It Never Feels Like the First Time Again
The hardest part of traveling the world
November 4, 2022
Happy Friday, travelers!
This week, Music City can’t make up her mind. Are we going for a breezy 70 or crisp November chill? By the hour and by the sun, the answer changes.
Last Thursday, as I sat at gate C10, I opened the American Airlines app and bought a plane ticket. I’m going somewhere old and somewhere new, but I’ll only tell you the old for now. Reader, I’m going back to Paris. A glorious six days strolling the winding streets and eating pistachio chocolate escargot. I can smell the boulangerie now.
Once I’m back in Nashville, I’ll be here for about 3 days to do laundry, re-pack Nicole,1 and go back to the airport bound for country number 26.
My first time in the City of Love was March 2017. On a dark morning in Barcelona, I woke at 3am, tiptoed to my host mom’s corner kitchen, brewed a cup of Nespresso, and double-checked my bag. Passport, boarding pass, phone. Everything I needed for two days had to be in that backpack.
Now, I don’t worry if I forgot something—thanks to a more generous budget, I can find something comparable anywhere. But back then, in my nascent days as a traveler, my-college-girl-in-Europe bank account did not allow for extras. If it wasn’t in that tiny backpack, I’d have to do without it until Sunday.
Jittery, anxious, caffeinated, I plodded down the sleepy streets of L’Eixample,2 boarded a night bus, and headed to El Prat. What awaited me was not only a city of love and lights, but of dreams.
It’s moments like these that I wish I wrote these posts back then. But I suppose those memories, even if not embedded in the front of my mind, exist in my being in ways so deeply even I cannot perceive their effect. Years after the fact, all I have are snapshots.
The kind smile of a bistro owner who bantered with us before setting down a lentil dish before me.
The breathtaking glimmer of the Eiffel Tower after dark.
Side streets that curl smoothly around corners, cradled by pastel buildings.
Every ounce of magic Paris had to offer was bestowed upon me in those early days of what became the Journey to 197. I knew I’d never love a place in the exact way I love that city.
In my love affair with Paris, the hard truth of a traveler is apparent. The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I gasped mid-sentence. I’ve never reacted to another place quite the same. With places I love, places I’ll always return to, the one thing I miss is the first time.
That’s the traveler’s problem. You can never experience a place for the first time again. Part of the reason is that you’re different. The person you were is gone with the wind of change, bent to the will of life’s demands. Perception is new, for better and for worse.
This is especially true after the two years this entire world has been through. Just as people are not the same, places are not the same. That lightness in our demeanor, that slight belief we were invincible, that nothing could stop us from dreaming. All of these beautiful aspects of being human have been diminished in an inherently insecure world.
In 2022, as the door to the world creaked open, people flew near and far with a bounce in our step, eager to see the world again and determined to never take it for granted. To say we are all exactly the same as before is just unrealistic.
I look back on that girl, young and hopeful in Paris, living a dream come true. She had no idea of how her life would change forever in just a few short years. A different dream would come crashing down and, a few short months after heartbreak, Paris would be there, arms open wide.
That time, the city was different. The magic was there, but Paris’ role was more nurturer than mystic. It was just me that time, sleeping in adorable boutique hotels and staying away from the tourist path. Paris was more intimate, but the façade of perfection cracked.
A creepy stranger asked me where I was staying. I burned my hand on some guy’s lit cigarette on a tight sidewalk in Montmartre. Pickpockets tried their best, not knowing I’d been through this before elsewhere. I was tougher, that slight innocence of two years earlier gone after life dealt a hard hand.
As amazing as the city was then, I missed that first-time feeling of Paris. It’s a feeling I went back, in part, to chase. That Paris was gone, just as I was.
Deep down, I knew then what I’m just now articulating: places are never the same after the first time. Soak it in, savor it then, because those exact moments are for you and that place, frozen in memory, never to be lived again. You’ll love it again, just as I have loved Paris almost involuntarily.
But it will never be the same. And maybe it shouldn’t.
How do we honor who we used to be? Where we were, how life impacted us, the choices we made and those we didn’t, left behind for someone else to tend?
How do we take places as they come, expecting them to be themselves instead of being something for us that they’re just not?
Next month, under the dormers of Saint-Chapelle, I’ll be one step closer to that answer.
What’s On My Tray Table
The Doctor’s Daughter is the story of a young woman born to a Jewish mother and Gentile father in Oświęcim, Poland. In English, it’s pronounced Auschwitz.
When her father decides to work for the Nazis in a “special facility” they decided to build in the town, tensions rise in her parents’ marriage, a union before untested. The question lingers of how long this preferential marriage to a non-Jew will keep mother and daughter safe.
Out of every Holocaust and WWII novel I’ve read, none have explored this family dynamic that was reality for many. I’m very curious to see how it unfolds.
I hope your weekend is sunny. Internally, externally, however it comes. Golden and sunny.
Be brave and stay that way,
Nicole is my little pink suitcase. This may be Nicole’s last dance before she gets a whole new look. You see, Nicole is not merely a hardshell carry-on. She’s a spirit of companionship, of grit, a vagabond in her own right. It’s only reasonable to keep her name and give her a new body. Stay tuned, friends—Black Friday is calling.
Pronounced “Shiampla,” this neighborhood is one of Barcelona’s best (and contains the iconic Sagrada Familia). My absolute favorite, though, is El Gótico, the Gothic Quarter which has contained the Jewish Quarter since medieval times.