I had become a flaneur, a detached wanderer leisurely strolling through the city while closely observing street life. Or, in the words of Baudelaire, perhaps the first self-professed flaneur: To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world…. On my way back to Nice, as the train moved along the tracks, jostling me in my seat in the dark, I made a vow to return one day and then drifted off to sleep.
Over the years I had longed to go back, devouring books on the city and imagining myself, like Hemingway, James Baldwin, or Josephine Baker, as an American expat wandering around the narrow winding streets leading a free-spirited life. However, I had always put a trip to Paris on the back burner. I had made sure that my family took lots of fun vacations: on the beaches in Delaware, the Outer Banks, Cape Cod, and Cancun; on road trips to Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Michigan to visit family; and on journeys to Chile to visit family and explore bustling Santiago and the country’s rocky coastline. But a vacation in Paris had always seemed like too much of an extravagance. Too focused on my own interests.
After my husband and I carted the last boxes of belongings up the stairs to the freshman dorm room of our youngest child, Camila, and bid our farewells, I was numb on the drive home. Who the hell was I if I didn’t have someone to mother every day? In my head, I saw myself standing on a precipice overlooking an abyss, with no possibility of moving forward except maybe flying. But I had no wings. For a while, I had entertained vague notions of becoming a writer and so afterward started small steps in that direction, such as journaling.
One day I saw a notice on a writer’s blog: “My favorite Paris apartment is available the last 2 weeks of June. Only $800. Any takers?” The writer had rented it from a friend but had had a change of plans. It was in a residential neighborhood and the rent was less than half the price of the beach house I had rented in Delaware the summer before. On a whim, I jumped at the chance. Very uncharacteristic of me. The writer got me in touch with her friend, who responded warmly to my email, telling me a deposit wasn’t needed, just to pay up upon arrival.