Tag Archives: letter from paris

Dear Paris: A year ago today I thought I could never love you

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.

Bastille Day Flypast

Celebrating another year, and a first year— 14th of July flypast over the Champs Elysée, Paris.

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Letter from Paris: Halfway Through

Nearly five months after I moved to Paris, I’ve finally found a café where I feel at home: L’Arobase, metro François Mitterrand. I am there now, writing this letter and watching bundled pedestrians hustle by, striding through their own chilled exhalations. The baristas here are happy to make me a café allongé. The rest of the crowd doesn’t gawk, astonished, at the feminist stickers on my laptop. And the tarte salée? Divine. L’Arobase welcomes you in and hopes you’ll stay awhile. It is a nice reprieve from the harsh, turbulent world that waits just outside its door.

If you’ve been following along, you may have noticed that I’ve become increasingly negative over the last few months. I don’t speak very highly of the City of Lights, and I’m sorry if I’ve crushed anybody’s dreams of living out their Parisian fairytale. In many ways, this city lives up to its romantic expectations, but there is a lot of grime and darkness that you don’t get acquainted with until you live here. Hopefully, the worst of Paris doesn’t get under your skin and into your bloodstream. Me, I’ve known for awhile now that Paris has wearied my spirit, but I didn’t think it had changed me. It took another set of eyes to see the transformation.

My best friend came to visit me for ten days during Christmas and New Years. Within a few days of his arrival, it became evident there was tension between us. It obscured the happiness of our reunion like rain obscures a window pane. By his last night here, the tension had grown unbearable, and we talked it out. There is one thing he said that refuses to leave my thoughts: “I came to Europe to see my best friend,” he said, “but I feel like I haven’t seen very much of her.”

I am not the same person I was five months ago. For the first time, I feel like the warmth in my heart is ephemeral, flickering like a flame fighting for air. I hate to lay all the blame on Paris, but life here has tested me. Each day is a series of small, yet unnerving battles: The fight to wake in the morning, knowing the sun, though it will rise, may never kiss my skin; the fight to make it through the metro, where people roll off escalators like rocks falling in a landslide; the fight to get a healthy meal, to stretch my euro as far as it will go. A euro can buy a baguette, if you’re in the right neighborhood.

I know I speak from a place of privilege. I have a bed to sleep in, food to eat and a mother to help me pay the bills. I know I am lucky to even be here in the first place. And trust me— I am grateful. In fact, I believe that because day-to-day life here is so austere, I appreciate the gifts I have in my life more than I did when I began this journey. I have love, security, family, friends, education. I am blessed, and now more than ever I do not take that for granted. Living here has made me grateful for all I have. But it has hardened me, too.

Perhaps I am merely homesick and longing for Arizona, where the sky is almost always blue and the Earth unfolds before your feet for miles upon miles—endless, like time. Each morning there the sun floods the horizon, dabbling the sky in pinks, oranges and blues, as Michelangelo painted Heaven. It’s impossible not to greet the day in Arizona. And when the sun falls at night, its glimmer compels you to sit out on the porch, on a mountaintop, on the grass, to watch every last beam of red fade to black before you bid goodbye.

There, beneath that fiery sky, I was not a cold person. I am not a cold person. But here in Paris I wear a steely exterior to defend myself. I have to wonder whether Paris did this to me, or whether I let Paris do this to me. Could I have fought harder to keep my smile?

In any case, I am dedicating the next five months to getting my smile back. It is time to reclaim this experience. It is time to reclaim my Self.

—Savannah

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