Conversations With A Débutante
The first time I saw Paris it was covered in snow. Along the banks of the Seine, on branches of leafless trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, in the crevices of the scrolling ironwork on the windows and balconies, winter had dressed Paris in the pearly white grace of a débutante at her ball.
Débutante. Débuter. To begin; to start out; to make one’s debut.
That was a December morning over 20 years ago and I was experiencing my own kind of beginning. I crunched along the frosty sidewalks over the Pont Alexandre III, and I huddled in my not-so-sensible (yet only) jacket, and confessed my love to Paris. It would be a conversation we would have many more times in my life.
As a child, I had always wanted to travel. I grew up not far from the cement-encased stars along Hollywood Boulevard. While most of my friends had posters of their heartthrobs – Sean Cassidy, Farrah Fawcett, Scott Baio – all over their walls, I had my own coup de coeurs; The Eiffel Tower, The Great Wall of China and The Matterhorn decorated my closet doors for many years.
I’m not sure from where my wanderlust was born. I come from a family of non-travelers. Maybe it was books. I loved Heidi and Madeline, Aesop’s Fables and Gulliver’s Travels. Anne of Green Gables inspired me to travel alone to Prince Edward Island one summer, much to the confusion of family members. But I think my real love of leaving started much earlier, on a baseball diamond when I was about nine.
I was up to bat and when the aluminum connected to the rubber, I set out around the bases. Somewhere between second and third, I had a sort of layered epiphany. One: I hated playing baseball. And two: the journey between the bases was way more fun than making it home. From that moment on a suburban Los Angeles baseball diamond, I thought of nothing more than traveling between the bases. The places.
It was probably my high school French teacher that aimed me more precisely at L’Hexagone. Her love of France and the language was so infectious, I aced my AP classes and I went into university as a French major. I’ve never stopped studying the language or the culture. That wintery lover’s confession in Paris came after graduation from university. My roommate at the time invited me to join her on a trip to visit an old boyfriend over Christmas. I said yes without thinking, and then told my family I would not be home for the holidays for the first time in my life. They said they had always known that someday I’d leave for France, and wished me a life-changing time. That it was.
Like the bronze stars on Hollywood Boulevard that so many of my friends admired, the bronze star in front of Notre Dame was my idol. It’s from here that all distances in France are measured. It’s point zéro des routes de France (point zero of French roads). And it was my starting point too. Since that winter, I have traveled to France ever year, and moved to Brussels (as close as I could get with my husband’s job) for six years. I’ve eaten gourmet meals in Lyon, surfed in Biarritz, skied in the Alps, hot air ballooned over the Dordogne, and sunbathed on the Riviera. I’ve driven the pink granite coast, tried Pastis in Provence (not my favorite) and sipped champagne in Champagne. I love France and am still, and always will be, a student of the country, the language, the culture.
But Paris – ah Paris. She’s still my first love, and I still love her best in winter. When I close my eyes I see her dressed in white, surrounded by falling flakes, her pearls. She’s an image of everlasting grace. A débutante. I still confess my love to her each year, just as I did 20 years ago. One day I expect she’ll answer back. She might ask, “Why me?” and I’ll simply respond, “Because you gave me a beginning.”All Images © Kimberley Lovato