My first failed love happened in Paris. I was seven-years-old.
I had a crush on the boy a few years older than me. His eyes twinkled when he laughed and he laughed often. We were staying with his family, and he, his sister, and I slept on the floor of his room. I have the unfortunate habit of cuddling up with whichever warm body happens to be closest to me when asleep, and so I woke up one morning to the sound of this boy I so liked and his sister, whispering and giggling about me. I had an arm and a leg thrown over him in what is still my signature fashion. I pretended sleep and turned over and away. But I have hated France ever since.
The next time we visited, I was ten, and we spent a month driving around Europe, camping here or there, occasionally staying at an inn to recharge ourselves. My attitude remained the same. I had made up my mind that France simply wasn’t for me. The antipathy was mutual. We were camped close to Nice and once the tent was pitched, I went for a walk and stumbled across a play park. There was a teenage girl sitting on one of the swings and as I started making for the other swing, teenage boys, about half a dozen of them, surrounded the girl and began ripping her clothes off while she screamed in terror. An old lady walked by with a grey terrier. I ran back to fetch my father, but by the time we reached the park, the girl and her assailants were gone.
I was nineteen next time we drove through France. My mother’s small bladder makes frequent pit stops necessary. My father, on that particular day, wanted to make good time. He kept putting off stopping until my mother was truly desperate. Seeing her terrible state, I got out with her. We were in some small town. My father had dropped us close to a large hotel, thinking that my mother could use the facilities there. We ran down the road and into the hotel. My mother was desperate, and dressed in a shalwar kurta. A pink one with pretty flowers and blue trims on her dupatta. She asked the concierge for the toilets and she and I quickly dashed down a flight of stairs to the facilities. No sooner had she entered the stall, that a large man with an Alsatian burst into the ladies room, yanked open the stall she was in, and dragged her out. They threw us out of the hotel. Thankfully, we found a coffee shop close by where the people were more humane.
A month before, we left for Europe, my parents had invited the French ambassador and his wife over. He told us to be careful in Marseilles of the North Africans there. All thieves, he told us. His wife shuddered.
As it happened, we lost our way, driving into Marseilles. My father pulled up to ask for directions. Unfortunately, what we pulled up to, was a car theft in progress. Four young men, all blonde and blue eyed, were taking turns hitting the headlights of a blaring Mercedes with hammers. I thought they would kill us and throw us into the Mediterranean. They gave us very polite directions for the port instead.
I was in my mid-thirties when I next found myself in France. This time, I was there with my husband and two kids. My son and I came down with a stomach bug as soon as we arrived in Paris. He threw up in the Louvre, and recovered the day, we caught our flight back to Toronto.
A decade has passed since then. My son is now about to turn eighteen and he will be leaving for university soon. Our daughter is about to turn sixteen. Such important ages. Full of youth and romance. This time we spent a few days in Paris, then rented a car, drove down to Dordogne, where we spent four days, before enjoying another four in Bergerac, and returning to Paris and then Toronto. Our two weeks were magical. The food, the conversations, the walks, the weather, and most of all, each other’s company.
We are home now and happy to be home. There is no pleasure quite like the pleasure of sleeping in one’s own bed. But France and I have made amends. The memories I now carry of it, are beautiful ones of lavender fields, sumptuous crepes, rows of sunflowers nodding in the breeze, and the Eiffel Tower at dawn, the sun kissing its iron girders.