Yes. I returned from my New Year's visit to Paris six weeks ago. Six. To explain why I was unable -- despite my very best intentions, I assure you -- to post anything more than this slim list at this late date would be to bore you endlessly.
And that I could not bear to do. And so I offer the following. (It's a crappy medium, I grant you, but it is not as if I didn't take a moment to reflect on its contents. Items that came close but in the end did not make the top 10 include the Vodka Negroni at the Hotel Meurice; the ease of hailing a taxi in the rue Maubeuge; the Maximilien Tapestries at the Louvre; the 68 bus; the smoked salmon from l'Épicerie d'Olivier Pitou; the Église d'Auteuil metro stop.)
10. Les toilettes, Musée Baccarat. I still have not recovered fully from the demise of the beautiful green marble powder room at I. Magnin in downtown San Francisco. But this place makes my loss easier to bear. Even though I can never recall where the paper towel dispenser is.
9. Making grown-up choices. Is my love for La Pagode strong enough to endure a screening of "Australia"? This was the question. The answer was no.
8. 30 ans ou La Vie En Rose. The Raoul Dufy retrospective at the Musée de l'art Moderne was exhaustive and exhausting. Hundreds of paintings, yards and yards of fabric, and la Fée électrique that made me feel as if I were in the bottom of a Fauvist Grand Canyon. Despite such a riotous excess of color and image, it was this particular painting (which at first glance I could have taken for something by Matisse), that stuck in my head for weeks afterward. It is perhaps one of the most edible shades of pink ever.
7. Le croquant praliné. Yay for nuts, for butter, and for sugar. This dessert is best enjoyed slowly, with your hands as well as your spoon (how else to break up the wafery tuile and dip it in the praliné?). Some day this item will disappear from the menu of Willi's Wine Bar and thusly the face of the earth (much like all that green marble at I. Magnin) and I will be very sad.
6. Un anti-cyclone sibérien. This, apparently, is the meteorological phenomenon to which we are to attribute the glacial cold -- and snow -- in Paris during the first week of 2009. I admit that it was with a somewhat resentful heart each morning that I put on my puffy coat, leaving my sleeker, "pretty" one hanging in the closet. Cold and crappy though it was, it only served to underscore basic quality of winter beauty, i.e., how very tenuous and likely to rupture at any moment it can feel. I am thinking of the ultra-violet pre-dawn skies, and those twilight hours -- coming on just barely after four in the afternoon, it seems -- where the bare bones of the trees set off perfectly the fragile sky which seems on the brink of disappearing before it turns deep blue. It makes me think that there isn't any better place on earth than this particular city to be just a little bit lonesome, and not unhappy to be so.
5. Monoprix. On the way to just about everywhere, and so damned handy. I have the receipts to prove it.
4. Sous l'empire des crinolines. Everything exquisite and Second Empire at the Musée Galliera, aka le Musée de la Mode. Beyond the ball gowns, lace parures, and the satin slippers worn by the Empress Eugénie (such little feet she had), however, were to be found in a glass case a few carnets de bal. Dance cards. How do I even describe this? Imagine what looks from the back to be a silver long-handled mirror, small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. Now imagine how upon closer inspection it reveals itself to be a fan, and when opened you can write on the mirror-shaped pages with the tiny silver pencil that accompanies it.
3. Mistinguett, Madonna, et moi. I have been a fan since the first time I saw the video for her eighties superhit on French TV, but with this, her one-woman/one-accordion show, Caroline Loeb has become one of my favorite Frenchwomen of all time. Long may she reign.
2. Inflection. Sometime between 9:30 and 10:30, nearly every morning of my visit -- I think I may have skipped New Year's Day -- I walked through the gardens of the Palais Royal to enjoy my café crème at the counter of the Nemours café overlooking the Place Colette. The evidence of my having become a regular was not to be found in my having shown up every day for 10 days, but in the changes in the "Bonjour, Madame" with which I was welcomed. The inflection morphed over the course of the week, to the extent that on my last day, it sounded very nearly as if I were being greeted by my first name.
1. Friends. I love Paris, of course, but the truth is that the city itself is blind to me. It is ignorant of my coming and going. It keeps my secrets out of deafness, not loyalty. Its indifference to me is part of the terms of engagement.
Not so with friends. I exist fully in Paris because of them. Otherwise I'd be just another pair of boots scuffling along a winter sidewalk. When I come back they say, "Welcome home," and they want to know where I have been and what I have been doing.
And they ask when I will be coming back again, and to stay. It is a question I can only answer with a question. "Soon?"