Violet and I have decamped to Paris for the summer. In that one sentence lies an interconnected web of joy, gratitude, excitement, mild trepidation, and freedom. Born and raised in our fair valley, Violet has traveled more than most her age, has seen that the sublime and ridiculous of her home is both mirrored and exceeded in other locales. But, this is the first extended break that she has had from her cocoon and my first since a blissful yearlong backpacking honeymoon fifteen years prior. Embarking upon a grand adventure is a way to reconfigure our perspectives, to recharge our souls, to refresh our appreciation for the pluralities of this planet.
Just a week into our sojourn and the new rhythm has captured and captivated us both. A city environment, a foreign language, the absence of any friends or family, all of these could be deterrents to comfort and happiness. And yet, they have proved to be anything but welcome, novel experiences, a jumpstart to our brains that had been lulled into the roteness of an already wonderful life back in the States. Video chats connecting Violet to her friends and her mother have been a great way to stay in touch, to reinforce that I am surely not her only means of support. With her knowing firsthand how formative a venture like this can be, I am indebted to the graciousness of my ex-wife for her encouragement for this escapade.
Imprinted by my Belgian grandmother, but long dormant, it is exciting to watch my French skills bloom with every interaction. Shaky, but stubborn and undeterred, I stick with each conversation, wanting so desperately to recapture the fluency that had once been mine. Parisians have been unfailingly polite, cooperative, and possessing of excellent English. I take it as a good sign that they have already stopped immediately responding to me in English when I ask them a question in French. The obvious lesson is that, by having the courtesy to respect our new neighbors’ language and customs, we are met with a concomitant civility.
The climbing gym has been our daily homebase and Violet’s current raison d’être. She has been embraced by her fellow climbers, most twice or thrice her age, as she works on her skillset, as she tends to her obsession. It is a community that transcends nationalities, that has its own language, that reinforces the values that we hold dear: perseverance, risk, ecstasy, communion. It is also an undertaking that is Violet’s alone; I am here merely to hug and to cheer, I have no useful advice or demonstrations. With me the novice and her the expert, I am thrilled by the role reversal. No bad can come as Violet continues to realize that her potential, her power is limitless. Of course, with its coworking space, the gym is also a great place for me to get work done. I am so thankful that I love my job and that, thanks to technology, it is location independent.
Back home, we spend an incredible amount of time in the car. Here, our default mode of transportation is our e-bikes, which have allowed us to cover city-wide distances without needing Ubers or other means of conveyance. The Metro is also splendid and practical, although the weather has been so ideal so far that being inside while we can be out exploring the city is distasteful. Yes, riding a bike in Paris is often hectic and dangerous, but watching my daughter navigate the myriad obstacles of a metropolis is a source of mostly pride, mixed with a small amount of terror. It is enough adrenaline for me not to overly miss (yet) my mountain bike.
In further dispatches, I will touch upon the most glaring omission from this introduction: the cuisine. Anyone that has ever met me can glean my deep and abiding fascination with the gourmet. For now, suffice it to say that I have had to take up my long-jettisoned running career in order to not suffer an overly expansive waistline. Around every corner lurk gustatory delights that I cannot refuse. It is not a problem to be lamented.
As the summer progresses, there will be challenges and triumphs. But, at the end, I hope that Violet internalizes that most important of lessons: this life can be as one chooses to make it. There is no dream too distant, no quest too expansive to discourage chasing what one desires.