It’s an odd feeling, isn’t it – missing something before it’s left you. Unfortunately, time never slows in the face of nostalgia. Especially not in the warm-ish, glinting haze that is Paris in May.
Having been away from the City of Light for about a week and a half during spring break, I’d had some time to really understand what Paris and France mean to me. After only a few days spent crossing southern Italy, I started missing Paris, the French language, and the country as a whole. I realized gently that I’d grown as comfortable in Paris and in France as I had in the US.
Paris feels like home, and the French people do too – and I had no idea how much a place that wasn’t my home could feel like it. Life in Paris isn’t easy, and anyone who said it was probably stayed for a few days on the right bank close to the Seine and didn’t once step in dog poop. Any season of your life that’s spent immersed in a different culture, making constant mistakes (and growing progressively aware of them with each new mistake made), meeting new people and making new friends and putting yourself out there is going to be difficult. Paris, in its own enigmatic way, makes this even worse by being so damn alluring. Every winding alley beckons, especially when you’re on your way to the library or trying to catch up on some sleep.
And yet, just as I feel the city and my time here slipping through my fingers, I can feel how much I’ve grown. Paris is a reminder that hard work should, and needs to be, balanced with play. That a life without joy is just as silly as a life without any hard work. Paris giveth and Paris taketh away, making the past semester exhausting and exhilarating and hard and yet easily the most fun I’ve ever had.
The real Paris isn’t easy nor is it simple, and perhaps that’s what makes it so real: it presents a life that is a fairytale-imagined, simultaneously peppered with everyday inconveniences. It’s expensive, the tourists are teeming, and you can’t pass a street without dodging streams on the sidewalk from men and dogs and particularly amusing (read: intoxicated) women. Regardless, there’s a living, breathing, thrumming undercurrent in this city that offers an original experience to those who know where to look… like the time I went out for a drink with a friend and ended up staying out until 3 am because some guy in a bar turned out to be a world-renowned illusionist –seriously, he started bending spoons and levitating euros and reading minds – or the nights I spent figure drawing in bars.
That’s my Paris: unexpectedly warm and inviting, rich in imagery and experience. Paris asks that you leave your apartment some days without any expectation of the day to follow, using a compass found only within yourself to navigate its winding streets. Paris has taught me to embrace my new mastery of Franglish, and the sensation that maybe work isn’t the most important thing in life; Paris has underlined the importance of sharing experiences with people you love, and embracing the uncomfortable sensation of growing out of an older version of yourself. Merci.