It's no secret that I didn't like my father very much. His death, in 1986, was, to be honest, something of a relief to me and I think secretly to my mother as well. I spent my childhood avoiding his terrible temper and his "moods" and have spent my adulthood recovering from the insecurity and self-esteem issues caused by his inimitable blend of abuse and over-protectiveness. And yet.
He was my father, and in some ways I loved him. Everything I did for years was an effort to please him and make him proud.
This trip has been for me in part a way to lay some ghosts, to put aside enmities, and to come to terms with the part of me that is my father. To explore the part of the world that my family came from, and places my father has been. To revisit a scene from my childhood for which my only memories are happy (that day, anyway - the rest of the holiday was a blend of excitement and nightmare as so many times with my father were). For me this trip is some means to lay my father to rest, just as I did for my mother in my trip to England last year.
I have a photograph of me at age 4 standing against a backdrop of Mont St Michel, taken on the drive down to a farmhouse in Brittany that my parents had rented with my aunt and uncle. It represents so many things. That long ago holiday, four out of seven of the participants of which are now dead. The fact that my father was a great and adventurous driver - we had our car with us on this trip, and this drive was only one of hundreds of memorable "road trips" that we took as a family. I think I get my wanderlust and adventurous spirit from him, though it's ironic that he'd be turning in his grave at the thought of me, alone in Paris, even now, when I'm older than he was when that picture was taken and have had in many ways more life experience than he.
A little while ago, sleeping in my Paris apartment, I dreamed that I had an argument with my father. I wanted to spend all my coins because I knew that coins couldn't be changed back to Canadian money. He insisted that I was wrong, and looked at me with that classic patronizing, pitying expression that he did so well. I argued that I knew I was right, and in any case I had just been on a trip, more recently than he, so I knew what I was talking about. He just looked at me pityingly, and I woke up feeling frustrated and angry as I did so often when my father was alive.
And yet. Here in France, I have seen where my father got his dark skin and whipcord thinness. I've seen his eyes, and my own, looking back at me - bright blue and slightly pouchy, rimmed with dark lashes - on the streets and in the Metro.
My father came to Paris just after the War (WWII for those who need to make that distinction). It was somewhere he had been and neither my mother nor I had, somewhere exotic and romantic and wonderful. My uncle David, in whose shadow my father and uncle (my father's twin brother) grew up, came here in the 1930's and it's my bet that there was something of walking in Uncle David's footsteps for my father, just as there is something of walking in my father's footsteps for me now. But I'm not stepping in them; I'm making my own journey and my own memories and my own peace with my childhood and the shadow of my father.
So that's why I came to Paris, and why I went to Mont St Michel.