2014-04-24 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

On the road to romantic paradise

Last week I applied for a long-stay visa to France. This should come as no surprise — everyone who knows me is already tired of hearing about my French dream life. Still, I like to tick off its qualities every time we meet: days filled with sunshine and blue skies, fields of lavender and old stone houses, nice people who walk sweet dogs that never crap on the sidewalk.

This is obviously a fantasy.

But it’s one I’ve clung to for so long that I’ve almost — almost — forgotten how it started.

My life in general, but especially in the last decade, has been very peripatetic. I travel and I travel and I travel. Before I can catch my breath in any one place, I’m back on a plane. So far, no one has had the nerve to ask exactly what I’m looking for. And even if they did, I’m not sure what I would tell them. The ghost of a feeling?

A few months ago, I had drinks with a man who is also a world traveler. When I asked his favorite place to visit, he said without hesitation, “Brazil.”

“I’ve never been to Brazil,” I said. “Why is it your favorite?”

His answers were vague, something about nice people and good food.

“Do you speak Portuguese?” I asked.

He shook his head, no.

“Then how did you end up there?”

For the first time all night, he brightened. He told me that he had met a young woman in Spain who was from São Paulo, and when her visa ran out they moved back to Brazil together, into a small apartment that overlooked a plaza. His face glowed when he talked about this woman and the city, and I could see that his feelings for her had gotten tangled up in his memories of the place, so that now he remembered São Paulo as a kind of paradise, one he was searching for in every new city he visited.

I understood perfectly. I fell in love for the first time in France, and though that love was no deeper or better than any love that came after, it was the first to leave its mark, to change me in small and nearly imperceptible ways, as love always does.

Though my heart has since opened in other cities, under different skies, when I think of being in love I still think of the smell of lavender.

Most people would know enough to let this go. But I am nothing if not hopeful, and I’ve spent half a lifetime chasing my dream. I recognize that the reality of living in France would most likely look like my reality here. I would still go to the grocery store, still sit in traffic, still do laundry every Sunday. All that, plus the inevitable dog poop on the sidewalk.

But I can’t shake this passion. Or I haven’t been able to yet. And when people tell me about their dreams, I always give the same advice: Go. Do it. Don’t hesitate before jumping in.

So here I am, waiting to hear back on my visa, against all reason ready to jump. ¦

— Artis Henderson - is the author r of “U nremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster.

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