On Snow


Paris is something special in the snow.  And not in the sort of way that makes tourists dream.  No tourists want to be in Paris when it snows.  It covers up everything they traveled miles to see.

But to live here when it snows.  Yes, special.  The first time I experienced Parisian snow was as I walked out of my apartment, the boding medieval hospital across the street blurred by falling flakes.  Tracks in the ground marked those who had woken up earlier than me to tackle the first snowfall.  I made my way towards the Canal, long frozen by the winter chill.

As I felt those first few flurries melt on my face, all sorts of childhood excitations begin to well up from some long forgotten spring.  Suddenly I saw myself rushing to the back of the closet to search for my snow pants, screaming to my brother and sister to grab the sleds while I rummage through the bag of gloves.  Why could I never find two that matched?

Your childhood self tells you to enjoy it quickly before it melts away.  The snow will be there and gone in the blink of an eye, and soon schools will reopen and plows will reign supreme on the streets.  Snow is but a fleeting moment as quick as the childhood innocence that loves it so.

But your Parisian self knows better.  This is Paris and no one is in a hurry. Not even the snow.  In fact, the city is so ill-prepared for snowfall – barring a few bags of salt and communal shovel – that the snow has more than a fighting chance to last the night.  As it slowly covers Haussmanian balconies and neoclassic facades, Parisians sleep on, unaware of the soft white blanket that they will awaken to see, and not know how to handle.

Along the Canal, frozen beneath the arching green bridges, the water goes no where.  Walking past the tree-lined banks, seagulls camp out on the newly dusted ice, happy to have some cushioning beneath them.  No one is really sure why seagulls sit on ice, but we all feel a little better knowing that at least they are sitting on something soft.

Silly gulls...go somewhere warmer!
Everything is slower.  Cars roll gently. Pedestrians stroll cautiously.  No one is sure if the ambulances can tackle the snow, so no one tempts fate.  Sounds seem to disappear, muffled in the accumulations, as the statuesque Wallace fountains cede their trickling public water source to the artic freeze.  The snow has captured all of our attention.  Even dogs, so often distracted by passing canine rears, are entranced by each white flake that settles and disappears on their little black noses.

My Parisian self takes it all in, strolling along the cobbled banks of the Canal, still chuckling at those seagulls who slowly blend into the ever-whitening background.  My inner child urges me to go, to run, to play, because it won’t last.  But I remind the child of New York.  I think to the midnight snowball fights in the park and the tongues reaching for flakes. So quickly it was all marred by the morning commute and the blackened slush that stained shoes and kept us inside.  This moment of purity is rare and must be consumed like a fine vintage, tickling every sense possible.

A lack of snowpants and decent sleds prevents me from enjoying it as I once did, so I place a finger to my inner child’s mouth and I point to the seagulls, to the dog pouncing after snowflakes, and to the children making snowballs.  We’re in no hurry here.  Paris is going to let us enjoy this.

The snow covers everything, makes it fresh again, and lets us slow down and enjoy, well, everything.  Only when it snows can I recapture that innocence of searching for gloves and a hat, but with none of the fear that it will be stolen from me.  My adult self walks along the Canal, reconnecting with that inner child, hushing him for just a minute and telling him to slow down, it’ll be OK.  We’re in Paris and this snow will melt when it’s ready.  But for now, let’s just enjoy it.

And above all, we should continue to wonder why those seagulls don’t look for somewhere warmer to perch.