It was unseasonably cold for that time of the year. In my mad rush to pack a suitcase, I didn’t bother to check weather.com so I could bring the “right” clothing. We had enjoyed temperatures in the 70s in Chicago the week of May 20 so my wishful thinking won over. When I stepped out of the Metro after the train ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport, I headed straight for Monoprix across the street from my hotel. A light jacket and scarf would be enough to add to a layering of summer shirts, I thought. I was just glad to have had enough presence of mind to pack the right attire for the wedding.
My cousin, Alexa, and her partner of seven years, Jérémie, were to be married on Friday. They already had the state-required civil wedding the week before and the intimate church wedding with immediate family a few days after. More relatives were flying in for the big outdoor ceremony at a ranch 80 km outside of Paris. It was the perfect venue for more than a hundred people to witness their renewal of vows in the afternoon, then dinner and dancing in the evening. Everyone was radiant and in great spirits until the first sign of dawn.
Overnight accommodations at the ranch were simple yet impeccable. Log cabins were spacious enough to accommodate families with kids and had a rustic elegance. I knew my life partner would have enjoyed it there. Curt grew up in a farm in northwest Wisconsin. He would have felt at home in La Boissière-École. Driving back to the city through the charming French countryside stirred the soul and inspired me to return with Curt. Sharing the experience with him would be a great way to celebrate our seventeenth year.
Arriving back in Paris in the middle of the afternoon still allowed me time to explore some landmarks in the vicinity. Missing Alexa’s church wedding made me think about the Sainte-Chapelle, a royal medieval Gothic chapel in the first district, currently undergoing a full and careful restoration of its stained glass windows. The process started in 2008. The 1,113 scenes depicted in the 15 stained glasses windows tell bible stories from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection. From sunrise to sunset, they have been glowing curtains that have illuminated the faces of generations in the hope to inspire reverence and preserve a faithful community through the centuries.
Walking through the streets the next day with my sister and aunt, I noticed that all the florists in the area were open and had spilled into the sidewalks. Most of the brasseries were full and some had lines of people waiting. Typical Sunday? We walked into Brasserie Suffren and learned it was Mother’s Day in France. I thought this would be a great way to make up for everyone in my family being separated by crazy schedules earlier in the month. It turned out to be a special Mother’s Day celebration for us three.
As we were enjoying our desserts, adults and children were walking the streets in large groups heading in the same direction and carrying pink and blue flags with what looked like graphic symbols of family. Media crews appeared close behind. Public transit was shut down, streets were barricaded and crowds were forming in the heart of the 6th district. Later in the day, the news channels reported on how opponents of same-sex marriage have brought parts of French cities to a standstill over recent months with demonstrations. The protest I saw that day was attended by more than 150,000 people after the bill had already been signed into law ten days ago. Clashes with police resulted in 293 arrests. On Sunday, May 26, 2013, the City of Love saw, heard, smelled, tasted and touched hate.
The train ride back to CDG airport was a bag of mixed feelings. Although I speak très little français, I felt sad leaving the comfortable embrace of Paris. I could see myself living there one day. At the same time, I couldn’t wait to be home. Chicago greeted me with rainclouds as the plane landed. I’m glad Curt was able to take a long lunch at work so he could pick me up from O’Hare. He took the next two days off so we could catch up after my week-long trip. He mentioned that the Illinois House would be in session on the 31st to call a vote on the Marriage Equality Bill. Today, we know that did not happen.
God willing in 2014, Curt will be employed more than a year and will be allowed to take longer vacations. We’re already dreaming about celebrating the first wedding anniversary of Alexa and Jérémie with their combined family. Hopefully they decide to return to the rustic cabins of La Boissière-École. I’m sure Curt will choose the beds on the loft. His love for art and architecture will draw him to the then fully restored stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle. Hopefully they’ll have places to sit. Curt will want to spend at least an hour admiring the glow. Maybe the waiter at Suffren will recognize me when Curt and I walk in on Mother’s Day. Hopefully the trains and buses will be operating.
In Paris, everyday is a special day. You can see it in every face. There is always a reason to celebrate who you love and who you call family.