By Debbie Dillon
Some memories expand one’s vision of wonderful. They are the brightest gems in the box, held in quiet reserve yet closest to the heart. I delight in such memories. They play against the strains of Mozart and Chopin, against the bustling city streets and the refined architectural and historical beauty of Paris.
I never imagined my husband and I would have an opportunity to spend our twentieth wedding anniversary in such a place, yet here I was, staring out over the clouded skyline from my perch on the sixteenth floor. I’d boarded an Air France jet, flown for eleven hours, too excited to sleep, and found myself safely deposited in the Hôtel Rive Gauche, alone and waiting for Matt to fly up from his business trip in the South of France. As we did not want to spend our anniversary in separate countries, it seemed the perfect solution to meet him here to enjoy a few days together in paradise. He arrived later that evening, and with very little sleep, we embarked on the next five days with unrelenting exuberance.
My sweet husband had already arranged for me to attend a market cooking class the very next morning! Before I could say bon appétit, I found my jet-lagged self pouring white wine over chicken in Chef Eric Fraudeau’s kitchen with three other participants who were eager to learn the basics of French cuisine. At the end of the class, Matt joined us in the little kitchen, where a table was piled high with our delicious accomplishments. He reached inside his rain-spotted overcoat to reveal a bottle of Champagne he’d purchased from the market down the street. I’ll never forget that meal we shared with the entire cooking class to celebrate our anniversary on that rainy, romantic afternoon.
The next several days found us strolling along the Champs-Elysées, visiting Notre Dame Cathedral during evening mass, standing in awe beneath the magnificent Eiffel Tower, trekking to the very top of the Arc de Triomphe, and encountering Mona Lisa herself at the Louvre. We drank rich espressos, ate buttery croissants, and learned about various meats and cheeses of the region, breathing in every possible sight and sound along the way.
One afternoon found us at the Opéra national de Paris, a fascinating structure exhibiting names and busts of famous composers all along the exterior of the building. Inside, the marbled walls and balconies resonated with the applause from a thousand performances. But it was a dozen or more doors with little, round windows that captured our attention. Velvet curtains concealed the view beyond each aperture—except for one. Apparently, we’d stumbled in during an afternoon rehearsal, and through the parted curtain, we could glimpse a ballerina twirling on the stage below. I felt as though we’d been let in on a wonderful secret and granted a private performance.
I often wonder about all I would have missed had I given in to my fear of flying out of the country alone. Sometimes it’s easy to let the “what-ifs” speak louder than the opportunities presented to us, so we deny ourselves that bright jewel in the box. Yet, how wonderful to revisit those few magical days, the grasping of moments unrehearsed and unscheduled. To float in on each occasion as it reveals itself. To breathe in air thick with romance and adventure—to relive, once again, the gems made to sparkle for a lifetime.
This essay originally ran in our July/August 2011 issue. What are your most cherished travel memories?