Why do women, especially “les femmes d’un certain âge,” love Paris?
Is it because it’s beautiful, and we have come to appreciate beauty in all its forms?
Is it because the city inspires reflection, whether it’s lingering over a coffee or strolling along the twisty streets?
Is it because the wine is delicious and affordable, and every post-fifty woman I know needs a drink?
In my case, no. In my case, it’s because Paris and I have something in common. More often than not, we are both a mess. But we are always glorious.
Let me explain.
Paris, no matter how regal the architecture and how breathtaking the bridges over the Seine, is full of barely-contained chaos.
There’s always a protest waiting to happen—about rights or retirement or (this week) the health pass. Somebody’s always mad, and the French have a stellar system for protesting. Protesters get a permit for a location and time, police are stationed around town, routes are announced, streets are blocked off. Protesters do their thing, and the rest of us avoid their areas. Sometimes it all goes to hell and protesters run amok, or the black bloc people come in and agitate. Then the police sweep through and throw tear gas and arrest somebody. When it’s over, the sanitation department sweeps up the broken glass and garbage.
Ditto for sporting events, win or lose.
Strikes, like protests, are a way of life here.
Aside from those special occasions, there’s the daily mess—dog poop everywhere, panhandlers, street harassment.
But it doesn’t stop Paris from being magnificent. Ask all those tourists.
Then there’s me. I, too, am a glorious mess.
I’m glorious because I have used sunscreen my entire adult life and as a result have few wrinkles. My coiffeur figured out a hairstyle that tames my salt and pepper tangle. I have made peace with my boobs.
I clean up pretty well. Most days, I feel downright phenomenal.
The past few years, though, my personal life has been a mess. I moved to Paris at fifty and got a divorce, after almost three decades of trying to keep it together. Covid meant I couldn’t get to the US to see my adult kids, French bureaucracy makes me cry at least once a month, and I changed careers. Menopause hit me like a freight train.
On top of all that, I feel a deep need for intimacy and personal connection, and midlife dating IS A TRIP. It’s just as thrilling as it was at sixteen, locking eyes and smiling as he strokes your hand for the first time. It’s just as devastating, when you realize the two of you want different things and you have to move on. Rinse and repeat. No regrets. La vie est belle.
Looking at the bordel that is Paris, I feel a sisterhood with history, with humankind.
Maybe it’s because Parisiennes, even the old ones, are still women. Not moms, not grammas, not aunties. Women.
Senior citizens, either in Chanel suits and low heels, or in strappy sundresses and fabulous jewelry, sashay through the city like they own it. They cluster on restaurant terraces, toasting each other and laughing. They swan about the beaches in bikinis. And I’ve seen many a solitary gray-haired woman sitting in a cafe, ordering a dozen oysters and a pichet of wine, looking into the mid-distance with a Mona Lisa smile.
Men in Paris see women as women, no matter their age. The eye contact is phenomenal, captivating. In the dating game, age doesn’t matter. What I used to call “I-have-seen-some-shit,” they call “experience.”
It happens in the marketplace, too. The cheese guy flirts. The butcher is REAL glad to see you, every time. And the fish monger gives you tips on how to bake that salmon, using a hushed tone of voice which implies that whoever eats your salmon tonight is going to be a very, very lucky man.
What might get that flirtatious guy a slap or a visit from HR in the US, is just good customer service in France. The joie de vivre is real.
I feel like Paris gets me. We’ve both taken some hits, and we’ll take more before the day is through. But we’re both still here, fully functional and ready for anything.