Colleen Hannegan

Finding the words....and the perfect pair of glasses.

Paris in August....1971.

AdventureColleen HanneganComment

Birthdays mark a passage of time. They are a day when loved ones and friends celebrate your existence. You're plopped out on this spinning blue marble at birth and the Universe smiles and says "Here you are, and there you go!" And from then on until the end of us we have our own special date that we get free dessert at our favorite restaurant and best wishes and presents from wonderful people.

Of all those birthdays I've racked up since making my grand entrance in St. Louis, MO on August 16th in 1955, my best one to date happened in Paris, France in 1971. Sixteen spins around the sun and I was being feted to a 5 course meal at the home of the Dantec family in a small town outside Paris called Velizy.

16 in the gardens of Versailles.

16 in the gardens of Versailles.

I drank champagne for the first time, ate fresh baguettes I have craved now 46 years and brie fromage that melted on my tongue like a blessing that had only known retched Kraft cheese slices until that moment. If cell phones had been invented I'd have selfied every unbelievable morsel that passed my lips that day and forever changed my innocent girl's experience of what it meant to really celebrate a birthday.  The joie de vivre!

From left,  Mamie, Josette, Nadine, Jean

From left,  Mamie, Josette, Nadine, Jean

I was a foreign exchange student for the summer. Josette, the mother, served one delicious french cuisine after another until I was ready to burst. And the laughter we all shared. Jean, the father, Nadine the daughter and fellow teenager, and grandmother Mamie. I can no longer remember the other dishes served. But I remember how celebrated I felt. "Bon anniversaire" they sang. I couldn't understand all the words; my French was so rough and quite foreign from what it sounded like in French class back at school. 

I don't hold on to many personal items in my life. Many things have come and gone through the years, including lovers, two husbands, homes, all those clothes I owned, shoes, STUFF, more STUFF, but I have held on to what's most important in a life. They are as follows....

My big, wonderful family of 5 sisters and 6 brothers and their families, my beautiful and amazing daughter Leah, my perfect 3rd husband Al, (yes I used the word perfect), warm and loving memories of Mom and Dad who chaperoned me into this amazing life on Earth, good and kind friends and ........................ all the photos I took  and letters to and from I've kept from my summer in Paris, 1971. For 35 years they were tucked inside a white large envelope that somehow stayed with me through many, many places. 

One day in 2006 when I'd freed myself from a stifling life, I set them free as well and created a photo album. It's been 46 years and this is the first time I've written about my days in Paris. I guess it's a present to my 62 year old self. 

Like I said, birthdays have a way of presenting, and telling time.

I look into my 16 year old smiling face and it all comes flowing back to me. I remember it all, well almost all of those splendid and exciting weeks of summer and hold it dear to my heart. 

Someday, and it better be sooner than later, I'd love to re-visit Paris, stand once more at Place de la Concord, take an updated photo standing under the Arc de Triomphe and zoom up La Tour Eiffel to gaze once again onto the streets of Paris from above. Step inside Notre-Dame and see if it looks familiar at all. I absolutely want to walk across the Pont Neuf again. I recall the "New Bridge" is actually the oldest bridge crossing the Seine. 

We drove south through France to the gorgeous deep blue Cote D'Azur and visited Nice, Cannes, Monaco and vacationed with family friends. I remember the giant mosquitos that tormented Nadine and I one evening so loudly we laughed ourselves silly. "Les moustiques! Les moustiques!" we screamed.

I walked the lavender fields of  Provence and breathed in the heart of France and her people. The Dantecs showed me as much of France and it's beauty in 6 weeks as they could. Their kindness, Josette's gentle nature, Mamie buzzing about with her kitchen duties, Jean a bit irritated with my sad excuse at speaking his beloved  language. And Nadine and I riding the subway and shopping together. Both of us running away from admirers and discovering between us our sameness at being 16 in Paris.

I'd like to take another, closer look into Mona Lisa's eyes and find myself sipping champagne near Montmartre while eating an entire baguette smothered in brie. And eat gáteau. Lots of gáteau.

Nadine smiling atop Notre-Dame cathedral.

Nadine smiling atop Notre-Dame cathedral.

A tower with a view.

A tower with a view.

So I'll give myself a birthday blessing an Irish ancestor might have given me; "May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live."

I want to live happily 'till I'm 88 and I don't want anything, except another chance at Paris in a 16th summer glow.

Merci beaucoup. Et bon anniversaire!

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