Tag Archives: life

When Paris met my Past

Summer days in Paris seem to stretch beyond their expiration, spilling over from the day before, scents of wild lavender and hot asphalt heavy in the humid air. The sky peels its usual gray and redresses in cumulus clouds contrasted against a vivacious blue. Six months had passed since I’d seen anyone in my family. I had planned to get to the airport early, directions ready and itinerary full, to prove to my father, Dave, that I had shed my negligence like a bird molts its old feathers. Instead I waited for a half hour at the station, the iron-toned crescendos of approaching trains overpowering the country music in my headphones, songs Dave used to play during family road trips. Each time a train passed I tensed at its preceding wind, that feeling of time crushing forward.

Once inside, I flitted through the crowded terminal searching for Dave and spotted him quickly. He stood as usual with hislegs slightly wider than hip distance apart, his hands folded in front of him, chewing at his mustache: a solid, stationary figure amidst a blur of luggage. He wrapped him arms around me, secure as the covers he’d tuck around me as a child, and I relaxed into a girlish giddiness. Reconstructing my life in a new city gave me an anonymity that often hindered conversations deeper than short-term goals and alcohol preference. I started spewing stories and ideas I’d collected during the past months like the excited chirping that greets the sunrise. I wanted to flaunt Paris from every facet, to show him the flowers that spilled from window baskets, the storefronts full of fresh cheese and soft pastries, the narrow streets, the fresh bread available at practically any moment—all the reasons I had started to make it my home.

Later that morning I ordered a croissant and pain au chocolat for each of us, cradling the warm greasy bag in my arm as we ambled from the Champs de Mars to Place de la Concorde. We contemplated historical monuments and museums from their exteriors before sidestepping the mass of people pushing to get inside like ants on too few crumbs. We craved evolution, the shifting patterns and transitory trends found when people watching on a café terrace. The afternoon unwound into a cacophony of bike bells, car engines and foreign voices mixed with excess cigarette smoke. He told the same jokes he always had, and I laughed at the sight of them against a new backdrop. He was unchanged, as always. One constant I could count on.

Dave walked past the outlines of my memories: that bench near the Eiffel Tower where I spent a frosty evening with a bottle of wine; the bar where an awkward Brit solicited me for a “cheeky kiss”; the restaurant of Fabienne’s goodbye dinner; the metro stop where I first met Sophie. He pointed out things I once found remarkable but had since grown accustomed to, like saxophonists in the metro, open alcohol bottles in public, the relatively litter-free streets, the culinary genius of the saucisson. I didn’t realize until then that I lived two lives, one in the states where my life was defined by an absence, and one in Paris where I attempted to tie random twigs and ribbons into a resilient reality. Something about this gave me the feeling of flying upside down; I knew intimately a city that Dave had never before visited, tasted a language he couldn’t speak, felt the electricity of expatriatism. He teased me for my snobbishness when I pointed out the difference between a good and poor quality baguette and it occurred to me that I felt guilty for knowing something more than he did. Or maybe I felt disillusioned. The age gap between us does close to a smaller percentage each day.

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happiness doesn’t have to be a holiday

Even though the calendar scheduled spring for two weeks ago, Paris remains trapped in winter. I sit before a window on the second floor of Shakespeare & Co., its aged glass warping my view of the Notre Dame’s naked stones against a slate sky. Still, persistent tourists crowd around the looming saints and gargoyles, cameras posed in an attempt to capture forever what has already existed longer than themselves—and what will continue to stand for years after they’re gone.

I’ve never lived in a city before, much less a city so soaked in antiquity. The present blends effortlessly with the past as people walk the same ground that Hentry VI of England strode for his 1431 coronation, where a pack of rampant wolves were slayed in 1450 after taking the lives of forty Parisians, and more than three hundred years later, the Festival of Reason, when philosophers attempted to rip Christianity from the cathedral and instill within it their own liberated beliefs.

Thousands of other stories never made it to the history books. I watch from my seat as several hundred more lives create their own small anecdotes, each person a microcosm that I see briefly, nothing more than an out-of-focus speck in a photograph, a blurred face that will appear in a dream and later be forgotten, the world continually in transit.

Before I arrived in Paris two months ago, I spent most of my time romanticizing the past or plotting the future, which did little more than exhaust satisfaction from my present. Slowly I’m learning how to stay grounded. Paris certainly helps—it has the unique ability to coerce one to live in the moment, because it appeals to every sense (no wonder it is a Mecca for artists).

Sometimes I think I must be crazy – I quit a good-paying job, broke up with my boyfriend and left everyone I know behind in order to become an au pair in a foreign country. But when I really reflect upon everything, I always come to the same conclusion: risks are necessary. Discovering and learning to appreciate oneself is worth any inconvenience. Even when something tries to scare you, don’t let it. Be fearless. It’s time to quiet our minds, grow away from the past and start creating a history worth retelling in our years to come.

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