After 37 years, I am back in Paris. It feels as if I had just left about a month ago.
The streets come back easily, the language not quite so easily, but easier than I had imagined.
The crowds are greater, not just because it is June, but because the world is smaller.
More people travel more often. A multi-generational family from Brazil rode on the train with us yesterday from the Gare St. Lazare to Giverny to see Monet's house and garden.
The last time I was here, neither house nor garden was open daily to the public.
On Saturday thousands toured the gardens, which were a little past their spring prime. My niece and I had to imagine how the rows of irises would have looked, or the beds full of poppies. All of the peonies were gone too, just as in Baltimore.
Still the digitalis, the rudebekia, the butterfly bushes, baby's breath, Asiatic lilies and vignettes of annuals filled Monet's garden with color.
The house was bursting at the seams with tourists, too.
Still, we spent a long time in the studio, where good reproductions and old rugs gave us a sense of how this place might have felt on a warm summer day in another century.
For one moment on a shady path by a stream, we were the only walkers taking in a long view of the lily ponds, with the water lilies still in bloom. Later, in the town, we were the only walkers for a short stretch between ancient stone houses, and we imagined what the place would feel like with fewer tourists.
Soon enough, we stumbled on an ice cream truck with sorbets and coffee ice cream, sweet coolness as the temperature and the humidity climbed.
It was beginning to feel like the Baltimore I left behind, but not really. All around us people spoke German, Dutch, Japanese and French. The train back to Paris was filled with the Brazilian family and others from Nigeria, Ghanna, Denmark and Italy. One American couple rode with us, but they were quiet, unlike the American duo we heard before seeing them when we returned to Paris.
We are staying in a small neighborhood hotel filled with French tourists. No one speaks English. Not at the desk, not in the restaurant, not on the telephone. Fortunately, my niece is 40 years younger than I.
Her accent is Parisian. She recalls the words quickly. Between the two of us we are understood. We are comfortable prowling the more crowded streets, me showing her old haunts and together discovering new ones, using plastic cards rather than travelers' checks, checking e-mail when we visit our friend's house, feeling that the world has grown smaller, yet still holds the fascination of different cultures.