Last week, I sat on the Eurostar train from London to Paris. It was an early morning commute from the UK to France, and after queuing in the food car behind the dozens of others awaiting their tea, coffee and croissant, I found myself back in my seat, pondering how to spend the next two hours.
I decided 7AM was too early for diving into my book on neuroscience and music. No, something simpler would have to do -- but since I didn't have a window seat, soaking in the pastoral (and often not-so-pastoral) views wouldn't work, either. I glanced around, tapped my feet a bit, and sighed.
What does one do while they're awaiting their first steps on Parisian soil?
And so I turned to what I often try to shy away from on these types of trips: technology. Within a moment, I had selected a Dvořák playlist -- and was immediately transported to Prague, 1877, where Antonín himself first performed Romance, Op. 11 in F Minor. The sad, trying violin coursed through my head, crying high notes and blossoming into a sweeter, hopeful, melodious sound. My eyes were closed. I hit repeat. And for the next hour, I sat in this lovely world, en route to what many call the most romantic city in the world.
The funny thing about music is that it manages to shape experiences and record the memories around you. The funny thing about Dvořák's Romance is that although it was first performed in Eastern Europe, my association with it now places me in Paris' narrow, cobblestone streets; it takes me to Marais, to Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, to rainy, afternoon walks along the Seine. It sings me straight to the Tuileries Garden, to the Musée d'Orsay, to the falafel shops and cafes and street vendors cast across the city. It took what was once a very specific romance and catapulted it into this sphere where it was now my romance.
My second night in Paris, I met with a group of friends at a wine bar on the Rue de Seine. Within a few hours we had taken to the streets, where our fellow American-turned-expat guide showcased his extensive knowledge of all things quirky and Parisian. By the time we looped back around to the Centre Pompidou, I found myself suddenly twirled into a wine-induced embrace, bent over backwards and laughing into the Paris night.
In that moment, I heard the soft surge of the orchestra behind the violin as it began to pick up tempo. It quickened, then slowed, then quieted until it gradually began to grow again and eased into a lovely, satisfying calm. And then just as suddenly as it began, he let go -- and I was back on my feet.
That was my romance.
As I sat on the train home on my return to London, I could think only of what Dvořák's might have been. No matter the season nor place nor century, romance -- in every sense of the word -- continues to endure. If you're lucky, maybe a musical memory or two might tag along for the ride.
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