But on Sunday, May 7, after almost a week in Brittany spent hiking and hanging out at a friend's holiday home, I found myself in Paris at midday, without a trace of jet lag and my French language skills already firing on all cylinders. Like so many of the days I had spent exploring Paris -- while kids were in school and my husband was at the office -- I was on my own with no one to answer to but me.
I stopped in at the Louvre for a special exhibit on Vermeer and at the Orangerie, a lovely little museum best known for its upstairs galleries featuring Monet's water lilies, but also housing the spectacular Jean Walter and Paul Guillame collection, some 150 works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Late in the afternoon, my wanderings took me back across the river, through the narrow streets of St. Germain des Prés, and then eventually back to my hotel near Montparnasse after stopping for a drink and a quick getting-to-know-you-in-real-life chat with Jennifer Greco, the author of the wonderful blog, Chez Loulou.
It was gray and misty, and in some ways, it felt like I'd never left: the smell of fresh bread wafting out of corner bakeries; flowers for sale on the sidewalk; women bundled up in shades of black, gray, tan, and the occasional audacious pop of maroon or navy; the plain volumes of Gallimard imprints featured in the bookshop windows; the chestnut trees with their pink and white blooms.
But there were signs of change too. My visit to the Louvre was delayed by two hours, the entrances to the esplanade, where preparations were underway for Emmanuel Macron's victory party later that night, temporarily closed off due to a security threat. The African trinket sellers had added selfie sticks to their collection of wares. And even into the evening hours, grocery stores and boutiques still had their doors open for business.
Years ago, a friend, whose career had included assignments in far flung corners of Africa and Asia, described coming back to the U.S. like putting on a favorite pair of old jeans. The metaphor resonated upon our return in 2011 when we slipped back into the comfortable rhythms of our American life. But last week I realized: if to me, DC is a pair of well-loved jeans, then Paris is the timeless little black dress hanging in the back of my closet. And it's good to know that even if I don't have a place to wear it every day, every now and then, I can take it off the hanger, zip it up, and it still fits perfectly. And that is always a good idea.