Thursday, December 25, 2008

Growing Old in Paris

Some thoughts bear repeating.

I mentioned to my family this Christmas that although I am delighted to be back in the U.S., I ultimately want to spend my dotage in Paris. Yup. It's a long way off (hey, in my mind I'm still quite the spring chicken), but now's the time to plan! When and if I have to grow old, for umpteen thousand reasons I'd prefer to do it in Paris. And preferably sooner rather than later. (The Paris part, not the aging part.) Hmm. More reflections on that reasoning for a later post. Meanwhile, it reminded me of something I wrote this time last year, which I offer here, slightly edited, for cheap regifting appeal. 'Tis the season.

Excusez-Moi, Madame

This has now happened to me three times in the past year. I'm striding down the sidewalk, high-heel boots clicking confidently as I bob and weave through the tangle of pedestrians. I'm concentrating on my next destination -- métro, bus stop, café, or wherever. Then, from nowhere a sweet, quavering voice calls out, "Excusez-moi, madame." I slow down and turn to see a diminutive dame d'un certain age, elegant wool coat buttoned against the cold, silk scarf neatly knotted, gripping the knob of her cane as she inches in baby steps toward the curb. "Est-ce que je pourrais vous demander de me rendre un service et de m'accompagner à traverser la rue?" she asks. ["Can you help me cross the street?"]

Each time this happens, I positively melt. MELT! I'm not quite sure why. First off, I'm honored that from a quick glance she has deemed me trustworthy enough to ferry her across a treacherous passage. The high curbs, you know; and the cobblestones are so uneven and the traffic so aggressive. I'm also pleased that she addresses me in French. And finally, of course, I do sincerely like to help; and this has never happened to me in the States.

I offer my elbow, and we begin five minutes of exchanging pleasantries. "Oui, oui," I nod, "it's not so easy crossing the streets these days. Oui, je comprends. Non non, madame, cela ne me dérange pas du tout -- it's my pleasure." We wait for the walk light to change as she clutches the crook of my arm; then we inch slowly across while she looks up at me, chatting in genteel appreciation. As we reach the safety of the next curb, she offers her most winning smile and heartfelt merci. Then our mutual au revoir et bonne journée, and we part company. I pick up the pace and continue on my route, this time with more of a spring in my step.

Every time this scenario happens, I get a lump in my throat.


Perhaps because I have an 85-year-old mother. Perhaps because I recognize my own future.

I deeply hope that some day, thirty-plus years from now, I'll be tottering down the streets of Paris, coat buttoned against the winter winds, hesitantly approaching a curb and eyeing the passersby to nab a younger woman whom I can stop and ask,

"Excusez moi, madame, est-ce que je pourrais vous demander de me rendre un service et de m'aider a traverser la rue?"


Unknown said...

Welcome back to America!


Going Like Sixty said...

Great regift! Thanks.
I wonder what blogs will have evolved into when you return to Paris?

Jay Livingston said...

I think this is the first time I've ever seen "spring chicken" (line 3) used in the positive. Every other time I've heard or seen it, it has been in the negative: someone is "no spring chicken."

Who is Mary Blake? said...

Dear Spring,
I understand your feelings.
I hope I am still in Montmartre
when have to walk in sleepers
and have no teeth.
and still be respected
like "les mammies" here now.

I expect you will be back in Paris by les printemps.

Who is Mary Blake? said...

I meant slippers not sleepers. It was either too late or too early when I posted the comment.

Ann-Marie said...

you are so sweet to share-now I have a lump in my throat! ann-marie

ParisStyleAntiques said...

Polly...This is a very sweet story..only in Paris would this happen..

Starman said...

That could be your annual post. It one of the most pleasant stories ever, and I remember think the same the first time I read it. Are you sure you don't want to do a book? Bonne Année, madame !

Cécile Qd9 said...

Il faut que tu reviennes pour voir la Tour Eiffel redevenue blanche... :o)

Robbie said...

I found your blog surfing and I love it. I used to live in Southern france and now I'm back in the states and miss it terribly. Thanks for the insight. Hope you don't mind if I drop in from time to time.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Bonne Annee to all! Keeping up with re-entry into the American orbit is time-consuming, but I'll start posting more frequently when time and internet connection permit.

Anonymous said...

It is always an honor to help anyone especially the elderly. This happens to me a lot in the States. I feel special everytime.

I'm happy to say that I'm moving back to Paris!

Felicia, This Time Now

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