By: Allison Maher, Aylesford, Canada
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant
My mother started having children at 19 after
she quit her new career with the Canadian Armed Forces. She loved
music, and when I was a young girl her favourite song was The Ballad
of Lucy Jordan. She said it was written just for her. It' s about
a woman examining her life and discovering that many of the dreams
she had in her youth, were now never going to come to pass; they
had been swallowed by her choices, obligations and responsibilities.
She had waited too long, put too many things off and now it was
too late. It tells of regrets and the empty feeling of lack of accomplishments.
The chorus says,
At the age of thirty seven,
She realized she' d never
In a sports car
With the warm wind in her hair.
Inevitably whenever the song came on she would,
at some point and with varying degrees of intensity, say to me,
"You listen to this song and promise me this will never be
you. Promise me that you' ll be braver than I was. That you' ll
make your dreams come true. Promise me that you' ll go to Paris
before you' re 37."
My response as the perpetually bored teenager
who really didn' t get it was, "Yeah, yeah, I will. Look, I
heard already. Would you let it go."
My mother passed away when I was twenty years
On April 09, 2005 I stopped being 37. On April
15, 2005 I boarded an airplane for Paris. True to form, I was late,
but I made it.
My friend flew from Seattle and met me there.
Our first stop, within hours of arriving in Paris, was Notre Dam
(translated: gentle mother) Cathedral. From an ocean away it seemed
like an appropriate stop. The intent was to light a candle for my
mom so she would know I was there, that I had come.
I never did. Notre Dam is huge, beautiful,
cold and bustling with people. It felt as intimate as a shopping
mall. If my mother had been there, I could not hear her over the
din. I traversed the interior, admired it immensely and exited candleless.
An ocean away, renting a sports car and driving around Paris sounded
like a good idea.
I didn' t do that either.
Our apartment was across the river from the
Eiffel Tower and a short walk away from the monument marking the
entrance to the tunnel where Lady Diana crashed and died. Any questions
I might have had about how Lady Diana could have had such
a horrible high speed crash in a down town location, were answered.
Parisian drivers are nuts. We cancelled the
The day before we left to come back home,
we blessedly visited my now favourite spot in all of France: the
Paris Opera House. We emerged from is breath taking splendor to
find a long line of cabs parked by the curb. Having perused the
lot, we selected the fifth car back as the "most sporty"
looking of them all and walked up to it. The cab drivers became
completely up in arms over our apparent lack of understanding with
the protocols of taxi queuing.
My mastery of the French language was simply
not advanced enough to explain that the line in the song says "Drove
through Paris in a sports car" not "reliable
family wagon". Knowing I was defeated before I even began,
I chose the alternate route of speaking Japanese to them instead,
of which I am passable, hoping they would just throw in the towel
due to communication difficulties and let me have my own way. My
friend chose LOUD AMERICAN (is there any other kind?).
Between the two of us, we managed to convince
the taxi Mafia to drop the dogma associated with their taxi queue
system and let us have the one we wanted.
When the gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers.
Our non-English, nor French, nor Japanese
speaking Liberian born taxi driver began to speed along the river
heading towards our apartment. The car was soon zipping along with
the flow of traffic and zigzagging anything that could be zigged
or zagged. In my kitchen at home, my hair is harmless and reaches
half way down my back. In the back of a sports car in Paris, with
the windows down for full musical effect, it becomes a facial laceration
weapon that can reach all the way around my tongue in two complete
loops and down my throat to my larynx.
After a few minutes of wrestling with my windswept
hair and over active gag reflex, I turned to my friend and we agreed,
that this was probably as good as it was going to get. Apparently
the Liberian sentence for "Could you please pull over at the
nearest subway station" is really
close linguistically to "Whoa! Halt! Arret! Finito!" when
yelled in stereo, because that' s just what he did.
We spent twelve days playing tourist in Paris
and down through Arles in the south of France. All the while, the
back of my brain was waiting for a moment of eureka, when I would
know I had made the connection. I had fulfilled my promise to my
mother and she would know I had heard her plea all those years ago.
It never came. When the plane lifted off,
leaving Paris behind, it was crushing. I felt like a failure.
Not one to wallow, I decided there was nothing
more I could do and dropped it. I then turned my head towards all
the things that would be waiting for me when I arrived back home.
My two amazing children would be all over me with questions. My
husband and best friend of 22 years would be patient until the children
were in bed. Then he and I could talk about my trip and all the
things that we would have to start getting ready for the next years
planting on our farm. My publisher was also waiting for me to hurry
up with another set of revisions for my novel due to be released
in the spring of 2006.
A hint of light flickered into existence in
the back of my mind. The more I examined the light, the brighter
it became. At 38 years of age, I have no regrets about my life so
far. I wanted to have a happy family and I have one. I wanted to
be an author and (as of April 06) I am one. I wanted to see the
world, and so far the only continents
I' m missing are Antarctica and Australia.
I guess I did hear you Mom. It just took a
trip to Paris for me to realize I had also been listening.