Yesterday, while at the university library, I chanced upon a lovely book of prose and watercolors with the beguiling title, Paris In Winter. In its pages, the author, David Coggins, takes the reader through several winter vacations in the great city. Along the way we discover that David and his wife, Wendy, have been traveling to Paris, more of less yearly, for some thirty years. They have made fast friends, are well-known and loved by waiters in many restaurants, and have taught their now grown children to love Paris, even in winter.
David informs us that we are reading “an illustrated memoir.” Indeed the book has watercolor sketches on most pages, playful work by a thoughtful, enchanted writer. The book, a highly personal love letter to the city he loves, his wife, their children, and of course, the art that draws them all repeatedly to museums and galleries, cafes and bookstores, came out last November. Reading, I was reminded, although it is only now that I can put words to it, of Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, sans the self-importance and melancholy.
There were many presences invoked in the book, and absences, together filling the room. The warmth of the wood stove added to the sense of cocooning that so often accompanies reading on deep winter evenings. Present also was the city itself, a place I have visited not nearly often enough, a vast complex of places really, in turns neighborly, ornate, majestic, and somberly drab. I was reminded of treasured days and nights savoring the city’s art, music, and cafes with their food, wine, companionship, people watching, and exceptional coffee. Then there was the nagging awareness of the recent terrorist attacks, and the courage of Parisians who seem determined to hold on to the spirit of that special place.
Given the book is about Paris in winter, there is yet another presence, that of snow. Although the author informs us that snow is an infrequent visitor to the city, there are more than a few pages on which it is snowing. The snow is to be contested, tolerated, or, more frequently, embraced and enjoyed. It fills the streets and gardens, attaches to coats and scarves, and falls thickly down the long, only partially remembered years that are the history of the city.
As I read, I was always distantly aware that it is now winter in Vermont. Today was a day of flurries, large, infrequent flakes appearing from broken cloud or clear sky. At dusk the clouds thickened. Just now, as, having put the finished book down on the coffee table where Jennie can pick it up at her leisure, I walked past the front door, my eyes were drawn outside, where new fallen snow, the light, fluffy, insubstantial, gone with the first warmth snows that fall on cold nights such as this, glistened. Look up at the streetlight, I watched the thinning flakes drifting and darting down to cover the street. Perhaps, I thought, Paris is not so far away after all.