We woke up to some sunshine one Saturday morning in October. Sunshine and smiles—for me, they go together. In the afternoon, we went out, hoping the sun would hold. It didn’t, and we got caught in a near-freezing drizzle. The day before was no better—clouds, icy wind, high humidity. We’d seen this kind of weather in Paris. In the winter.
I loved my transient life in Paris. But weather-wise, that was the most miserable October I’d had there. Overcast and cloudy most days, and rainy for the rest of the month. It seemed we were having an October winter in Paris that year. It was only the fourth autumn I’d had in that city, so you could argue I hardly had good sampling. You might justifiably say as well that I didn’t really know winter.
Blame my ignorance on having passed my first two and a half decades in warm, balmy tropical climes, and a West Coast life of foggy or cloudy and cool summers that evolve into sunny warmer autumns. In the winter, rain can inundate days, but it tapers off into a mild not-as-wet spring. I suppose I expected Paris to reward us with a sunny Indian summer–something like you’d get after foggy Bay Area October days.
I lived in Illinois four years, but I’d safely stashed my snow-white winter memories there in a box, rarely opened. Anyway, my head was buried in books and, when it was not, it was completely immersed in the scenarios, sounds, and smells of baby care. The icy slippery winters passed me by, hardly noticed.
That October winter in Paris, we sought shelter in venerable old churches and discovered a few treasures—a wooden organ, the colors from a stained glass window splashed on the wall or stone floor of a church, abstract-style stained glass windows in a gothic church. Except for the perpetual swarms of tourists at Cathédrale de Notre Dame, most churches were nearly deserted and quiet. We loved going into them for some respite from negotiating the noise and hustle of an always vibrant city. We didn’t stay long. A quarter hour or so was often enough to get us going again.
Museums were also a great diversion when parks and gardens were too cold or wet for an afternoon of strolling. Or lolling on the grass to read, dream, or people-watch. If you loved art, a visit at one of the big museums could not do justice to its collection. And there were always the big must-see art shows. The Paris city museums (not the grand nationals like Louvre, d’Orsay, and Centre Pompidou) were generally free. The city museum of fine arts, the Petit Palais, also offered the additional delights of a café in its Beaux Arts inner courtyard.
We had absconded a darker, cooler East Bay summer than we’d had in years. And maybe, we imagined that Paris would bless us with a few weeks of soft sunshine. After all, we’d been there twice in winter and never seen snow or freezing temperatures.
Weather can be unpredictable everywhere. But there’s always something to distract you in an October winter in Paris.
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