The closest French embassy in my region of the United States is in Los Angeles. Hence, exactly one year ago I got into my mom’s hand-me-down Nissan and drove for six hours through the desert, all for a 15-minute appointment at the French visa office and another mediocre mug shot to add to my collection. One might say this was the beginning of my unpleasant relationship with French bureaucracy. I’d say it was the start of an unexpected and unconditional love.
Spoiler alert: I leave Paris and fly back to the States on August 7th. My relationship to this looming date of departure has changed constantly ever since I bought the ticket late this winter, shifting from relief, to anticipation, to indifference. But it is only now that I look at the calendar and feel my heart sink. It seems now that Paris has finally nudged itself into a corner of who I am, I am forced to pack that corner up and throw its contents into the attic of my past.
Perhaps the only comfort I have to hold onto is that I know now that I will be coming back. Like a dear friend you know you will see again, sometime, however ever far off, in the future, I can feel intuitively that I will be coming back to Paris. Not just for a weekend, but for another bout of life. I love this city the way I love my sister—not just because she fills me with joy, but because I had no other choice.
That may sound dramatic, but the truth is I tried rather desperately not to come to Paris for my junior year of college. Outrageous, I know. Yet the grandeur of Paris didn’t attract me; the romantic allure of it didn’t pull me in. I had wanted a “raw” experience, to use my own words. I wanted to go somewhere new and get my hands dirty.
But none of the other programs I looked at fit my academic and financial criteria, so I settled for Paris. The day I stepped out of the métro and into the hot Parisian sun, dripping with sweat from schlepping my bags through the underground, I arrived with skepticism. The fact that the métro doesn’t contain a single disability ramp to make the lives of people with disabilities or travelers with luggage a little easier didn’t help.
As I settled in and met fellow international students, however, my skepticism waned and I was soon absorbed by the excitement of making a new life in a new place. Those first few months were embellished with fantasy-like moments—sharing a bottle of wine by the Seine, folk dancing at night with strangers, gazing out across rooftops, stealing yourself for a kiss that would never come. Almost anything seems enchanted against a Parisian night sky.
Then winter came and the days turned wet and cold. With no sun to blind my eyes, I could suddenly see all of the filth, poverty and cruelty that Paris hid beneath abandoned storefronts and dripping bridges. I spurned the city and its people. Paris, I felt, was a facade.
And that is where my relationship with the City of Light began to grow. During the long, frigid winter I fought off waves of depression and bitterness with numerous efforts to regain my affection for Paris. I struggled to see all that the city had to offer, and had to push myself to create happiness where I thought there was none. I learned not only to accept Paris, but to love her—flaws and all. And the only reason I managed to do so was because I had no other choice. I was stuck with Paris, and she was stuck with me. Now, we’re inseparable.
And so it is, with only 23 days to go, that I am preparing myself to leave her, for now. When I finally do, I will not, however, say goodbye. Rather, I will blow a kiss and say, au revoir! Literally, ma Paris, until next time.
Celebrating another year, and a first year— 14th of July flypast over the Champs Elysée, Paris.