I discovered Paris in the summer of 2005. Throngs of tourists packed the Champs Elysee and Luxembourg Gardens, the sky over the Eiffel Tower was a washed out, heat-scorched blue, and I was laying on a blanket on my small patch of front yard in Chicago.
I've never actually been to Paris. My first meaningful encounter with the City of Light came (as so many of my first meaningful encounters do) through the pages of a book. This time it was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. It had been a little more than a year since my brother died. I was 26 and attempting yet another career change. I hated nearly everything about my life--about life in general. But in the pages of that book I found a city pulsing with creativity. History. Beauty. I walked the narrow, winding streets and wide, majestic boulevards. I sat alongside the rushing river and sipped coffee and aperitifs on sidewalk cafes. I was somewhere different.
I was someone different.
I can't say that Paris became an obsession--more like a dream. An alternate universe I could escape to when I needed escape. In the decade since reading A Moveable Feast for the first time, I've developed a small collection of passages to Paris (seen above). When life becomes more than I can manage, I trace the pages of walking tours. I drink in the spectacular colors and details of photography books. Or, most recently, I pound the pavement with Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret (talk about a not-so-guilty pleasure).
Visiting Paris is still at the top of my bucket list. I know the odds that the brick-and-mortar will match up with the Paris of my mind are slim, and I don't care. No matter what reality reveals, I know it will be spectacular.