When my mother was a teenager in the late 1960s, she wanted to be an interpreter for the United Nations. She loved learning languages and, from what I’m told, was fairly fluent in French and Russian. She wanted to visit Paris and see the Mona Lisa and stand atop the Eiffel Tower. For the oldest daughter of rural dairy farmers, that’s some big ambition–especially since the family that couldn’t afford to send her to college.
You can guess what happened, because it’s such a classic American Dream let-down: she got married, went to beauty school, had two kids, got divorced, and then worked at least two jobs for most of her adult life–still living in the same rural town in which she grew up–to make sure our little family didn’t become homeless or starve. Not that I in any way lay claim to the deeper meaning of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” re: stymying the hopes and dreams of Black people in America, but I am definitely reminded of the poem’s sentiments when I think about my mom’s high school ambitions, particularly her dream of one day traveling to Paris. The farthest she’s been away from the States is Toronto . . . not quite an acceptable substitute for the City of Lights.
Several years ago now, my mom and I were talking about my travels. I’d just gotten back from Venice, I think, and I told her how much she’d love it there because it’s so charming. Out of no where, she says, “If I were to go anywhere outside the United States, I’d go to Paris.”
“Why don’t we go then?” I said. “Get your passport. I’ve been there a few times, and I know enough French to get by. Get your passport, and we’ll go.”
I’m delighted to say that–barring an emergency (ie, COVID-19 and the Trump White House’s hideously bad response, which is an enormous barrier)–my mom and I will be going to Paris next May. We’re taking a baby trip for her first foray off North America: just three days to see the Paris she’s always dreamed of. No pressure, right?
With Americans barred from nearly every country in the world right now, our passports not even worth the paper they’re printed on, the challenge of the perfect Paris trip is one that is completely exciting simply because I get to daydream–to have something to look forward to at a time when everything kind of sucks. What will Notre Dame look like when we arrive? Will the spire reconstruction have started? Will the Louvre still be implementing physical distancing? Will my favorite choux à la creme shop still be open?
Thinking about how to present Paris to my mother in the exact right way is the thing that’s convinced me there’s a light at the end of this coronavirus-bad leadership tunnel.