now that i've seen paris

Coincidence: This contest appeared like magic this morning, after I’d Googled “Win a Trip to Paris 2006.” The inspiration was an exquisite article by Joan Juliet Beck in the September issue of Travel + Leisure *. I admire her writing. She’s a graceful stylist who manages to get you to notice her prose without calling too much attention to it. Nothing look-at-me, or in this case, “Look ma, no hands!” about it. This is a piece about bicycle-riding in the park surrounding Versailles. Her opener: “The past is another country, and it's the only place I ever want to go. When the air collects into soup at the bottom of the bowl that Paris sits in, and the lady in the market corrects my request for ‘two pieces of roast beef’ to ‘two slices’ with a withering look, and I become too weary to rise above the passive-aggressive subtext in every exchange, I flee to a place of total and utter bliss.”

This piece plunged me into the past, a place I always want to go. I recalled Paris and Fontainebleau, the chateau I came to know when I lived in Fontainebleau (the ville, not the chateau) for several months as an au pair. The family lived in the woods on the outskirts of town in a brand new house that did not have a telephone. We took walks in these woods, their leaves a green that made my eyes ache dry, the air a mix of earthiness and champignon scent that left me craving ratatouille and other autumn fare. On the weekends, I’d head out to Paris and visit a friend who was studying there. We went to a place called Le Palace. One night I danced with members of The Village People. Most nights I was back in the banlieue, where it was quiet and dark and boring. After several months I left because I felt so isolated. I thought I’d get back to Paris for more than a visit. I thought I might one day live in Paris. So far, no go.

Which brings me to this contest for a shopping-spree trip Paris. It’s more complicated than most. You have to send an up-to-500-word essay about the biggest transformation in your life, along with a picture. The 10 finalists’ essays will appear on the Transformation Nation -- this is a promotion for Kohl's -- and people will vote for their favorite. That means if I make the final cut I will pester you for your vote. (Though if you’ve made the Top 10, you win a trip to L.A. Not bad.) Oops: Upon skimming the Official Rules, I see that the judges are going to score the entries thus: 45% for the uniqueness of the transformation, 45% of the transformation’s impact, 10% for the writing. Oh no. (Lesson: Read those Official Rules first!) My transformation has been interior with no exterior impact. Boo hoo. I might enter for the fun of it, with zero expectations. But if any of you out there are leading a high-impact existence, and think it's worth a shot, enter away.

To enter, click HERE.

* I sometimes write for Travel + Leisure.