On Returning to France: How "Paris to the Moon" Allays My Fears

In preparation for our trip to France (we leave next week!), I’ve been re-reading Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik’s essays on five years of living in France with his wife and young son. It’s a perfect read now, because in the weeks before I leave for France I always develop a small undercurrent of fear—fear that perhaps France won’t be the same.

Of course it won’t be the same; it’s been ten years since I last lived there. But when I was checking the location of a potential rental apartment in Lyon last month, Google Maps showed a teppanyaki restaurant and a Korean street food café in the medieval part of the city—the UNESCO heritage area. There was even a Subway pinpointed on the map, though I hope that's a reference to the underground Metro and not the sandwich chain. Globalization was an English buzzword when I last lived in France, but I couldn’t have been more surprised to see Japanese street food and American chain eateries in Lyon now than if I’d heard that Syria was opening its borders to McDonalds franchises.

Gopnik’s musings on Paris in the late ‘90s seem to focus on trifling events at times, but it’s the detail that delights me, because my first visit to France occurred in exactly that timeframe, and where the book ends—with the fin-de-siècle windstorm that uprooted so many trees at Versailles—is exactly when I began my séjour in France as a college student abroad.

Versailles in Winter by  Hugues Nouvel de la Fleche

Versailles in Winter by Hugues Nouvel de la Fleche

Chocolat chaud by  Yuichi Sakuraba

Chocolat chaud by Yuichi Sakuraba

Most of all though, Gopnik’s stories about parenting his son are what draw me back to his book now that I'm a mama to three young children, soon to experience Paris en famille. I want to relive the moments that he and his son spent gawking at the menagerie near the Jardin des Plantes and enjoying the timeless carousel in the Jardin de Luxembourg. Re-reading Paris to the Moon still makes me laugh aloud about Gopnik's accumulating bills for chocolate chaud at the Ritz on behalf of his son’s classmate and crush.

Despite the decade that has passed since Gopnik's family lived in Paris, France hasn't changed much on the exterior. Instead, it is the undercurrents of European culture that are truly shifting. I think my moderate concern about returning to France is based on the fear that somehow France will have lost its ability to delight me, and that instead of finding the country I love, I will arrive and find the ghost of a place that once held the happiest parts of my life.

I fear that . . . instead of finding the country I love, I will arrive and find the ghost of a place that once held the happiest parts of my life.

France, though, has never disappointed me, so I’m sure that my fears will be allayed. My heart will be too full with the delight of introducing this place to my children. We’ll be in Paris only a few weeks of our three-month stay, but even if it has undoubtedly changed, I’m sure my children will enjoy many of the delights that Adam’s son Lucas enjoyed not so long ago (with the probable exception of hot chocolate at the Ritz!). After all, as an English professor at my alma mater once commented about travel, the past is present, and that is especially evident in France. France has always whisked away my concerns and replaced them with joie de vivre.

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