I actually never meant to go to Paris.
After numerous world travels spanning many years, Paris was the one city I had never visited.
It was not intentional, just by chance. The closest I had come was a jaunt to the Riviera in the late 90's with a girlfriend.
I never knew about its architectural beauty, the allure of the Seine, the tiny rues that beckoned with so much history, the aromas of baking bread, the show-stopping patisseries, the sidewalk cafes which corralled a joy of living, or best of all, how the well-chosen scarf could pop an outfit.
I had no idea.
In 2002 where this story begins, people in the USA were abuzz about not drinking French champagne or eating "French" fries because of the disagreement over the Iraq war.
Let's just say the French-loving sentiment was at an all-time low, and going to Paris was not high on my priority list.
Parisians were tagged as being rude to Americans, snooty, aloof, and too damn liberal.
I was a conservative, Republican, church-going, Southern gal with a knotty life composed of two divorces, mounds of discord, disillusionment, loneliness, depression and drama.
I fell off the happily ever-after wagon at age twenty-one when a first husband delivered a crushing blow of reality that quickly taught me how unfair and painful adult life could be.
However, fortune blessed me with a fantastic career which culminated as CEO of a CBS television station in my progressive city of Huntsville, Alabama.
Voted most likely to succeed in high school, I had fulfilled that prophecy certainly on the exterior but had carefully hidden away a broken and scared inside.
At age 58, I had all but given up on finding an authentic relationship. My kids were grown and doing well; I had retired; my goal was to play golf in every state in the Union, and I wanted to try my hand at writing.
My sweet mother had passed away after months in a caregiving maze.
I was a survivor- strong, stalwart but never very far from feeling that happiness was about to pass me by.
I was definitely overdue and had no idea that a whirlwind of unexpected fun was soon to flood my life.
That's when I met Bernie. He was not my dream guy; he was not rich; he was not a GQ hunk; he was not tall, dark and handsome.
He was not like anyone I had ever dated!
I failed to catch the significance of that at first and snubbed my nose at the very prospect of continuing to see him.
Introduced by a mutual friend, we started very slowly, at least for me.
No fireworks, no sizzle, no whistling tea kettle, just a steady movement day by day of watching, scrutinizing, finding reasons not to stay, at least on my side.
Bernie fell hard for me, with tenderness, attention, kindness and devotion.
Imagine that - a playbook that was foreign to me.
He was a military guy, 22 years' worth, culminating in lieutenant colonel followed by 20 more years in the defense business.
Happily married for 31 years to a violinist, he had known great love followed by great devastation when she died at the young age of 52 from breast cancer. His world tumbled and a deep yearning to return to his hometown of Paris took on a gnawing persistence.
Bernie's parents were both French, his mother born in Paris and his father in Alsace. When they divorced during WWII, Bernie was thrust from Paris to Kansas (!) at the tender age of 10.
He was basically miserable as he was put into an American school where he could not speak a word of English. Over many years, this little French kid acclimated to American culture but his heart never left Paris! There was a wistful longing for his French roots, for his biological father, and for his native language!
So the stage was set.
Bernie was lonely; I was lonely.
He was looking for something to fill his emptiness. I was looking for my dose of stingy happiness which life had thus far withheld.
After dating only a few months, Bernie popped the question.
No, not that question. He asked me after dinner on a cool October evening if I would go to Paris with him in the spring.
I was shocked, confused, but also a little giddy. Paris!
I'd never been, and I could go with a native who spoke the language. What could possibly be wrong with that? I thought about it for maybe 60 seconds, pounded him with questions...
How? Where? How much? and finally, after some inane babbling, I just said yes, an affirmative answer that would change my life.
Fast forward to 2016.
Our Paris trips are now twelve in number, going mostly during the summertime for two divine months each year.
I've evolved from a complete novice to a seasoned, French-speaking devotee, but it was a slow process.
From hotel to apartment living, from scared to confident, I've learned to love small spaces, cozy bathrooms with no shower curtain, evening espressos after dinner, and strolling.
I've became a Métro expert, a daily shopper, and a blogger.
I love ile flottante and foie gras. I love our neighbors in Le Marais and play the all-knowing tour guide when visitors come to stay with us. I'm at home in Paris and always sad to leave as we say goodbye on Pont Marie.
Paris has brought me more memories than anyone could ever hope to garner, and I will forever be grateful.
As a way to stay connected in a culture where the nuances were strange and the language difficult, I decided in about year three to start putting our daily adventures down in emails accompanied by attachments of Bernie's fantastic photographs (He has over 10,000!). His $1000 camera has every bell and whistle, and he is amazing with it. He waits for the picture to develop instead of forcing it and captures some stunning shots.
I found that people loved reading about our escapades enhanced by Bernie's pictures. Eventually, I transitioned from using email to a nicely-designed website which became the platform for my blogging.
There was no thought of a book in the earlier years, but more and more followers mentioned doing "something" with all the information.
I had published two books already and sidelined that thought as just too much work.
But, not surprisingly, those blogs over roughly ten years became the heart and soul of our book, "Bernie's Paris...Travel Stories with Love."
They were filled with luscious details I could have never retrieved from the cobwebs of my feeble brain. The deluge of content was the biggest struggle in developing the book: how to arrange it, what to include, what to omit, how to put heart into it so that it became more than a travel guide.
How honest should I be?
How much of the male-female dynamic should I include? How real? How distant? How could I wrap it into a love story?
I allowed Bernie some editorial input when a manuscript began to develop but I must say that he (being politely French) was very put off by details that rubbed too close, that revealed too much.
For example, he wanted me to ditch the chapter on arguing which I thought was one that people would love.
I was right.
He was also offended if I portrayed the slightest negative about the city, the French people, the government, etc.
I firmly held my ground and fought to include the more authentic side of Paris, both good and bad, and of us as a couple.
I walked a thin line between keeping him reasonably happy and telling a believable story.
The most intimate section was the introduction, constructed at the very end. The hope was to immediately make us into interesting characters and leave the reader begging for more. It's the shortest chapter but commanded the most effort! Every word had to be precise, perfect and penetrating.
To this day, I'm not sure that Bernie has read it, and when he does I'm fairly certain he will not like it!
My greatest satisfaction about the book is the inclusion of 40 of Bernie's photographs in color.
Yes, it escalated cost and complicated production with the publisher BUT it also made sure that Bernie had his rightful place in a book that really was all about him.
I changed the title toward the end from "Bernie and Me...A Paris Love Story" to its present form "Bernie's Paris."
It was, after all, his Paris that I fell so in love with - through his eyes, his heart, his voice, his impact.
My biggest regret about the book is that I could not finish it in Paris.
I wanted to sit in the quaint green spaces like Hotel Sully or the little park beside St. Julien de Pauvre and bring the manuscript to its rightful conclusion.
I wanted to breathe Paris air, listen to those damn sirens or the bells from Notre Dame as I was editing, revising, remembering a better story.
Instead, I was in Alabama determined to finish, determined to push through to a published work. And I did but what a thrill to have culminated it in Paris, a city for writers through the ages.
Alas, maybe next time.
Bernie will be 77 this year though he looks 65!
It has to be all the red wine and the good French genes. Though he's blessed with good health, my heart is never very far from wrenching when I realize that anything could happen.
I wanted the book in hand as a tribute to him while he was able to fully enjoy it.
I wanted him to know from my words what his presence in my life has meant.
I wanted him to know that he touched a light inside me which has brought happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment where there had been such emptiness before.
I wanted him to grasp how glad I was that he had taught me to fall in love with his hometown.
Ours is not a sappy, syrupy love story but a tale of rich tapestry, knitted from heartache and broken dreams gestating into deep and abiding friendship, trust, loyalty, and devotion.
It's a love for the ages certainly, a love to be envied but also one to be copied, a love not found on Twitter but in the soul sanctums of our hearts.
It's a love that young couples need to understand.
I never knew intense love for a city before. I had never fallen in love with the sound of a language or the flow of a river as it cut its way into a city's soul.
I had never embraced church bells as my clock which heralded the day's routine or gasped at rays of twilight as they carved a majestic punctuation in an otherwise ordinary structure.
I never knew that museums could have so much character, so much variety; that restaurants were an experience instead of a place.
I never knew young children could be rapt by history and art from a teacher or a grandmother, or that old was centuries instead of decades.
I wanted this book to be our story but also to be a spark that ignited other love stories.
I wanted it to be an open invitation for others to fall in love with Paris.
So far, as I hear from readers, that message has fallen on receptive ears. People cherish their memories of Paris; they want to cultivate more or they want to visit for the very first time.
This book is a means to that end.
I dedicated it to my four grandchildren, ages 13, 10, 8 and 3.
If just one of them someday sees Paris through my eyes with his or her lover, I will be ecstatic. If this little book finds itself tucked into their suitcase, I will have all the reward I need.
I did not set out to write this book anymore than I meant to go to Paris, but both happened because they were supposed to happen.
In conclusion, here are my words on what Paris has meant to me from the closing chapter called "Reflections."
"I have learned that Paris is my healer of decisions made poorly, of romances gone wrong, of my broken spirit, my broken heart, and my loss of hope. Paris was meant for me at exactly this time in my life with exactly this man in my life. It has been the yeast for a life that was flat, the tempo for music gone silent, the spice for a chemistry that had become dormant. I owe Paris my life!"
About the Author
Linda is a retired NYT television executive who has found a second life as an author. She is a golfer, a grandmother and comes to Paris yearly. Her second book on caregiving called Catch Your Breath was featured in O Magazine's November issue. And now her newest book is out "Bernie's Paris" which is a love story/travelogue with all the charm that Paris has to offer.
Grab your copy here.
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