Sans Travel Guide

I am currently traveling across California, from San Francisco’s towers skyscraping the winter fog to the marshy agricultural land of the delta, from Berkeley’s Bear territory to the highway maze of Los Angeles, pausing in the cradle of the state, where the valley bows to the Sierra.

It’s often over those short trips, when I hop from one place to another, visiting my children, through a state stretched to ripping point and yet still able to catch my breath away, that Paris settles at the periphery of my vision.

Then a familiar door yawns, ready to be pushed open. Absence plays tricks on me. So I tiptoe through, retracing my steps, which never fail to bring me back to Bastille.

 

There I lived. Alone by choice. In my high-heeled boots or Adidas sneakers, my stilettos or ballerina flats, my feet knew by heart all the streets that web their way from the Place de la Bastille.

Entries about Bastille in a travel guide describe the renowned landmark and provide lists of must-see places and must-do activities.

My entry is more intimate, organically woven to my young adult’s life in the capital.

I’ve crossed the Place de la Bastille countless times, dashing at the right light under the nose of honking drivers, before climbing down to the metro that swallows hundreds of passengers a day.

My life was lived on the fast track back then.

So I was grateful for the elderly Arab man who kept his grocery shop open long after the supermarket was closed and for the newspaper stand that seemed to be always open.

I was also grateful for the small repair shop that fixed my Sony Walkman and for the boutique that sold the adorable Princesse Tam Tam underwear and kitchen utensils in colors so bright they reminded me of the sand toys of my childhood.

My life was lived on the fast track back then.

Yet on Saturday mornings I always sipped a large café au lait at a café that no longer exists, while my clothes tumbled in the dryer at the nearby Laundromat.

The Bastille area has changed a lot. Most of my personal landmarks have vanished, yet they always lie in wait at the edge of my memory.

And if you leave the travel guide in your hotel room, it is also possible for you to imagine this neighborhood before it became trendy and hip. It is possible to glimpse a cat or two, sneaking through a paved alley, where ivy grips its claws through cracked walls and geraniums bleed in window boxes.

As I zigzag across California, I wonder if like me my children will someday map a corner of the California of their youth and be able to retrace it blindfolded, skipping the travel guide, with the sole power of their mind.

 

There were no laptops, no cell phones, no Internet, no Instagram, and people didn’t take selfies back then.

So I am grateful to the Getty Images that allow me to illustrate this post.

 

 

Comments

  1. Memory lane and reflecting through the past, present and future huh? It’s amazing how a single place can take you so far back, isn’t it?

  2. cardamone5 says:

    Beautiful descriptions, Evelyne. I felt like I was there with you.

    Love,
    E

  3. Those were good years, weren’t they? I felt that way about Jerusalem when I got there. It’s so changed, I barely recognize it, but it lives in my memory. I wish I had Paris tucked in my memory too. It’s the city that got away.

    • Retrospectively, I’m glad to have lived on Paris in the 1980s because it was still a very distinctive city. I have never been to Jerusalem but would love too, one day. Thank you for another nice visit.

  4. Thanks for describing the scenes of your youth. I was most struck by the comment about getting a Walkman repaired. I remember when things could be repaired. Times were simpler, but we were still in a hurry, weren’t we?

    I have lived for a while in different parts of the US and I have very different memories of the various versions of the good old days.

  5. Wonderful post Evelyne – I sometimes yearn for the days of yesterday when things were slower, gentler and deeper relationships. Do kids know what a compass is today or how to read a map, let along be able to memorize a city or town to retrace footsteps. Yeah, this is a great nostalgic post.

    • Thank you, Mary, I didn’t want to be nostalgic, though! But places tend to make me go back to other places and other times. With my kids, I’m fascinated to see how similar and yet so foreign to my youth their is.

  6. Ooh, thanks for this virtual jaunt back to belle Paris this morning. Always love this city.

    • Thanks, Kimberly. Roma is not too shabby either! But Paris is Paris and some neighborhoods tug to my heart, especially when I visit my children starting their new independant lives in such different parts of CA.

  7. Thanks for sharing your memories, Evelyne. If you drop by my area of CA, let me know!

  8. It is so nice to remember past journeys. Things have changed so much with the internet, cell phones and travel websites.

  9. Very evocative and beautifully written Eveylne. I love how you describe your carefree, younger days living in the Bastille area, so alive in your mind and heart today. Funnily enough, my daughter was just telling me how familiar everything is to her when she returns to California and Los Angeles, how it plays out in her mind and is exactly thus when she visits.
    I wanted to let you know that I have tagged you for the 777 Writing Challenge. No obligation, only if you want to, link here: http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2015/02/28/memoir-excerpt-777-writing-challenge/
    Have a wonderful visit with your family, happy, safe travels and see you soon!

    • Thank you, Sherri, for another kind visit. I will check the Writing Challenge and do my best to participate. A challenge is a good way to push myself. 😊

      • I love visiting you Evelyne, and very much look forward to your challenge post but only when you can fit it in. As I said, no pressure, no hurry 🙂

  10. I love and I miss California… especially Frisco area… 🙂 notre fille et son époux américain qui vivent ici à Toulouse depuis plus d’un an, pourraient retourner à SF incessamment-sous peu… 🙂 have an inspiring and pleasant mois de mars, car le printemps est censé débuter le 21/3… 😉 my very best & amicales pensées, Mélanie

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