It was cold enough to wear a coat today for my short walk from the parking lot to my office. When I pulled my right hand out of the pocket to press the crossing signal, a scrap of paper fluttered to the ground. Luckily, I saw it fall. As I snatched it up from the sidewalk (saying a little thank you that there was no wind), I felt my whole body tighten with panic at the idea that I might have lost my talisman that’s been in that pocket since January 2, 2006.
It’s just a boarding pass stub from an Air France flight from Charles de Gaulle to Atlanta. Economy class, seat 44G.
I’ve been other places since then and I’ve even shoved other boarding passes into the pocket of that coat. This one is special because it’s from the trip I took to Paris on my own to cap off the hardest year of my life. I keep it in my coat pocket to remind myself of who I can be–the woman who will not be defeated by sadness. The woman who will insist on adventure.
I really do believe that we make our own good luck, so most of my lucky charms are reminders to myself of great days or hard-won victories. When I decided to spend a week in Paris between Christmas and New Year’s of 2005, I heard a lot of “You’re going to Paris by yourself?” Yes. But I made a conscious effort to create the right energy around this trip by saying “I’m going to Paris on my own.” I hear “abandoned, bereft, left” when I think of “alone.” I hear “in charge of deciding what to do next” when I say “on my own.” I had had enough of being alone and was ready to try being on my own.
Richard and I had a tradition of taking a big adventure trip between Christmas and the New Year. The first year, we went to Amsterdam and Bruges. The next year, Salzburg and skiing in Innsbruck then on to Munich. The next year, the pink sands of Bermuda and snorkeling along coral reefs. The next year…the hospital. The next year, I was on my own. When the fall of 2005 rolled around, I was so full of resentment that I wouldn’t get to go on an adventure that year (or ever again, in the back of my mind). But eventually it dawned on me that I could go–I would just need to go in a different way so that I would feel safe and could enjoy myself. I wanted to reclaim ADVENTURE.
I chose Paris because I had been there before right after college and I spoke enough French to get by. It was also one of the few places in the world that Richard had NOT wanted to go, so I didn’t feel guilty that I was getting to do something and he was missing out. Instead of staying in the budget hotels that we usually chose, I reserved a room in a nicer hotel, with a concierge who spoke English and a Metro stop a block away. I thought my way through every point of the planning and I got a little bit excited. Even if I panicked once I got there and stayed in my hotel room, by god, it was a Parisian hotel!
My daddy drove me to the airport on Christmas night. Now that I have children of my own, I have some empathy for how he must have felt, dropping his widowed baby girl off at the airport to fly off by herself. On her own. He didn’t say a negative word. I got to my seat, took the last Valium I had been saving up, set my iPod to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (the version by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) and went to sleep.
I woke up in Paris. On my own. Holy shit. My heart was pounding and that place behind my eyes was very twinkly. Under my breath, I chanted the mantra my college professor, Dr. Darlene Mettler had told me about travel: Be Deliberate. “Just get your bag. Get your bag. OK, now find a cab. Find a cab. Find a cab. Write out the address so you don’t have to pronounce all those vowels….Boulevard Hausmann.” I got a cab, settled into the backseat. The driver typed the address into his GPS (which spoke with a very sexy French accent) then turned on the radio. Guess what was playing? “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Yep. Where bluebirds fly.
I’ll tell the other stories some other day. I can’t say enough about how important it is for women to travel on their own. It was a great week. It wasn’t always a happy week, but it was a great week.
One day, I went to the Rue des Rosiers in the old Jewish Quarter to buy my friend a menorah as a gift. I had heard about a little Judaica shop called Diasporama. The name was too clever to pass up, so I ducked inside…hoping that I wouldn’t make a shiksa blunder. I tried out my French–“Je voudrais un ‘menorah’ pour un cadeux…” The bustling maternal shopkeeper tutted at me while looking over her reading glasses. Her daughter came to my aid. She helped me select an elegant, modernist menorah in stainless steel and took it to the counter to wrap it up. While I was waiting, the grandmother seated behind the counter gave me a smile. I said (in French!) that something she was cooking smelled delicious. And in the way of grandmothers across the globe, she offered me a bowl of cabbage soup! I declined and explained that I had just had Moroccan food around the corner. She waved away the very idea but patted me on the hand. That simple touch–the first time I had been touched in a week–made my breath stop and I felt myself beginning to cry. The three of them, there together, being kind to me when I had been so worried about doing or saying something wrong. I looked for something to distract myself. A small straw basket of talismans sat by the cash register. I picked one up and turned it over in my palm. The Hand of Miriam.
It’s a good luck charm. I learned that if the fingers are spread apart, it is to deflect the evil eye. If the fingers are depicted together, they catch good luck. At three euros, I added it to the purchase and bought myself a little extra traveling luck.
When I’m traveling on my own and people ask me if I am alone, I say that my husband is meeting me just around the corner at the hotel or a restaurant or a shop. During that week, I had said it a couple of times and the lie had left me feeling sometimes bereft and sometimes gleeful because in Paris I didn’t have to stick with my sad story. But I told these women that I was on my own in Paris. They welcomed me and congratulated me. I left that place feeling safer than I had all week. I had been offered food, a touch, help in choosing a gift and a little good luck.
I love the Hamsa, but it feels like a prop, something I am putting on. I can’t read the Hebrew inscription and I don’t really worry about the evil eye on your average Monday. It ended up in my suitcase and I only see it when I am packing for trips. It reminds me of Paris and the woman I let myself be that afternoon in the Rue des Rosiers.
The boarding pass became my everyday good luck charm. I run it through my fingers as I walk from the parking lot to work to remind myself of the woman who went to Paris on her own. It’s growing silky and soft with age. It’s corners are worn smooth.