquitous trinkets of Paris—Eiffel Towers on keychains. Eiffel Towers in metal with felt under their feet so you can sit them on a desk or in a cabinet. Light-up plastic Eiffel Towers for children. Eiffel Towers that play “La Vie En Rose” when you touch a button.

The men are mostly from north and west Africa, and they keep the keychains—a hot seller, no doubt—threaded on a big silver ring, which they then loop over an arm. They advertise by shaking the ring so that the whole thing jingles like a Christmas bell. This noise fills the square, and the sellers call out to you as you pass in heavily-accented English. Every once in a while, an ambitious trinket seller will add a new item to his inventory. One I’ve seen a few times is a little light-up helicopter that flies when you wind it up. At Trocadero at night, you are likely to see them before you even arrive from the square, little blinking rainbows dipping down and up in the dark.

This time, I decide to buy something. I approach one of the men. He has not been hassling me or calling out at the top of his lungs like his colleagues, which is probably why I choose him. For an instant, as I approach, his eyes dart around him, terrified. Clearly I am not a cop, but it makes me wonder how many times each week, each month, these men get busted by the French police, how quickly they need to throw their wares into a bundle and run. This man looks like he’s about to.

“How much for the little one?” I ask.

“One Euro,” he says, so quietly I can barely hear him.

I pull out my wallet and fish for a coin, and he unhooks the loop on his arm. He hands me five little Eiffel Towers—two gold and three silver, each molded in chintzy pot metal that will undoubtedly start to turn colors before I get them back on the plane.

“No no,” I say. “Just one.”

“Yes,” he says. “The price is five for one Euro.”

I am taken aback, but it makes sense. Every vendor has the same stuff. There can be no real undercutting or competition. Everything is priced to sell, and at rock bottom. I wonder at a life built on twenty-five cents a trinket, of how many tiny Eiffel Towers it takes to buy dinner, to pay for a room.

While I wait for the real Eiffel Tower to switch on, to shimmer and do her dance, I touch the replicas in my pocket, feel the hard-but-delicate edges of them. Inside and under the fabric, they make a noise like bells, but muffled, as though I have caught the air of the square, and the vendors, and the sparkling tower itself, and put it away, made it ready to transport home.

What Gets Caught Between Paris and New York

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

A Picture of a Picture

I visited the shops at the Parc de Bercy in the rain in the spring, which is how I saw so much of Paris. Because of that, I tend to remember the city as an upside-down place, reflected most clearly in the streaky puddles on the street, green from the fallen buds.

My feet got wet that day.

I tend not to love the places in Paris that feel as though they’re somehow trying to be like New York. The Marais feels that way to me sometimes — a neat row of clean-lined boutiques with black-painted walls and half-empty shelves, impossibly sparse and chic but too much like SoHo, or the galleries on the West Side. France without arcs and curlicues is hardly France to me. I want to see a breath of Versailles, of the lavish, even if it’s done with no effort. I liked the old stuff in Paris better than the new. Or maybe the New York-ized Paris just made me homesick.

The shops at the Parc de Bercy are of this sort. Bright and glassed-in, and built into old stone storage warehouses, the shops capitalize on a modern idea — put new stuff in an old space, and leave the old space as unmarred as possible, so it can exude all of its original charm and character. It’s well done, but it’s boring.

I skipped the travel store and the soap store and the gift shops. There was nothing I wanted to buy. My sandals were soaked through. Plus, I could do the same thing in Chelsea Market — hell, in Faneuil Hall.

I ducked under a stone arch to get some shelter from the rain and lowered my umbrella. That’s when I saw it.

There was a photo exhibit on one wall — large-format, vertical black-and-whites, all of them rather moody and dark — of street scenes from New York. I stopped in front of one, aghast. The photo was of a prewar building in the West Village, the typical fire escapes clinging to the brick like spiders. The ground floor was occupied by a shop, a dry goods store that sells coffee. The barrels were clearly visible through the front windows.

The shop in the photo — and that prewar building — stood exactly two blocks from my apartment in New York. I passed by it every day, smelled the coffee, watched the patrons shuffle in and out on weekends. And there it was, in an art exhibit in Paris.

I took a picture of the picture. I could not resist. A thing to take back with me, to restore to its rightful place on a quiet tree-lined block. A block where there once passed a French girl with a camera, who aimed her lens, and thought, “This looks like Paris. Only more so and less so, and maybe not at all.”

Go there: Bercy Village, a patch of new shops in old buildings, is located at 28 Rue François Truffaut in Paris. To get there, take metro 14 to Cour Saint-Emillion.

Taking a Picture of Paris in the Jardin des Plantes

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Vermillion

I took this photo on a frigid May day in Paris in the Jardain des Plantes, just before I had dinner at the Mosque cafe with friends. Paris explodes with flowers and green in the spring, blooms into a whole new kind of place. It was raining.

My hands shook taking these photos, so desperate to capture the colors and shapes of that rose garden. Because roses are so precise, so strong and structured, and they disappear so quickly. They demand that you photograph them well, and the best I can say is that I tried.

My sister arrived that night, and she was sending me text message after text message from Charles de Gaulle while I stood in that garden, while my phone’s battery power dwindled, while I was running a few minutes late to meet my friends at the cafe, all because of these roses, because I couldn’t leave them behind. Because I needed something to help me remember. Balancing an umbrella on one shoulder, my phone buzzing in my pocket, the camera shaking in my hands, water droplets hitting the lens.

It was a moment of four thousand things. And I was so cold.

Just outside the garden on the Quai Saint-Bernard, the sidewalks were slick and wet with rain, but they shone bright like mirrors, too, bouncing the reflection of trees and fences—green and black like a shivering watercolor—back up at the sky. I don’t think such a thing could happen anywhere but in Paris in May, on the Quai Saint-Bernard in the rain with a camera full of photos of roses. Those bright reds and oranges and pinks on a muted gray palate, they overrode everything else—the cold and the rain and the phone—for just those few minutes.


Go there: The Jardin des Plantes is located in the 5eme and is part of Paris’s natural history museum, the equally awesome Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Take the metro to either Jussieu or Gare d’Austerlitz. The roses bloom in May. Entrance is free.

Notes on 7 European Churches: 4 to See, 3 to Skip

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Going to Europe for the first time? The twelfth? You will see cathedrals, you will. And basilicas. And abbeys. And chapels. Despite what the guidebooks say, they aren’t all awesome, and they aren’t all worth seeing. Here are some that are worth seeking out. And some that… aren’t quite.

4 to See

The Weirdly Articulate Marble Feet of Dead King Francois I

Basilica Saint-Denis, Paris
Most visitors spend their churchgoing time in Paris winding around the nave of Notre Dame in a slow-moving river of tourists that runs about 10-deep on weekends, or annoying the priests at grim, cobwebby Saint-Sulpice with questions about The Da Vinci Code. Your first visit to Paris? By all means, go to these places. Your second? Take metro 13 to just beyond the peripherique and visit the incredible, and sorely overlooked, Basilica Saint-Denis. Flying buttresses? Check. Classic Gothic architecture? Check. Splashy stained glass? Check. You’ll see beautiful examples of all three, but the most important things you’ll see at Saint-Denis are the tombs. The entire French royal line was buried here from the 10th to the 18th centuries, and they’re entombed in everything from incredible marble sarcophagi (Francois I, Catherine de’ Medici and Louis XIV are given particularly grand treatment) to tiny gold boxes (what they could find of Marie Antoinette after the dust settled). Go on a weekday when the sun is out and enjoy this serene (and serenely uncrowded) place.

Muskrat Love

Thistle Chapel at the High Kirk of Saint Giles, Edinburgh
The church—located in the heart of Edinburgh’s famous (and famously touristy) Royal Mile—is just fine. It’s what’s in the back that really matters. It’s easy to miss, but don’t leave before you see the amazing Thistle Chapel, where Scotland’s Order of the Thistle convenes. Every inch of this shoebox-sized room is covered in ornate carvings, all of them symbolizing the members of the Order—Scotland’s oldest and most prestigious order of chivalry. Animals, ancient crests, and angels abound. Even the ceiling ribs are lined with thistles in full blossom. It’ll take you a minute, but don’t forget to look for the tiny carving of the angel playing the bagpipes—one of the only portrayals in Edinburgh.

From Those Who Were Shipwrecked

Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille
Here’s an easy way to find this wonderful church when you get to sunny, seaside Marseille: Look up. It is the most distinctive feature of this teeming city, crowning the hill just above the old city. The gold statue of the Notre Dame on the spire glimmers at midday and is visible almost everywhere. Take the bus to the top of the hill and visit this incredible place. A relatively small church, its insides are covered with glittering gold mosaics, and more, with the gifts and dedications of townspeople whose families have lived and died by the ocean. Model ships hang from strings on the ceiling. Tiny oil paintings portray men carried miraculously from shipwrecks. Prayers from seafarer’s wives and mothers are inscribed on plaques. Outside on the terraces, the view across the city, and the very blue Mediterranean, is incredible. From there, see if you can tell the difference between the real Le Corbusier, the architect’s iconic apartment building in the new city, and it’s many nearby imitators, or just watch the cruise ships lumbering by.

The Cathedral of Our Lady

Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp
There is something about this cathedral. It’s stuffed with famous Rubins paintings, yes. And the bells in its tower make a noise that glistens and shimmers like a fairy tale. But something beyond that makes this church so wonderful—a lovely combination of restrained and ornate. On the inside, its walls are painted white, and the light streams through on even the grayest days (like the one on which I visited, in March). On the outside, its single dark spire towers over the city, every inch covered in Gothic flourish. Have a hot chocolate at one of the cafes and admire the view outside, explore what’s behind the doors.

3 to Skip

Below

Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican
Yeah, it’s big. And it’s famous. And you have to see it, right? Right? Well, no. Not if you have little patience for clamoring, camera-wielding tourists, who jam themselves into every corner of the Pope’s church and then conspire, I swear, to all shout at the same time in 15 different languages. Add that to the staff’s charming tendency to let three times as many people up to the top of the dome as should safely and sanely be there, and the basilica’s oppressive ugliness (It’s pink. And gold. Lots of gold.) and you have yourself a recipe for a frustrating, exhausting day in Rome. And oh yeah, you have to wait in line for three hours during high season to even get in the door. Take pictures from the square and ask a security guard where you can get good pasta and call it a day. Or a lifetime.

Glyph


Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Really? This is the best Dublin can do when it comes to its most famous cathedral? Chilly and dark, this big stone church contains statues of dead people you’ve probably never heard of and some flags. For a better bet, grab a book and people watch on the lovely strip of green right outside the church. (Note: I took exactly zero photos in and around Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The snapshot above is from the graveyard at the way-more-interesting Saint Audoen’s church.)

Duomo at Sunset

The Duomo, Florence
If you see it for the first time at sunset, like I did, your heart will probably fall out of your chest at the sight of its unfathomable beauty and elegance. Its perfect (and perfectly constructed) dome is Florence’s signature; its colored marble seems too intricate and harmonious to be real. And then you walk inside and it’s just a big empty room with some candles in it. Really. Save your money and your time and don’t even bother going inside the Duomo. There is some art, yes. A venerable painting or two. But it’s not worth braving the crowds and the real wonder—the thing worth seeing—can be had for free just by looking around you.

Paris: Five Minutes in Montparnasse

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Through the Verticals of Trees

In Paris, I went to class each day in Montparnasse at the building set aside by the Sorbonne for its extension school. I say set aside because that’s truly how it felt as a student there—as though none of us should ever confuse what we were doing, our charming little French lesson, with attending the real Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter, the domain of true French academia. Every morning, I took the 13 to Montparnasse-Bienvenue and walked all the way through that tangling rail station up the steps to the tiniest, strangest exit that belches you up right at the foot of the Tour Montparnasse.

It was a strange neighborhood—untouristed as anything in Paris can be, glamorous on the surface for its grand cafes and hulking Haussmann buildings and strangely workaday, too. Those cafes—the enormous and storied La Rotonde on the Boulevard Montparnasse, for example—were often flanked by dives and chain stores like the Body Shop. And all of it pitted at the foot of the famously ugly Tour, which is stuck through the center of the neighborhood like an enormous tombstone. “Discovering” Montparnasse meant sitting in those cafes, yes, and paying a weekly visit to the rambling mixed-bag of a market on the Rue Edgar Quinet. (You were as likely to find pairs of knockoff Converse sneakers as fresh produce.) I did all that—and went to the top of the Tour, too, sat in its sunny observation-deck cafe—and then, one day, decided to venture East, toward Denfert-Rochereau. I would call it a neighborhood, but it’s really just a cluster of buildings (and one very pretty street market; it’s worth mentioning) built around the famous traffic roundabout, Bertholdi’s regal and rather cuddly looking lion standing guard.

I took this walk on one of those churning winter days where the gray-black clouds floated, I swear, almost vertical to the ground. If it was America, I would call it Wizard of Oz weather—volatile and weird, as though something more than raindrops were about to descend. And then something did. I was just past the lion and walking Northeastish (Paris is a circle, remember.), in that place where the Haussmann buildings dissolve into sand-colored tenement blocks, measly little half-skyscrapers. And in an instant, the sky opened, and it wasn’t rain. Ice pellets—too big for sleet, too small for hail—dumped down in walloping white sheets. I feared for the fortitude of my umbrella. At one point, the noise of this stuff—slail?—pelting against the top of it gave me real pause. Half-terrified, I put my hand out. A million tiny spheres settled on my palm, glittering, and then melted to nothing. It ended as quickly as it started, the pellets disappearing as soon as they landed, after a hearty bounce, on the pavement.

For everyone who searches so hard for Real Paris, I wonder how much of it they would actually want to see—a clump of buildings, seventies architecture, a place where people go to school, a place where people go to work. But that is the magic of Paris. The sparkle, sometimes, falls straight from the sky.

Go there:

Montparnasse is located on the Left Bank in south-central Paris. It’s easy to find.

Listening Underground

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

The 14 Arrives at Chatelet

In Paris. Every morning on the 13 to Montparnasse. Not every morning. Some mornings. I would sit or grip the pole and wonder about germs and the people would shove in and not move to the center. A man with his face in my hair, a hand on my book bag. And I had no language to tell him to stop. Or I did, but I would be so afraid to use it. I didn’t know how people said things. That’s what it means to really learn. To say things the way people say things. Not what’s in the book.

Once, a woman stood with a wriggling little girl, clawing over her shoulder, and I offered her my seat.

“Madame?”

That’s all I could say. I could say things about sitting, about the seat. (Or maybe the only word I knew was “chair.”) I could command her to sit, like a teacher yelling at a classroom of children. Please take my seat because you need it more than I do. That’s what I needed and didn’t have. But she smiled and I felt relieved.

One morning, my hair was wet. And I wanted to bang my head backwards against the scratched window and shout.

STOP. SPEAKING. FRENCH.

I’m sorry. I don’t understand. It’s driving me crazy to be so close to you and not to understand. I self-punished. You are a terrible student. You are old and can’t learn anything. Maybe your hearing is going. Because if you were really learning, you would be a part of this. You would be reading something other than Wuthering Heights on the 13 to Montparnasse.

And the Metro coughed me up at the foot of the ugliest skyscraper in the most beautiful city in the world, and the wind whipped across the concrete plaza while I fought tears and wanted to pound my fists into someone’s face. Please, just let me learn so I don’t have to be alone.

New York. Months later.

A French family stands by the door on the 2 train as though they are drawn from a picture book. The father, rotund and bearded in a fedora, directing traffic, watching the stops. The mother or maybe an aunt, bundled in a winter coat, in designer boots. And the little girl in enormous pink sneakers and a more fashionable haircut than I could hope for in my lifetime. She’s fair haired and her eyes are enormous and sparkling with such ferocity that she looks almost feverish. She recites the names of the stops as they fly past in her little-girl accent, high-pitched, wonderous. I can understand everything they say. Everything.

They know exactly where they need to go, have counted the stops and know the street layout where they’re headed. Disappointment, almost. As I recite in my head the things I could say like a game. Questions that never made it onto the test.

Do you need help?
Do you know where you’re going?
I speak, but only a little.

Six times, I hold my tongue. The French do not invite casual conversations with strangers. They read the map. The doors open. They move on.

California in My Head

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Watercolor, originally uploaded by Miss Laura M..

My worst travel story is about a trip I never took.

And because I never took it, it is not so much a trip but the idea of a trip, one that I dreamed up after mailing away for a free Scenic Byways of America map from the Federal Highway Administration when I was 13. A map and geography junkie from more or less the moment I became literate, I definitely saw every episode in the first three seasons of Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, kept endless lists of Places to Visit beginning in the fourth grade, and, at 12, became my school’s youngest-ever geography bee champion. Even now, I can still find Zambia on an unlabeled map in less than three seconds.

But with my Scenic Byways map spread across our coffee table I dreamed up two California road trips. And if you are 13 and living in Massachusetts and have never really been anywhere, California seems as far away and magical as a fairyland, as a whole other corner of the universe.

The first trip was Death Valley to Los Angeles via Desert Hot Springs — the Scorcher Route. I dreamed of cacti and hazy smog over the mountains in the mornings and seaweed wraps by the springs in the afternoons. The second was the Pacific Coast Highway trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the canyon between cliff and ocean with about half a dozen seafood-and-Mexican-food-eating, swimming, and sunbathing pit stops between.

I still hold on to the ideas of these trips like jewels that I keep stashed away in an inside pocket, ready to draw them out someday when I have the money and the time, when I get brave about driving a car. In the meantime, though, through detours and other trips and the rocky curves of everyday life and love and just stuff, I got careless about one of my jewels.

Many years after I spread that map across the table and marked it up with a red pen and made lists of the places I wanted to visit, I had a boyfriend who was planning a trip to California with his buddies. Or not planning, as it were, because between four adult men, none of them had a single idea about where they’d like to go. And because I was that 13-year-old with the map and the lists and the geography bee, I had about 800 ideas at the ready, and I let one slip.

My Pacific Coast Highway, a jewel that, if it had been real, would have been as gleaming and blue as the ocean itself — the color of my 13-year-old heart’s desire. And I let it go. And my trip happened without me.

God knows, I have had enough consolation prizes in the last four months — an early-morning field full of sheep and fog, a medieval church perched on a rock in the ocean, a city cut across by canals and dotted with fat white swans, a slate gray cathedral with bells that chimed golden and bright and articulate like a poem in notes — but I have learned, let’s just say, to keep watch over my valuables.

I am not going home yet. But I’m not staying here either. And the only person who knows for sure where I’m going is me.