Sunday, 30 January 2011

Paris, Or: Why I need to learn how to edit

When I tell people I want to travel, there is never much confusion. Most people like to travel, and enthusiastically will tell you their wishlist. Some want to do the great Australian trek in a caravan over rutted tracks. Others want nothing more than to sit in a goldola in Venice. Almost everyone wants to see somewhere. Go some place.

But for me, I want to go everywhere. I want to see every thing. I want to travel as much as I want to breathe, and the wanderlust is strong. I have always wanted to travel, some of my earliest memories are poring over Mum and Dad's heavy atlas, reverently looking at maps and wondering what it would be lke to stand on *that* coastline. To read Jane Austen and imagine actually being at Bath, standing on a stone wall looking out to sea. To be in a cold, wet castle in Scotland.

I learned the currencies of the world with "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" and I remember the first few times I played, having a little handwritten list, on a scrap of grubby paper that had the currencies and the capitals of all the countries you could visit. I was about 8 at the time, and after I'd played a thrilling game (only just catching that wily Carmen) I would commit that place to memory, and then later flick through the atlas and find it. Stab a little finger at the capital and feel a sense of one day. One day I will go there. One day I will stand there on a street corner in this historic city.

I had it all planned out pretty much. Once I finished highschool, I would go to uni, and in my end of year breaks I would earn enough money to travel somewhere. I would go somewhere different every time. Europe one time, maybe doing the classic Aussie backpacker thing and sharing a dingy flat in London while waiting tables with daytrips to Amsterdam in betwen. Or trekking the Annapurna one year. Cold and tired and exultant. My parents completely expected that this is what I would do, because although I am a dreamer, I am also stubborn and determined, and if I truly want something then usually I will achieve it.

Except, I didn't.

Somehow I ended up married instead. And pregnant by 21. And people shook their heads at me and said I'd regret it, that I'd given up my youth and my freedom to do those things. And because I am stubborn, I said i'd do it anyway. I'd show them. Except of course I chose to study medicine of all things, and medicine is expensive and time consuming. And when I came home I had a little person who was also expensive and time consuming (as well as being the light of my life). And so it just didn't happen.

In 2008, when the medical school thing was nearing the end and Bingley and I were done with the baby making thing, we would lie in bed and talk about the trips we would now be able to afford. Skiing holidays for him, with promises to go walking in the snow for me. But above all, and for no rational reason I wanted to go to Europe. It's such a cliche, and we certainly planned trips to Macchu Picchu and Antarctica as well, but I wanted to go to Europe and most of all Paris.

I had started to think of itineraries. I had pie in the sky images of where we'd go framed in my head. I imagined all sorts of things, and then I found out I was pregnant. I know it is selfish, but giving up that dream was so hard. Giving up that dream and being sick and knowing I wouldn't be able to complete my internship year and that we couldn't buy a house... all of that was so mindfuckingly bad. Except of course you can't live in the "what ifs" and you only get one shot at life, so I shook myself, got on with it and of course the Possum was worth every second.

But I remember clearly saying to Bingley, that I didn't care if we'd lost all those little ephemeral plans, as long as we did two things. One was that we still went overseas at the end of my uni - didn't care where, but I had to get a stamp in my passport. And the other was that we would get to Paris before I was 30.

And so this is the year, the year that I turn the big 3-0 in October, and I want to click over that milestone in Paris. It has become mythical to me now, this place that is so familiar and yet never met. I can plan a week's itinerary without looking at a single guidebook because I feel like we've been conversing for years. I lived in Geneva for 3 months when I was a teenager, on exchange and practising my French, and I had the chance then, to go to meet Paris for a weekend, but I declined. I can't tell you exactly why, but I think it was because I knew that it was waiting for me. I had to discover her when I was ready. When I was paying for the ticket from my own hard earned money. And when standing under the Tour Eiffel was truly the culmination of years of dreams.

I am preparing for this trip as if I were meeting a lover for the first time. I want to know everything there is to know about her. I have firm ideas of what I will wear to meet her, and a folder in my favourites full of images of everything. The coat I want to buy and the boots that match. The trees I want to touch in the park I want to explore. And yet at the same time I just want to wander. To not be scheduled but just to be in her presence. To sit under a tree and marvel at the sky between the branches. To eat from somewhere random because it's just where I was when I realised I was hungry.

To take my sketch book and sketch badly in pencil. To have my photo taken on one of the many bridges that traverse  the Seine, and for the breeze to whip at my hair and for the Gleam to come and turn my eyes gold in the sunset. And to just be there. There in Paris and knowing that I have achieved something out of my tublist - so called because it was far too big to just sit in a bucket.

I want to be healthy and thin to meet her. I want to wear beautiful things, because it is Paris. I want to wake up every morning in a tiny cold apartment and to remember each day, that I'm in Paris. Inside her. A part of her. A camera toting, green, stary eyed visitor, but one that feels a connection, and has come to seek her out to see if she feels it too.

And even if she doesn't, knowing that I will take home a fistful of memories and the knowledge that I'm living my dream. Or at least the parts that I can.

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