Road to Elsewhere Excerpt #45*: Why Did I Leave Paris?
And other bad ideas, explained. WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY PETER MOORE
I LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT PARIS — the language, the fragrant Metro, the vin du table, and my appealingly freckly French teacher.
Au revoir to all that.
In pursuit of what?
I was embracing change, for its own sake, even though I’d already effected a wholesale transformation by crossing the Atlantic ocean and living in French. In eight weeks I learned to drink coffee (cheaper than tea, in Paris cafes), fell in love a few times (Diamant, et al, but also countless Metro crushes and art-gallery intrigues),
and absorbed enough French to sass waiters right back.
I was drunk with France in every way possible.
I was using the lifetime version of a TV remote to press “next…” “next…” “next…,” especially when the current programming was threateningly romantic.
I was running scared.
From the rapidly fading glory of my undergraduate “accomplishments.”
From my aloneness on the far side of a crowded family life.
From my mom, because we shared so many terrors (sex, organized crime, strangers).
From the United States, which was oppressive from sea to shining sea. (Where did I fit in? Where was I welcome?)
From the office buildings and split-level ranches of adulthood, upon whose doorstep I felt abandoned.
From my post-graduate uselessness, which seemed likely to extend into a useless lifetime.
I could interpose England between me and the unknown roads and scary dead ends, so I did.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Mr. Magoo version), plus Disney’s English oeuvre — Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and 101 Dalmations — convinced me, from toddlerhood on, that London was the capital of Whimsical Shit Happening. A nanny arriving via umbrella, and Dick Van Dyke with a cockney accent! Dogs barking to warn about Dalmation abductions! Mr. Magoo turkey-bombing Bob Cratchit in Dickensian England! And — why not? — Julie Andrews with an English accent whirling on a mountain top in Austria! Anything was possible!
As soon as I saw Captain Hook’s animated galleon flying over London I too wished that I’d fallen out of a baby carriage, was left unclaimed for seven days, and thus eligible to join the Lost Boys. I was already lost behind three older brothers. Why not move to Never Land, eschew bathing, and wear torn clothing?
Or simply escape to those other fantasy islands, England and Ireland, plus Scotland and Wales?
*On alternating weeks (or, alternately, when the mood strikes) I run excerpts from The Road to Elsewhere, my forthcoming-of-age-travel-memoir-with-funny-drawings. (The first entry is here. Most recent one is here. Or head for my complete archive here.) It details the story of my road through Paris, London, and god help me, Zagreb, in search of the ultimate destination: a life worth living. The story so far: Young Peter has arrived in Paris, occupied a dorm room at the Alliance Française language school, tiptoed out onto the Boulevard Raspail and the Paris Metro, and made the first steps on the road to elsewhere. Hey, I have an idea: Let’s go to England next!