Lost in Paris


People often ask what’s my favorite thing to do in Paris. Without hesitating, I always answer: I love to get lost. But what does that mean, actually?

There are lots of ways to get lost. You can lose your way physically, either inadvertently or on purpose, leading to a new discovery of one sort or another. Even if that discovery is realizing you have no clue where you are and resorting to Google maps to find your way!

When I was a child, parents used to tell their kids all the time to get lost. It was code for “go play.” Which, when you think about it, is a kind of losing oneself, of getting lost in play. This comes closest to what I mean. That profound sense of lost when no map can help you. The kind of lost that when you find yourself again, you are not quite the same.

Let me explain. Recently, I was on my way to explore a new place. I bought a croissant chocolat aux amandes for fortification. A few days earlier I had been eating, or rather inhaling, a treat while standing on the street outside the boulangerie. Much to my astonishment then horror, a man passing by smiled and wished me bon appétit! I giggled. But wiping croissant crumbs off my face and scarf, I vowed not to eat like a heathen on the street again. Ever. 

So this time I waited to open the artfully wrapped package in one of my favorite parks. It’s a tiny park, always quiet, even when there are groups of people picnicking, as there were this particular day. Others were sitting in twos or alone, some reading, some with faces turned up toward the sun like tournesols, sunflowers. I remembered how, coming here for the first time almost exactly two years earlier, moved by such exquisite beauty and peaceful tranquility nestled in the heart of Paris, I’d cried. My mother had died a few months earlier and I was shaping a new endeavor, uncertain of where it would lead or if it would lead.

The French often take these petites pauses as part of the rhythm of their day. They seem to take nothing for granted. Today is beautiful—on profit du temps, du soleil, du moment, we take advantage of the weather, the sun, the moment—but tomorrow, well, who knows? I’ve watched as they come, sit for a while and then leave, returning, I imagine, to whatever they’d taken a break from.

As I sat in that park a few months ago, I thought about how far I’ve come since the day I cried. And in that moment I scribbled on a napkin the thoughts that now have made their way into this blog post. Then I left for my intended destination. It was still there. It had waited for me. But I, somehow I was different.