Courtesy Audrey Edwards
I was 30 the first time I saw Paris, and I vowed to return there to live when I was 35, an age I considered to be at the peak of young, grownup and stylish. "Yes, I'm going to come back here to live," I told my friend Jo Lowrey that day at the Palace of Versailles, envisioning a romantic life of style, culture and worldly men.
Jo and I had been college roommates, and here we were a dozen years later, still the best of friends. Jo was already living in Paris, having married a sexy Frenchman a couple of years before. Still single, I came for a visit, fell in love with a city and dreamed of returning.
It took another 30 years for me to get back to Paris, but I still believed in stylish dreams, even in the face of real-life endings. The year before, I had mourned the loss of my mother, a former boyfriend and a close girlfriend. Life is fleeting, fragile, I realized, with the sobering thud that death always brings. Why not go for the dream while the going is good?
Jo agreed. She still lived in Paris, and we were both now divorced. She got to keep the big five-bedroom apartment. Two of her 20-something kids were out of the house. There was a room waiting for me, she said. But could I really go back to living with a roommate at this age? Could I really live in a foreign, expensive city? There was only one way to find out.
I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport on a Saturday in October of my 60th year. Jo was there to meet me. We took a cab to her sprawling apartment, where my room was large and sunny, overlooking a pretty, tree-lined boulevard. I was already starting to feel more stylish than I'd felt in a while.
The plan had been for me to learn French over the years, but that never happened. So I enrolled at the Alliance Français language institute, where I was the oldest one in the class by 30 years. "We don't believe you!" said the spitfire little French teacher on the first day of class when I told my age. I was flattered, but as age would have it, I turned out to be one of the slow learners. "D'accord?" the teacher always asked. "OK?" "No." I never hesitated to say I didn't get it. The kids in the class who didn't understand either would look at me with gratitude. I was the older madame with nothing to prove who would get the teacher to explain things more clearly. I became popular, respected, even admired.
The worldly man I ended up keeping company with was an old flame of my best friend back in the States, who had told him to look out for me. He was a brooding, 63-year-old African American expatriate — broke, homeless, brilliant, crazy and fluent in French — who railed against Barack Obama while extolling the virtues of his many French friends who took him in. I hung out with him in noisy bistros, where we drank wine and argued politics. I bought the wine; he argued the politics.
Yet the beat between Jo and me went on in perfect rhythm. We slid into being roomies at 60 as easily as we had at 18. We once thought we'd change the world. Now we're just grateful to still be in it, and still be fast friends. Sadly, finances forced me to leave my beloved Paris and return to the States within a year. But I felt I had jump-started my life and discovered that stylish new beginnings can occur at any age. To paraphrase that lovely line from Casablanca, I will always have Paris.
Audrey Edwards, a former magazine editor and author, is now a New York real estate broker.