Return to Paris
The valet steps briskly over to the window, footsteps muffled by the thick carpeting, and draws back the heavy, elegant drapery with one graceful movement of his uniformed arm. "I apologize for the view," he carefully explains, "If you were to visit us again in the springtime the gardens would be green and the flowers abloom in a gorgeous riot of color. It is rather sad and gray at this time of year!" We step over to the French windows and peep over his shoulder and my breath is suddenly taken away. It is stunning! Standing here in this grandiose Parisian Palace Hotel in the dead of winter, the day after one of the coldest Christmases I can remember, I look down and behold a fairytale vision, a winter wonderland: the Tuilleries Gardens are white, icy white, a heavy veil of mist covers everything as far as the eye can see and it is magnificently, mysteriously romantic. Bare trees and stone sculptures reach up like phantoms shrouded in mist and all is motionless, it is as if the world has come to a standstill leaving only the two of us to listen to the silence, and all the rest is still and forgotten.
I drag myself back from outside and turn around, my eyes wandering over every detail of the room as le valet bustles efficiently around us, checking that everything is in order, the champagne chilled, the deep coral roses fresh and plump, les petits fours arranged on the charming silver tray up to his own discriminating standards, everything comme il faut. I take it all in from the tiny birds flitting across the pale green wallpaper and spread, the gilded fittings and the bed fit for an emperor. Like two excited children offered the key to the candy shop, my husband and I clap our hands and laugh with glee at the magnificent black and white marble bathroom, the golden fixtures, the tub enough for two. The valet smiles, offering us his unwavering assistance for any little thing we could possibly need or desire and leaves us to savor the pleasure of this one day, one night, of pure luxury, alone.
Later that afternoon we slip through the lobby and out into the winter white of this city of lovers. The cold has chased away the crowds leaving the streets silent and all our own. We have each chosen one special museum to share with the other, then spend the rest of the day wending our way through this city we know so well, seeing the monuments and shops as if for the first time, Paris in her new winter attire. Excited yet chilled to the bone, we push our way into our favorite little Asian Soup place for lunch, pulling off gloves, hats and scarves in the oh-so welcome steamy heat that washes over us as we step inside. We slide into the last empty table, elbow to elbow with our neighbors, and shout out our order over the noise and bustle of the crowd. It's as if all of Paris has magically materialized and joined us for lunch. Huge steaming bowls of soup are set before us and we are revitalized, the heat once again coursing through our bodies before we plunge back out onto the street and into the frosty afternoon, the rawness biting into our cheeks and nipping at our noses. Hugging each other in an attempt to keep out the cold, we continue on our way, strolling as only lovers in Paris do, the misty whiteness wrapped around us like an ermine stole. We take in the elegant wrought ironwork of the balconies, the heavy stone sculptures scattered throughout the city, the gaudy holiday shop window displays, the monuments, the Eiffel Tower, the Obelisk, disappearing up into the whiteness of the heavens and fall in love with Paris all over again.
We find ourselves back in the cozy luxury of our hotel room and, champagne glass in hand waiting as the bath slowly fills with bubbles, I step back over to the window, entranced by the beauty and magic of this city. Paris seems to have reinvented herself for us today, bared her soul and shown her secret, quiet inner world for our pleasure alone. How could I, simple, small town girl, growing up running barefoot across the scorching Florida pavement, having traveled no further than my own grandparents' house, ever have imagined in my wildest childhood dreams that Paris would be mine for the taking, lovely Paris, today spread out at my feet in all of her mystery, all of her glory, like pearls poured into my waiting hands.