My Dad in Paris

aug6_2paris

I made mention in this post about the ways in which my dad, unsurprisingly, showed up around Paris while I was there. His love of the city (and all things French) was something we had very much in common –along with turtlenecks, neutral colored clothing, quiet time, and stinky cheese. Finding photos from his trip in the 90s was one of the greatest joys of my life to date; reliving the city through his eyes was the next best thing to getting to go there with him one day, something that we never got to share and will forever break my heart.

But he still had his ways of letting me know he was there with me on this trip. Here are stories behind just two:

I.

When I was growing up, my dad and I spent a few weeks a year at his friend’s cabin on the Susquehanna river. It was a tiny thing, sandwiched on a cliff between the river on one side, and train tracks on the other, and had been completely redone inside with tons of smart architectural details: sliding pocket doors into the bedroom, a wide bay-window in the dining nook, and a secret spot to hide the tv a false wall panel. The coolest thing of all might have been the custom slide my dad’s friend installed off the deck, with a 15 foot drop into the water below. Flip a switch on the side of the house, and a spigot on the roof poured water directly onto the slide, lubricating the surface for maximum speed. My dad taught me play poker at the cabin one winter when we were stuck inside (I was 8), and let me drive our old Honda stick-shift for the first time (also 8, and I almost drove us off the cliff before he could reach for the emergency break). I collected tiny seashells from the sandy strip at the bottom of the cliff stairs, proof that I was, at one point, comfortable near sand.

I have also retained through the years two very vivid recollections of some of the tchotchkes around the cabin: In the kitchen, on the windowsill above the sink, was a small outhouse figurine on a little platform of plastic grass, with a cartoonish red and white mushroom, the cap of which you could remove and fill the base of the figurine with water. Why? Well, because when you opened the outhouse door, a little boy rotated towards you and sprayed water from…you get it. On the bookshelf between the kitchen and the bedroom was a lined notepad, with the words “Chopin Liszt” and music scales at the top. Chopin Liszt, get it? Shopping List! My dad loved classical music, and likely took great pride in being able to explain the pun to me. I felt so cool being in on that joke at that age, and whenever my dad would play Chopin or Liszt anytime after that one of us would say, “Remember that pad of paper at Fred’s cabin…”

So imagine the double-take I did one day in late June when, walking down the Boulevard Saint-Germain, I spotted a flyer for a concert at the Église Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre featuring music from both composers. The joke was lost on the French, surely (“shopping list” in French translates to “la liste d’achats”), but I got it. I stopped and stood there for a few minutes, shaking my head in happy, teary disbelief.

II.

At the same time when I found the photos of my dad in Paris while going through storage boxes, I also took a huge stack of books –coffee table art books and small paperbacks– from his collection. They all smelled dusty and musty, the way all books should smell, and I was happy to have something else tangible of his. My brother, going through one box of books, handed me a paperback copy edition from the 1950s of “The Sun Also Rises” and said I should take it with me to Paris. So I did. I also took a few pocket dictionaries of our dad’s with me, as well as a wallet-sized metro map that was woefully out of date (from 1996!) but I had to have anyway.

I’d never read “The Sun Also Rises” before I had my dad’s copy. I know, I know, but my brother rightly figured it was a good book to read in Paris. I read “Beautiful Ruins” and a few others first, and then got into bed one night with Hemingway (now there’s a image!), but barely made it past the front cover. Not because the book wasn’t good –I’d go on to read the entire thing in just a few days– but because there on the cover was a stamp from a used bookstore, with the name of one of the major characters in my novel. (Dubois is the thief, the man stealing paintings, and if you’re angry that I gave that away, don’t be. You know that from page one; the mystery isn’t the who, it’s the how.)

The bookstore in question hasn’t existed under the name Dubois’ Bookshop for at least 30 years; I can’t find any record of it, and the phone number on the stamp doesn’t even include an area code, a dialing requirement that went into effect in 1994. There is a used bookstore at that location, but for as long as I’ve been alive it has been Whodunit?, which started out selling only mystery titles, hence the name. It’s a staple of the neighborhood, and just a few blocks from my dad’s old apartment. I never even knew it was called anything else besides Whodunit?, and certainly not the name of one of the characters I had spent 18 months writing about. What are the odds that a book would sit in my dad’s apartment for years, then in storage for years, then on my shelf for weeks, then travel across the ocean in my suitcase, only to open up and reveal a coincidence like that? I had to laugh. And then maybe cry a little.

III.

I loved all the alone time I had in Paris. Reveled in it, in fact. But I wasn’t really alone, and these little things made it all the more obvious.

IV.

My dad died eight years ago today, and I didn’t realize it until this morning. I had written this entire post yesterday, went digging through old photographs to find a photo of the cabin last night, and it was only when my alarm went off this morning that I said, “Oh. That’s why.” I miss you, daddy-o. Today and every day.

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August 6, 2014 / art / photo / life / dog / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 34

34 comments

  • They were both wonderful anecdotes. It’s funny how seemingly unassuming, inconsequential items weave their way into our current life often with unintended, but happy results.

    In regard to the reveal of a character’s name, I’m now immensely interested as to the who & how, but I especially love a how. I have a feeling Dubois’ name may proceed him.

    • Thank you, Hillary. I would chalk them up to coincidences, but they are so much more than that.

      And yes, Dubois is such a fun character for me. Unlikeable, wormy, and a thief, sure. But fun to write nonetheless! xo

  • i have teared up a lot of times reading blogs, but i have never just broken down and lost it. until today. i had to get up and make a cup of coffee after a few sentences in hopes i could get my eyes to dry out a bit. but by the chopin liszt, it was all over. i don’t know what to say. i also can’t see very well right now. i am just really glad you shared this story, it’s so beautiful. i am so sorry you had to lose him in the first place, but i am so happy he is with you, which he obviously is. there is just no doubt that he is. xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

    • Oh girl. I somehow made it through writing this post without breaking down (well, until I got to the very last line). I’m so sorry! But thank you for your sweet words. He really is with me, all the time. I had the clarity to see just how much in Paris. xo

  • I was wondering why you never mentioned Daddy yesterday. I didn’t want to make you sad so I just kept my sadness to myself. I loved hearing your “coincidences” as they were happening on SKYPE. Truth be told, there’s no such thing as coincidences….just his spirit maintaining anonymity for everyone else but you.
    Only the two of you could love Fred’s cabin. I lasted through one cold pasta salad and was on our way back home! The freight train was so close to the house that it loosened a filling.

    • Fred’s cabin was a dream, and despite the freight trains that came barreling by the bedroom window every few hours, I never slept better :)

      I like the thinking that there is no such thing as coincidences. In fact, I love it. It would be easy to call these coincidences, but they were too strong and too particular. xoxo

  • I just read II and burst into tears. At work!

    Waiting with baited breath for this book to come out ;)

    • Oh Emma, I’m sorry!! I hope no one gave you funny looks! xo

  • This is beautiful, as are you and especially your dad. He was the most beautiful person I have ever known. (((((((HUGS))))))

    • Thank you, MJ. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so! xo

  • Beautiful post, dearheart. Thinking about you today. XO

    • Thanks, darling. xo

  • Just leaving you one GIANT virtual hug here, Erin. This is so sad and sweet, it hurts my heart. Thinking of you today.

    • Thank you, Lila!! That is so sweet of you. xo

  • what a beautiful tribute, to him….

    gentle hugs,
    tessa~

    • Thank you, Tessa. xo

  • Je t’envoie un très gros bisous Erin !!! xoxoxo

    • Merci, Eva! J’ai l’eu besoin. xo

  • This is so moving. Thank you for sharing something so personal.
    Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. I’m glad he’s still with you.
    X

    • Thank you, Lauren. I try to keep the really personal stuff private, but something like this was too beautiful to me not to share. He really was wonderful. xo

  • i got such a warm and fuzzy feeling while reading this. although it’s sad and awful and i’m so sorry and want to give you a big hug, so much of this was so sweet and too perfect to be coincidence. i love when things like this happen. sometimes i feel this way about my uncle, and then i’ll realize it would have been his birthday the next day or something. i definitely don’t think you were in paris alone, and it makes me all teary eyed and warm. hugs.

    • Ohh, thank you, doll. It all really was too perfect to be a coincidence, and I’m glad I wrote it all down and documented it. Other funny things would happen on the trip, too, like finding the exact change I needed (because the machines don’t take 1 or 2c coins), in the metro ticket tray, left behind by someone else. Little things that all added up to me knowing he was there with me. xo

  • what a beautiful post. I really enjoyed reading this.

    • Thank you, P. xo

  • Getting choked up – a lot. Hearing about the time you spent together and how your trip was an echo of some of those memories… well, that’s why we travel right?

    • “Echo” is a much better descriptor than “coincidence”, I think. Thanks girl. xo

  • What a beautiful post. I think it’s safe to say you definitely had a travel companion during your time in Paris :-) The Chopin Liszt story made me smile!

    • I like the Chopin LIszt story so much, because the French totally didn’t even get it ;) xo

  • He is with you and around you and protects you. You are so lucky to love and be loved by someone who is around you. It makes me happy for you that he still shows that he around and smiles. I can tell you miss him a whole lot but I think he knows that.

    Hugs and if you lived closer, I would take you for ice cream :). (and not the cheap MCD’s cone but the fancy stuff)

    • Oh, Erika, thank you so much! I really do think he protects me, in his own way. Not that I’m out being reckless or indulging in anything dangerous, but there is an extra feeling of comfort that I carry with me, knowing he’s looking out for me.

      You’re so sweet! Fancy ice cream is just what the doctor ordered. xo

  • Ha I love that they put that on a poster and didn’t realise what it meant, so funny!
    So glad you got to reconnect with all those lovely memories xx

    • I really want to meet the person who designed those posters and explain the joke to him. Something tells me I don’t think they’d find it funny, though. xo

  • These are beautiful stories. They made me a little teary eyed. I am so happy you found those photos of your dad in Paris before your trip!

    • Thank you, darling. I’m happy too! xo

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