Just when I think things couldn’t get any more surreal or magical… here we go again! I should take the time to mention that I am at heart, a complete romantic. I’m not a Valentine’s Day, gotta have a boyfriend, writing love songs, kind of romantic… but rather I’m a person who is easily swept away in the dream and fantasy that a moment could be, has been, or is. I think that is one of the great reasons why I am so in love with Paris. You can sit at a cafe on any street, or look up at any building, and let your imagination run wild. Who has been here before you, what was their story, what brought them here and where were they going? How many people looked up at this same scene and contemplated their life in the same way I am contemplating my own? The history and architecture here never cease to leave me breathless and completely awestruck. I am humbled by the power of the human imagination and their dedication to beauty. In a world where we see the construction of massive buildings in our cities taking perhaps only a couple of years to be completed, I wonder how many people ever stop and truly marvel at these old buildings, built by hand, carved and drafted by some of the most gifted artisans and architects of their time. And all completed with minimal technology, under the soul power of the human spirit and will.
My ability to empathize, imagine, and create a story and develop questions around these romantic notions are the reason, I believe, that I am so drawn to the arts and creativity. I will be the first to tell you that the majority of my life is governed by my heart, by my emotion and by how something makes me FEEL. It is one of the great gifts of my life, but also allows me to be hurt much more easily than others, and sometimes stumble into situations that other more “logical” people may have seen coming and avoided it all together. Through each of my ups and down, I suppose the romantic, and the artist within me feels that those hurts, disappointments and struggles are what shape you, and provide you with opportunities to mold your character. After each dizzying high, or crippling low, I am a person who fears neither love nor pain, but rather a terrifying fear of the ordinary and the mundane… fear that I will live a life void of feeling, of adventure, and of passion. To live a life like that, to me, would be the greatest waste of my human spirit, of my imagination, of my creativity and of my capacity to love.
When I was handed my set of keys to my small, and beyond perfect-for-me apartment, I was struck once again with this familiar sensation of romanticizing and being overwhelmed with the dreams that have come true for me, and the things that I have accomplished that I never in all my life I never thought would EVER have happened to me.
I would like to share a small story with you to help show you the depth of why this particular key is so important to me, so etched in my memory and immortalized as an unattainable (until yesterday) desire.
Many years ago, my family and I took a vacation to London and Paris. It was actually more of a vacation for my mother, my sister and me, while my father attended conferences in both of these beautiful cities. It was an unforgettable experience, and one that has remained etched into me for the past 14 years. It was the first time I had ever been to Europe, or perhaps more specifically, it was the first time I had seen history, architecture and art of this magnitude and splendour. And what’s more, it was presented in an everyday way. What do I mean by that? How many people rush across Pont des Arts on a daily basis to get to and from somewhere important? How many people cross Pont de Alexandre III, or Notre Dame, or use the Louvre as a short cut to the next metro station. These incredible pieces of architecture and art are so etched in the every day life of the people in these European cities that, during my time in Paris as a young girl, it often moved me to tears.
The first time I went to the Louvre was the first time I remember feeling truly “incompetent”. I remember looking up at the sculpture of Diana the Huntress and feeling so many emotions, but also feeling so foolish that I couldn’t comprehend or make sense of them all. I felt embarrassed and as if I was being incredible rude and ignorant, being in her presence and not fully understanding my overwhelming emotions. Imagine you are plucked from your daily life and placed in front of a member of Royalty. You know they are Royalty, you know they are incredibly important, historic, powerful, and you wish to show them respect but no one taught you the custom. You are left to fumble around with whatever “peasant-like” greetings and politeness you may possess, knowing full well it’s only further exposing your ignorance. This is how I felt in front of Diana, in front of Venus de Milo, and later in the Musee d’Orsay when I first saw Monet’s water lilies, among countless other indescribably powerful pieces. Art has always had such a profound emotional impact on me that I have devoted the years since that first European trip to trying to understand these incredible masterpieces, the artist behind them, their inspiration, their techniques, and the world in which they lived.
But what does this have to do with old keys? Luckily I have incredible parents who wished to nurture within me and my sister, an understanding and a curiosity in other cultures, in arts, humanity, and adventure. We were always challenged and encouraged and exposed to new things, whether it was activities, sports, arts, music, people, cultures, races, or parts of the world. As we continued through our Parisienne cultural quest, my family arrived on a rainy day to the palace of Versailles. Now, I know that millions of people have visited Versailles since it’s been opened as a Historial site, as a museum, as a cultural landmark… but that didn’t stop me from feeling like I was the luckiest girl in the world to be seeing it. Before this moment, my life was a blissful combination of simple pleasures such as playing hockey, climbing trees, catching snakes, riding bikes, playing piano, riding horses, and running around in the mountains. To find myself in this palace, which first began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, then evolved to host the French Royal Court in 1682, it blew me away. To find yourself at 10 or 11 years old looking up at the ceilings in the Hall of Mirrors, trying to wrap your head around the fact that the King of France was living here in this grandeur, surrounded by this absolutely breathtaking compilation of baroque architecture, while in my country, most of the land still remained unmapped, and survival was only made possible through the knowledge, respect and compliance in nature.
Walking through these incredible halls, and out into the gardens, it’s no surprise that I spent the day imagining my life as une petite princesse francaise who wore beautiful gowns and powdered her hair, had servants at every door, wore beautiful nightgowns to bed and slept on a feather mattress. Now that I’m older such a vision has definitely changed for me. Obviously I would no longer be daydreaming about being a little princess if I were to visit Versailles again. I’d be the Queen dammit!! And I’d eat macarons and tea and was Marie-Antoinette really all that bad?! The point is, it doesnt matter who you are, where you come from, how old you are, how much or how little you have, when you arrive in a place like this for the first time (and even ever after), you cannot help but let your imagination run wild.
As we were leaving the Chateau, we passed through the Versailles Boutique. On every trip we took as a family, my parents always encouraged and allowed my sister and I the luxury of choosing a very special keepsake of our travels. Usually in my case it involved art, and still to this day, I have purchased a piece of art from every country I have visited. In the case of France, my decision was far more romantic, and for this reason, I think my parents just didn’t understand. I wanted the replica old key to the desk of Louis XIII. I can still picture that key in my mind. I remember how it felt in my hands and the feeling and inspiration it gave me to think that a KING used this key to unlock some private space in his most private world. A King’s secrets were kept with this key!! My parents gave me an odd look, discussed it amongst themselves for a moment, then decided I would definitely regret that decision once I saw something better and more “meaningful” somewhere else.
Ever since that day, for me, France has always represented that lost key. It was that lost opportunity, that fleeting moment of holding a piece of history in your hands and the potential of keeping it and making it your own. Yesterday, I was handed my own key. It unlocks more than just my apartment door. It unlocks a future, a moment, a potential, a freedom and a dream I never thought I would have. It may not be the key to a desk in Versailles, but it is the key to unlocking something even greater – my own little world where I rule over my own destiny, and my own happiness. This old key has made me free.