The Summer in France, and so it begins…
About two weeks ago I arrived in Paris. It was a notion that took hold when I was here in February, reporting for WSJ. Magazine on Inaki Aizpitarte’s Le Chateaubriand. From my petite borrowed apartment on l’Ile de France, as I walked through the damp streets and traversed the misted Pont Louis Philippe, as I recovered from meals that were themselves little lives and took baths to cast off the chill and prepare for the next ones, the truth of it seeped around and over me: “This place feels like home.”
Don’t misunderstand me: it felt nothing like New York (apart from its sophistication), but Paris feels to me like a home of my own, a place where the rhythms of my mind and body are aligned with the grey city that stretches out around me like a giant waking cat. And so I planted a seed in my mind that I would move here for a rare pocket of time between projects, to test the alluring waters of being European for a summer, being able to say yes to invitations to weddings and weekends on islands and opportunities to explore my favorite country every day. When asked why I was moving to Paris, my response was most simply conveyed with, “Why not?”
So here I am. In Paris. On a Monday in June. In an apartment at the tippy-top of the city that appeared for me out of the blue, as all things seem to when I am clear about what I need. If you’d told me a year and a half ago, before Uruguay, that I’d have such conviction or faith in it, I’d have laughed. But that experience changed everything.
Did I ever tell you about Isabel–the lady I met on the beach in José Ignacio? I was lying on the sand after the lunch rush at La Susana, and I looked down Playa Mansa past the amber Brazilian bodies with their tushies and the Argentines with their towering platform shoes on the beach. Walking toward me barefoot (bien sûr), hips swaying, white hair flying in the breeze beneath a wide-rimmed straw hat, was a lady in a black strapless one-piece maillot and large sunglasses, and I said to myself, “Well, she’s got it…and she’s obviously French.” She approached me gracefully, pale lips parted to show white teeth smiling often and easily, and sat down beside me on the sand.
“Halo! Tienes un cigarette?” She purred in Spanish as only a French woman can, making a mere phrase into a song. “Non, je n’ai aucune plus,” I responded in French. We began our dialogue there, where so many conversations have begun (and ended), and I will always stand by the fact that I knew at once she was extraordinary.
And 18 months later I find myself in her home in Hossegor, near Biarritz in Les Landes, letting her care for me as I recover from a weekend of epic eating. Begging her to correct my many mistakes in French. Laughing with her about private jokes that we established on another continent over another summer. We pack surfboards into a car and go to the beach. We wade in the water up and down the shore as exercise. We stretch. We smoke rollies. This woman who came out of the ether up to me on a beach…one who was also creating a new reality for herself. She does so again and again by lifting a paint brush or caring for a plant. There are no little projects: there is just one long endeavor to find pleasure in life and health and nature. This is Isabel, a gift from Uruguay who I get to enjoy in France. “Ma soeur,” we call each other. Ma soeur Française. My summer in France.