Paris had always been the romantic city I dreamed of returning to. I had spent just four days there one December when I was 22, travelling on a backpackers budget. Bundled up inadequately against the bone chilling cold, we trudged the streets of the City of Light, admiring the Christmas lights, standing on the banks of the Seine watching the Eiffel Tour light up, drinking cheap red wine, eating from prix fixe tourist menus and seeing as many art museums as we could fit in. The day we left, we woke to snow.
So I was delighted when Zoe started to read and was captivated by the book Thea Stilton and the Mystery in Paris. It follows the adventures of five um… amateur detective mice as they solve the mystery of some stolen haute couture designs while tracking the thief around all of the Paris landmarks. As you do.
Zoe floated the idea that we should visit Paris together. She had loved hearing that I’d seen the Eiffel Tower and her Nan had toured the Palais Garnier opera house. When I explained it was expensive to go there from New Zealand, her solution was simply that we should go just for the afternoon. Money was tight, but I thought that with a couple of years of hard saving and continuing to take in boarding students who were studying English, maybe we could manage it before Zoe lost the sense of adventure and wonder engendered by the book.
When Zoe first died, it was so hard to be anywhere. Hard to spend time in places we had been together, hard to be in new places she would never go. After that first winter without her, when numbness gave way to months of despair, I pulled myself out of bed and made a plan to travel the following New Zealand winter/European summer. Things fell into place and of course Paris had to be part of the plan. I arranged to meet Zoe’s Camp Quality companion, who was now living in London, for a few days there before travelling to Provence and Barcelona.
As the departure date drew closer, I was anxious about leaving home, where I still felt as if I was close to Zoe. The day before I left I decided to take Zoe’s slightly dog eared copy of Thea Stilton and the Mystery in Paris with me. It had to come in my carry on luggage, as it was too precious to lose, with her misspelled hand written name in the front, pages she had touched and illustrations she had pored over.
This time in Paris I didn’t feel obliged to fit in as many sights as I could. Anna and I spent a a lot of time wandering and soaking up the ambience, with frequent stops for coffee, croissants, crepes, wine and bistro meals. Memorably, a French waiter attempted a Haka for us when he found out we were from Nouvelle Zéalande. We met up with Anna’s Parisian friend who accompanied us for crepes in Montmarte at the foot of Sacré-Couer, invited us for drinks near Place de République and recommended one of the few roof top bars in Paris.
Zoe’s book accompanied us to many places and we talked a lot about her and about life since she had died (Anna had left New Zealand just a few months afterwards).
In the end we (and the book) did make it to quite a few places on Thea Stilton’s map of Paris. Zoe might not have been with me, but I can imagine her delight at the carousel at Sacré-Couer, the street performers, the crêpes, the ballet shop at the Palais Garnier opera house.
When I returned home, I put the miniature Eiffel Tower I bought from a street vendor there into the glass cake dome that holds the casts of her hands.
Healing can come from unexpected places, and walking the streets of Paris with someone Zoe held dear, sharing memories of her and visiting places she wanted to visit, was one of the steps towards some peace with Zoe’s death.
Note: I have been thinking of this post for a long time and wrote it in response to a writing prompt for a Writing 101 course. However with the timing, I feel I need to say I recognise that my romantic idea of Paris is a tourist’s one, that Paris is also a vibrant modern multi-cultural city with the tensions that can bring. It’s part of the modern world where sadly violence and terrorism exist. Anna’s Parisian friend had friends at the Bataclan theatre and some of the people they were with did not survive. I am glad Zoe did not have to know that part of Paris’ history.