Two days into my seven weeks in France, I broke my ankle. The French aren’t necessarily good at messy moments, and so when I walked off a four-foot-high platform into thin air and landed with my foot touching the back of my calf, it was precisely like someone had hit the pause button in the middle of a movie.
No one moved. Forks were poised but the gastronomes in this chic French bistro stopped their chewing and froze. “I broke my ankle,” I said to my French family hovering, most-dignified, overhead.
After an eye-opening evening in a French emergency room, I arrived back to my hotel at 4am. My train for Paris was leaving just two hours later and I was traveling alone with two suitcases and now an entirely homely and extremely uncomfortable foot contraption where my sassy walking shoe should be.
But Paris was waiting and I am a very determined woman.
This is where my romantic story of discovering my French roots turns to a celebration of the human spirit—what we can endure, what we battle through, what we refuse to accept, and what we reconcile. These are themes with which the French are intimately familiar and, in many ways, the very reasons they respond the way they do [see restaurant story above].
As I write about a moment in my life that happened years ago, I am struck by the revelation that the essence of its meaning has never been more relevant for all of us than now.
Armed with a rudimentary brace and a large bottle of anti-inflammatory, I walked nearly six miles each day. Along cobblestone streets and through vintage markets, down treacherous stairs to basement restrooms [if you’ve been in a French restaurant you know], amid dense crowds and in quiet neighborhoods, across expansive plazas and museum halls, I limped and rested and limped some more.
There is no doubt my pace was slowed, but in this space of suspended expectation I drank deeper from the well. This freeze-frame version of my typically fast-paced self who thirsted to see more/do more now luxuriated in sipping cappuccino at a charming cafe. I gave myself permission to envelope in the up-close moment rather than the extravagant view. I practiced French with strangers by the fountain in the park. I purchased pink peonies from the market and set them on my lime green bistro table just to make myself smile. I curled up in my window seat, wrapped in French cashmere, and stared down at the old man with his baguette strolling by.
In spite of all this, I will tell you that I did make it to the Louvre: For an artist, it is not-to-be-missed. Arriving an hour before opening, I was first in line and this perspective gave a sense of illusion that the world’s treasure was there just for me. And in this parallel dimension— between scurry and serene, must-see and must-linger—what caught my eye was, admittedly, not oil paintings but handmade and gilded frames. I took countless of close up pictures of these intricate borders, taking little notice of what hung between.
While I was researching frames for a client the other day, the images of the Louvre came to mind and I casually opened them to view. To my delight and awe, I sat face-to-face with something I had previously neglected to see. Feet. Dozens of them. Suspended on canvas. Whispering. Affirming. “Slow down. Be still. Take in the intimate view.” My France is not a palace but a window box. Not loud exclamations of a cliché world, but soft blossoms of endless color, secrets between best friends.
My surprise ending to this story could not have been more beautiful if I had written it myself— Unexpected and redemptive in every possible way.