In my travels around the world hunting the world’s finest cocoa beans and studying (and eating) the finest chocolates, I have had an incredible opportunity to see the world as no tourist ever would. Eating at a farmer’s table, being out on a remote farm at first light as dewdrops fall off the cocoa tree’s leaves, and working with some of the world’s finest chefs. Each leaves an indelible impression on my soul that will be with me for the rest of my life.
Occasionally, it is not the experience that leaves the memory but the lack of experience, much like the perpetual longing for a long-lost love. There is one haunting memory which I can not shake and which when I think of it leaves me quietly lost in thought. On one of my trips to Paris, I stayed at a hotel just up the hill from the bustling street of Saint Germain. The room was impossibly tiny, with only one foot between the bed and the wall and the television almost perched on the bed’s end. This is typical of hotel rooms in Paris, of course, unless you are one of the lucky ones who can afford one of the many luxurious Parisian hotels at over $10,000 a night, frequented by the Hollywood starlets and political movers and shakers
On the other hand, while my room was small I had two amazing advantages that the most luxurious hotels in Paris did not have. First, my small hotel room was only several blocks away from Pierre Herme’s famous pastry shop on Rue de Bonaparte, a little fact that I was sure to take advantage of time and time again. The second advantage of my room left me with a longing in my soul which has ever since left me unfulfilled and which, for the rest of my life, will leave me with a sense of wonder. Not the wonder of the magic of how a butterfly is able to mystically float on the morning air’s currents but the wonder of mystery and the realization that most likely, the answer to that mystery will likely not be revealed to me in my lifetime. Upon returning from buying pastries at Pierre Herme’s little store, I sat on the foot of my bed ready to dive in to the pastries that I treasured, for that moment, above almost all else. I pulled each pastry out of the bag I had clutched so carefully on the walk back to my hotel and placed each pastry in its box carefully on the bed. As I debated which to eat first, I stood to let some light into the room and threw back the blinds. A moment later, I stood framed by my window awestruck. Across the center courtyard was a window–a single, solitary window. The window opened onto a small deck. One half was swung open into the small room behind, the other half closed. Through a broken pane in the open window blew silken drapes, faded grey. The small deck drooped with age, and the grey wood flooring was riddled with rot.
In Paris, as my small room illustrated, each square foot is held in reverence. Very little in Paris has changed over the past few hundred years, with the exception of the names and faces of those who live there. Yet, here was a room that clearly has not been touched for decades. Throughout the day, I would check that lonely open window, wondering if perhaps there was someone who belonged to it. I stood watching the window half expecting to see an old man or woman in a faded, grey nightgown, grey like the drapes that blew so gently through the broken pane of the window. Each time I looked towards the window, my gaze was greeted not by an old man or woman whose children had grown up and was now widowed; lonely, and waiting for their time to come. Instead my gaze was greeted by the window that simply stared blankly back.
When night came, no light emanated from the window. I went to eat at one of my favorite Parisian restaurants, Chez Renee. It sits on Saint Germain, as it has since at least the 1950’s. Little has changed since it first opened its doors, including the waiters, who insist on speaking French (even though they all secretly understand and speak English when tipped with a few bars of Amano chocolate). Dinner was fabulous,+ and upon my return to my room, I rushed to my window, wondering if perhaps the owner had returned. Still, just as I had left it, the window stared blankly at the sky.
Throughout the rest of the week, I repeated again and again my ritual of watching the window. In the morning, it watched the sun bathe Paris in gentle morning light as the dew slowly dried. In the afternoon, the window watched as the residents of the building hung out their laundry and argued with their children. In the evening, the window waited expectantly for its owner to once again return home to close the broken window and to repair its panes. Ever since, I have wondered about the story behind that lonely window–the mystery of who lived behind the window’s empty gaze? What was their life like? Where did they go? Why was the window left open? How did the window pane break? How many years has that window watched the seasons change, wondering, itself, when it would once again be greeted by its owner? Perhaps one year not far in the future a young couple, newly married with dreams in their eyes, will grace the window with new, colorful drapes. They will place new wood flooring on the window’s deck, and each spring, bright flowers will sit on the deck, greeting the window as it gazes with new-found eyes from its high perch across the rooftops of Paris. And from that window perhaps the young couple will hold a babe in their arms, who, also, on growing up and reaching old age will watch the lights of Paris from that same window as the sun sets.
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