From their balcony they could see the Eiffel tower pointing towards the heavens and rising above the ordered rows of terraced rooftops. That is how they spent their apartment time, looking out. For, inside, the furniture was sparse and cheap and they had long ago outgrown sparse and cheap. “I chose the room for the view,” he said.
If there had been long strands of beads hanging from the doorway to a mattress filled with water, or a dresser filled with jeans and halter tops, she would be certain that she had lived there before. “Just like some of my friends who spent a college-summer abroad,” she said.
“Bohemian,” He said.
She liked the city and the sound of cars breaking and accelerating, accentuating the race toward the future. She was attune to multiple dialects blessing or insulting receptive ears. From her window, fabulous foreign faces worthy of Renoir, impressed themselves upon her. She thought she saw a familiar one, a high school friend. But she quickly dismissed the likelihood of him being here, now, and completely unchanged in 40 years. The strong aromas of bread baking, laundry soap and garbage alternately wafted in with the breeze and dissipated once identified.
Outside they walked for miles on sidewalks crammed with people, shops, cafes, and museums. They saw old masters hanging in gilded frames mingling with tatted, pierced, spiked, youngsters. They listened as a girl in tight jean shorts played Vivaldi on her violin. A car playing rap music passed by. They ate fresh crepes and drank old wine. They bought a gift for their grandson who would be born at the time of her mother’s 90th birthday. She felt energy flowing through her as if she were plugged in to a source of vigor that heightened her sensitivities and reversed the advancement of the last few decades.
Perhaps it was because they had come from the battlefields of world war II, frozen in time. Normandy, a beautiful, tranquil place and stage for a terrible war which birthed the acts of valor to which the French pay homage. She thought of the thousands who gave their lives to preserve the only way of life she had ever known. WWII was her father’s war and he had come home. He lived to be 70. And though he was not buried then and there with the thousands in that memorial cemetery, to her he was just as gone .
Her husband’s war was very different. It became a dark chapter in history and left a rancid taste in the mouths of the American youth in the 1960’s and 70’s. Drafts and protests, unclear message and mission, dead soldiers and heroes, none the less. Her husband talked some about that time. He had flown in a plane of the same model as one they saw in a Normandy museum. They spoke of returning to Southeast Asia some day. She wondered if the future held that possibility. She wondered who he was in high-school, before Vietnam, before they met.
Her father used to say, “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.” But he was wrong. He should have known what young people don’t, that youth is indeed a state of mind; old – the full richness of experience, reflection, knowledge, connection, and life – a story captured with pen, paint and voice punctuated with spilt blood and drunken wine.
In Paris the past presses urgently against the future as if all answers lie somewhere in between. In this space she rested her wise old head, no longer grey, against the strong shoulders of her husband’s 18 year old self. She grabbed his hand.