Heart First

by Janis La Couvée | L’amour.

Heart First

After “Because” by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

It is easy to walk down the streets of Paris, heart first, at twenty.

Paris, a city meant for walking. In spring, the streets are heavily scented with lilac, golden light bouncing off the white facades of iconic buildings lining the Seine, merchants setting out their wares in small stalls, chatting to one another, calling out to passersby, “come look, I have beautiful pictures.”

In the fall, rays from the setting sun kiss the big bay windows overlooking the Trocadéro, gazing down the esplanade and the long perfect staircase that descends graciously toward the river, past families lounging, surrounded by food and drink, young lovers in a world of their own, and across the river, rising majestically, the Eiffel Tower. There is wonder around every corner: the little squares and parks, small neighborhoods that people rarely leave. Are you Left Bank or Right Bank, or are you high in the 18th and 19th at La Villette or Jaurès? Are the accents Parisian, or do the languages come from elsewhere—the great cacophony of sound, people from the four corners of the earth, from la Francophonie and beyond—come like you to claim their place in the City of Light?

You walk down the streets of Paris in August, when people who are able flee to the countryside, abandoning the city to tourists and locals who can’t leave, who crowd the water parks or sit in the square late at night, spill out onto sidewalk patios chatting and smoking, anything to find relief from the heat.

You walk down the streets of Paris when leaves float to the ground in gardens and parks and crunch underfoot in the gravel, when the chestnut man with his cart appears at Metro stations, offering warm bags of roasted nuts for five francs: once the sustenance of lonely sheep farmers high on the Cévennes plateaus—a diet of chestnuts and sheep’s milk tiding them over long, cold winters—now a treat for city dwellers.

You walk down the streets of Paris when rare snowfall coats church spires and rooftops in picture-perfect tableaux—lights twinkling from windows, cafés beckoning “come in” for warmth, conversation, a steaming mug of hot chocolate to take the chill off.

But it is far easier to walk down the streets of Paris, heart first, forty years later, no longer a starving student with limited control of the language, and to see through new and wiser eyes, to imagine oneself split in two—the twenty-year-old and the sixty-five-year-old—to feel content in one’s skin, happy to be here, to marvel at the changes and find comfort in the familiar. To laugh in delight when someone mistakes you for Parisian, to frown when someone else switches to English, to avoid the major tourist attractions and search out museums, art galleries, and shops and gardens off the beaten track.

To walk and walk and walk for hours, lingering to watch and listen, to drink in the vistas, to know this could be the last trip, to not take it for granted—time, the energy that pulses from every market, every church, every concert hall, every person you pass or encounter—heart first.

Janis La Couvée (she/her) left her small, isolated village on the west coast of Vancouver Island for the City of Light, where she would live for six years, at age twenty. She is a writer and poet with a love of wild green spaces, and is dedicated to conservation efforts in Campbell River, home since time immemorial to the Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ people. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming in Harpy Hybrid Review, Pure Slush, and Paddler Press, among others, and has been anthologized in New York Writers Coalition’s Common Unity. She is online at janislacouvee.com and @lacouvee on X, Mastodon, and Bluesky.

This essay is a Short Reads original.

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