Paris at the tip of my fingers

My husband and my daughter are in Paris for a week. I couldn’t go with them so I am at home, in California. It is my home, isn’t it? After all I’ve been living in the Golden State, in and out, for about thirteen years.
So why do I keep checking the time and add nine hours as if I was the one in Paris now? I don’t need to close my eyes to imagine Paris. A brief phone call with my husband mentioning a museum or a café and I am in Paris.
The City of Lights has been part of me since the day I left Normandy for the capital. Paris, the dream of every country girl. The New York of the French.
I had never felt as free but also as solitary as when I moved to Paris. I was twenty-one years old and the city had tempted me forever. Each trip had convinced me that it was where I wanted to live. Yet, I got sick for a couple of weeks as I adjusted to Paris. The polluted air, the constant noise and the crowd overwhelmed me and I missed the coast of Normandy and the familiar open space I had enjoyed as a child and a teenager.
Then, I became a Parisian. A woman who couldn’t stay away from Paris more than a few weeks and never dreamed of living anywhere else. Paris had altered my DNA. I remained a Parisian for ten years before leaving for the USA.
A strange mix of happiness and sadness flavored the first months I spent in California. Raising a young baby under the cloudless sky was a dream when I thought of the rainy Parisian sidewalks and the short winter days. My baby grew into a funny toddler who welcomed each moment with enthusiasm and joy. I often wished I could share her upbeat disposition, but I had to admit that I missed Paris. More than my friends, my family and my job, I missed the city’s smells and noises. They came to me, unpredictable, passing a woman who wore a French perfume or a store where French coffee was roasted. During my first years in the USA, Paris kept returning to me in painful flashes. Anything could remind me of the cafés, of the sidewalks shiny under the rain and of the cigarettes smell. I was addicted to the French capital and craving to go back.
Years have passed and my trips to Paris are now a mix of familiar and unknown. Every immigrant shares this uncomfortable mix of emotions and it’s all right. An occasional article about Paris or a photo taken in Paris sting like a paper cut that heals quietly.
Until the phone rings and Paris fills the background. It is then as if life had stopped in its tracks after I left. Sounds become words that make sentences that turn into a musical composition, familiar and reassuring. My childhood and my youth rush to me. I belong to this language. Paris is after all still at the tip of my fingers.

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