12 April 2011
april in paris
Continuing my trip down memory lane, here's another snippet from my time in France. I guess I should say this is a trip down la rue des souvenirs, if I want to be all French-y about it.
I wrote this for my hometown newspaper, too—you can read another piece I wrote for The Hawkeye here—and it's the only piece my editor suggested.
"Write something about April in Paris," she said, and this is what came out.
Now it’s April and thank goodness I don’t have to live through the normal adage “April showers bring May flowers.” J’en ai marre de la pluie; I’ve had it with rain because it’s been raining since November. I want more of the sun, that brilliance of the day you can hear in Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong crooning “April in Paris.”
It’s impossible to be in France in the spring and not think of that song, even if you’re not in Paris.
I think of it almost every time I look out my window of my room here at lycée Jeanne d’Arc.
April in Paris
Chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the tree…
Although I have to confess that I don’t know what a chestnut tree looks like, I’m convinced that I have one just outside my room. Chestnuts in blossom, as the song says. I open my big windows first thing in the morning and lean out to smile at the charm of spring, saying, “Salut, France!”
Because it is only April, the early morning air still catches in my throat, that briskness you know will grow into the fullness of a spring afternoon.
My tree has sweet pink flowers that cluster as a palette: light pink like a girl’s Easter dress, rosiness like a blush, mauve like a glossed-lip grin. The flowers hang on a blue canvas, the colors so delicate and whisper-like that I hold my breath against all this spring explosion.
But April in France is a taunt.
The weather goads you to not carry your umbrella, your constant fashion accessory, but those blue sky days are quickly followed by mean days of rain that you hoped had gone away.
In Normandy, they have a saying: En avril, ne te decouvre pas d’un fil: In April, don’t take off even one thread of clothing.
It may seem like spring, but don’t believe it until June. When I came to school in a skirt and flip-flops, my natural response to sunny days, I was lectured by many French women at lycée Jeanne d’Arc who think they are my French mother and therefore have the right to nag.
The world over knows that you can’t trust spring weather and that you have to enjoy it while you can.
So April in France is an excuse.
Wear a kicky new skirt with a spring pattern of flowers that you bought at full price because you had a weak moment. You walked by the shop window on a sparkling Wednesday afternoon and lost a little self-control in the immense possibilities of spring.
Looking at the sun’s rays highlighting the cathedral spire and listening to the accordion man play “La Vie en Rose” for the tourists, you were grabbed by the feeling that life is—is—isn’t it too much sometimes?
You had an urge that didn’t come from inside you but more from the sun, spire, flowers, cobblestones, sky: skip along the Seine with your arms held wide to hug the spring, a city-tied Maria from The Sound of Music.
But that’s silly, an urge to repress just like the want to scream in a very solemn place.
And so instead— instead you bought a new skirt, channeling that irrational great goodness into something more manageable.
But wearing that skirt brings back all the too-sweet-to-believe-ness of that day, and April in France dances around you in the spring pattern of flowers.
April in France is an invitation.
Go to a café, allez. One day, all the terrace tables and chairs pour out of the cafes that have been isolated and withdrawn all winter, snuggled into the smell of espresso, smoke, and tradition.
The tables and chairs now spread into the grand squares edged by solidly imposing stone architecture and historically appealing half-timbered homes. Sidewalks are taken over by the cafes, but no one minds because France without cafes would be a heartless France.
An April in France without hours in a café would be a missed chance to meet spring face to face.
My heart sings the melody of spring after a winter’s tiring repetition of the rain’s drum beat.
Tripping violin: running along the Robec, a stream that slides out of Rouen past an old watermill.
Jazzy trumpet: drinking a café crème, watching the world brush by while seeking a way to describe it all.
Twittering flute: afternoon tea in a friend’s backyard filled with daffodils and her daughter’s giggles.
Yes, it’s a vibrant song here in France in April.
After the blue sky has been emptied of the winter’s rain, the song can resonate and ring in your heart, engraving itself deeply in who you are.
Oh France, what have you done to my heart?