Each morning in Paris, I start the day by writing in the Luxembourg Gardens. I sit on a green metal chair by the sailboat pond and gaze at the palace. (In New York, I begin the day in the same way, but in Central Park, seated on a wooden bench.)
I have always been a tourist, having never lived or studied abroad. How I would have enjoyed living abroad for a sustained period, fully absorbing another city - its history and neighborhoods.
On my trips - 10 days in Paris on this occasion - I try, as best I can in a short time, to immerse myself in the life of a city. Hence my daily visits to the Luxembourg Gardens.
While writing here, I watch children with sailboats. The fleet is out in force: 14 boats, and only five ducks on the pond. Children rush about carrying long wooden poles to push their boats, managing to avoid impaling one another or tumbling into the pond.
After writing, I walk to the basketball court in the garden and join others in a game. Basketball players the world over share an affinity that overcomes linguistic barriers. I introduce a shooting contest to the group. In the United States, we call it Horse. This being France, I rename the game Cheval. (Chien at first, until I learned the word for horse.) Playing basketball in Paris makes me feel very much a Parisian.
I walk to the university. Years ago, Mother lectured on international relations at the Sorbonne. How proud I was of her French! Parisians, who are critical of foreign accents, have told me that her French, learned as a child in Russia, was beautiful.
Students arrive at the Sorbonne for the start of fall classes. Fathers help sons and daughters carry bags and boxes, while mothers stand watch by double-parked cars. As always on such occasions, parental pride is mixed with sadness at impending separation.
At the Musée d'Orsay, I am drawn to Claude Monet's painting of "La Gare Saint-Lazare." I decide to visit that train station. From here, trains leave for Normandy. In 1939, at age 2, at the start of World War II, I was taken to Cherbourg to return to New York on the ocean liner Normandie. Many years separate my two visits to Gare Saint-Lazare.
I walk to the end of Track 21 and see the scene Monet painted: the same apartment buildings with mansard roofs, the same iron and glass train shed.
King Henry IV, who ruled from 1589 to 1610, is my favorite French king. During the Wars of Religion, he sought to lead a deeply divided people, as Catholic fought Protestant. Calling himself a "shepherd king," Henry managed to unite the nation. When peace came, he devoted himself to rebuilding Paris.
Among Henry's projects is the Place des Vosges in the Marais district. It's a beautiful square of 39 houses built to a uniform plan. In the square, children play on the grass with joyful abandon, chasing one another and hugging their parents. From the wall of the King's pavilion, Henry, depicted on a medallion, beams with delight. He enjoyed life and would be pleased to see his compatriots do the same.
I wonder if I could ever live in a city so beautiful. How can you work when everywhere you turn there are thrilling sights? Leaving the Louvre Palace at sunset, I cross the Seine over the Pont des Arts. From the bridge, a stunning view of the Pont Neuf (the "new bridge," another of Henry's projects) and the Ile de la Cité. Ahead of me, on the Left Bank is the Institute de France, a 17th-century architectural masterpiece. Every step is a pleasure.
On the day of my arrival, I admired an immense Ferris wheel towering over the Tuileries Garden. During my stay, with summer coming to an end, the Ferris wheel was removed as the city prepared for fall and winter.
My trip, too, comes to an end. I arrived with keen anticipation, savored each moment, and now, all to soon, must depart.