Au revoir, Paris…
And so it is time to say it again: au revoir, Paris…
There is always a little bit of melancholy in the last few days I am here each year. And then the whisper, or the saying-it-aloud as I head down the beautiful streets and toward the airport, at least when my kids were younger and were there with me to say it: “Au revoir, Paris, merci!”
I have been lucky enough to have spent a month in Paris each summer for the past 17 years, teaching an American literature course (“Paris: A Literary Adventure”), to a group of American students studying abroad.
Every year is different, of course: different personalities, different group dynamics, different weather, and other variables can make for a different set of emotions as I help prepare them to return to the U.S. Sometimes some of them are more than ready to go home (though most of those develop their appreciation of Paris in retrospect, looking back).
This year the group was uniformly not ready to go. They were in love with Paris! They wanted to stay. So did I. (I always do.)
But instead of being sad about it, I just turn up the “appreciation” factor a tiny notch higher. Deeply, fully enjoy all the little nuances of life in Paris that I so enjoy. Summer evenings spent in beautiful parks reading, surrounded by other people doing the same, or engaged in quiet conversation, or (a fairly recent phenomenon) running, but–unlike in the U.S.–continuing their conversations as they run. 🙂 The clinking of glassware, the clicking of silverware, the soft murmur of conversation in one of the most beautiful languages in the world emanating from the cafés as I wander home after the park has been closed by policemen on bicycles, blowing their whistles, the signal for everyone to exit at closing time. The long, lingering sunsets.
I am not unaware that the wonderful orderliness and sane pace of French life with which one is surrounded in Paris is under attack, with various economic and other pressures for it to change. But I admire and appreciate the belief the French have in the salutary nature of the life they have created, and their sustained efforts to hold onto it. I hope they can succeed in holding back the tide.
I wish that the rest of the world could find a way to be a little bit more like France, rather than all of us asking why they don’t do the “reasonable” thing and be more like us.
For now, I am just enjoying it, and appreciating the lessons it can teach my students about the value of slowing down, of taking the time to enjoy their lives, to appreciate that there is more–much more–to life than earning a living. The French possess this knowledge, of the famous l’art de vivre in a way that is deep, complete, full–and in the end, eminently practical, yes practical! For indeed it is not necessary to live one’s life in a constant rush, the way we tend to believe. The French prove this truth over and over, all the time, in the way they conduct their daily lives. “You’re not going to slow down New York when you get back there,” I say to my students. “But you can slow yourselves down, and that can make a big difference in a life.”
So it is always sad to leave, but built into the very words of departure is a sentiment that is awfully optimistic and positive for a people known for their pessimism.
Au revoir means, literally, “until the re-seeing.”
It implies a next time, always. And I take comfort in that promise every time I leave.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, and teacher of literature and of writing based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Each year she teachers “Paris: A Literary Adventure,” for Queens College, CUNY. She also teaches literature and culture classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. and writing workshops in the Champagne region of France.