En Plein Air & the Art of Time Travel
Visiting home by way of the treadmill in a Paris gym
A strange thing happens at the Keep Cool gym on rue de Lisbonne, a quarter mile from our apartment in Paris. After swiping my card to get in the door, Bonjouringthe guy behind the desk, stashing my bag in the locker, stepping on the treadmill, adjusting my ear pods, and clicking “start” on my Couch to 5K app, I tap plein air on the treadmill screen and select etape 1.
And then, 5,560 miles from home, I start walking familiar streets.
There is Lake Merced to my left, grayish and silent in the fog. I walk past the apartments on Front Street my husband and I used to dream of living in, when we had just moved to San Francisco in 1999 and I was managing an apartment building in the Castro. My app switches from “warm up” to “jog,” and I pick up speed. I pass the thin woman with the yellow dog, the small bridge leading deeper into the lake, the kid raising a Coke to his lips, the tall man waiting by the porta-potty, glaring accusingly into the camera.
I pass the blue Jeep Cherokee parked along the curb, slowing, as I always do, to try to read the license plate, because it looks exactly like the Jeep Cherokee my husband and I drove to Lake Merced hundreds of times, from 1999 to 2017, when we finally sold it to a young couple who loves old Jeep Cherokees as much as we do, who promised us they would take good care of it.
And that is only etape 1. There’s another tape that runs along the cliffs of Fort Funston overlooking the Pacific, where I used to walk among the dog-walkers — as a 29-year-old just arrived in San Francisco, later as a newlywed, later still as a young mother toting my baby boy in a Baby Bjorn. At the beginning of the tape, I pass a woman standing with three dogs at the top of the long sand ladder leading up from the Great Highway. There is the water fountain where we used to stop, after the exhausting climb up the sand ladder, to watch dogs drink from the bowls. I follow the path through the eucalyptus and the ocean comes into view.
Michelle Richmond is the author of five novels and two story collections. A native of Alabama and longtime resident of Northern California, she now lies in Paris. Her most recent novel, The Marriage Pact, is available in French as Piege Conjugal. Her literary mystery The Year of Fog was a major bestseller in France as L’annee brouillard.