I’m not sure what to say. What do you say at the end of the greatest adventure of your life?
As you read this, I’m likely somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Likely feeling wistful, heartbroken, and already nostalgic. Likely plotting my imminent return.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m so incredibly excited to go home, see my family, and in January, to go back to New Orleans and resume my wonderful, equally charmed life there. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to leave Paris. It’s one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever said.
I recently read a book called “Paris Was Ours”. I had originally spotted it last summer in an Anthropologie store, of all places, and made a mental note to read it sometime. Well, the book turned out to be a compilation of memoirs written by authors who have, at some point and in some way, loved Paris. None of them arre true, born and bred Parisians–some were born here but left, others have an enduring on-again-off-again sort of relationship with the place, still others, like me, have borrowed it for a time. Claimed it as their own, if only for a moment.
Paris Was Ours.
I remember not quite getting the title the first time I saw the book. Paris Was Ours? It sounds vaguely romantic and weirdly possessive, kind of a strange way to express one’s love for a city. I didn’t give it much thought, until I read the book. But now–now I get it. I get it because Paris was ours. Paris was mine.
It’s difficult to explain. This is perhaps the most humbling city I can ever imagine living in. My oft-mentioned favorite guidebook, Let’s Go Europe, says “Paris will charm and bitchslap you with equal gusto”, and my God, are they right. I’ve never been anywhere so simultaneously enchanting and difficult. I spent the first half of the semester not entirely sure how I felt about Paris. One moment I was convinced it was heaven–say, as I took in the view from Montmartre or wandered through Luxembourg Gardens on a sunny day. The next, I was left feeling like I’d been doused with cold water after the taunting words of a shopkeeper or an especially brutal shove from a fellow pedestrian. Ouch.
Somewhere around the time I returned from Italy, though, things clicked. It wasn’t a gradual realization–it was sudden. I just knew that somehow, at some point, Paris had snuck its way into my heart, never to leave again. I felt, suddenly, like I got the city. Like it got me. No other place has ever made me so acutely aware of how very small I am in the world, but weirdly, in Paris, that’s empowering. Never have I felt like I have grown up so much in such a short period of time. This is dumb and cheesy and probably has come from the mouth of many a young twenty-something upon their return from such a trip, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so confident about who I am and what I want in life. (To be honest, I’m still not totally sure–far from it–but I guess I feel closer.) I think, for some reason, I love Paris all the more because I had to fight for it. Because it wasn’t instant and simple. It was something I had to earn. And it was so, so worth it.
What’s actually terrifying to me is that I was thisclose to not going abroad. And what’s even more terrifying is I don’t know that I would have regretted it as immensely as I should have, because I would have had no idea what I was missing. Which is everything. The world. The experience of a lifetime. The perfect flaky croissant. A thousand walks down St. Germain. Hundreds of miles around Luxembourg Gardens. Drinking wine beneath the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. The most exquisite crême brulée, a plate of fresh pasta, a late-night crepe. A million laughs and priceless moments shared with friends on bridges in Venice, beaches in Nice, at small, dimly-lit cafe tables in the 6th, on grassy hills in Montmartre. This semester has been made up of thousands of precious memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. I can’t imagine not having had them. Here, at the end, what I am most thankful for are whatever twists and turns of fate led me here when I myself was once so certain I’d be spending the fall in New Orleans, as per usual. And I love New Orleans, in a really big way, from the bottom of my heart, all-encompassing, ridiculous, unconditionally, love love love it kind of way. But I have seven semesters of that. I only have one of Paris. I wouldn’t even have known it, but not going would have, no doubt, been the worst mistake of my life. God knows these past four months haven’t always been easy. In many ways, going abroad was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But I can say, with 100% certainty, that it has been the most rewarding. For better or for worse–and I do believe it’s for better–I will return to America a different person. A person who belongs to Paris, and to whom Paris belongs. Because somewhere in the midst of everything, somehow, through the highs and lows, the ups and downs, Paris became mine.
I had a lovely last night in Paris. Dinner was eaten at what is perhaps my favorite restaurant yet (Les Editeurs in the 6th, if anyone’s interested). I had a quintessential French feast of French onion soup, a croque madame (sans jambon), and–what else?–crême brulée for dessert. It was raining in the most pleasant way possible—a Midnight in Paris rain–and, lo and behold, as I entered the metro to take line 10 home one last time, a musician was playing “Si tu vois ma mère”. (The song plays in the opening credits of the movie, a compilation of stunning and adoring shots of Paris–of places that, I am proud to say, I now know personally and can lead you to by foot, metro, or car.)
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear. It is one of the writers featured in Paris Was Ours who best describes this sense of nostalgia tinged with loss I’m already feeling:
“…and one day we knew that no matter where we might find ourselves in the world, Paris would be an ache in our hearts.”
Always, for the rest of my life, there will be a part of me that misses Paris when I am not here. Goodbye is too hard to say, so, instead, I will end this most wonderful of journeys not with the slightly more definitive “au revoir”, but with a simple “à bientôt”.
See you soon, Paris. I’ll make sure of it.