I hope you are just as in love with the place you live in as I am in love with Paris. Version française de ce billet.
A friend once told me at a café terrace on a summer afternoon that I was the most Parisian person she had ever met. I do, in some aspects, fit one of the clichés that wander through the city, with my soft coats, colorful clothes, love for contemporary art exhibitions, nights at the theater, fast-paced steps, long-lasting bond with my exceptionally skilled cobbler, and overall freedom given by a fairly flexible freelancer’s schedule. But I would say that being Parisienne has more to do with how I do things than with the things I do themselves.
Over the past 15 years, Paris has become my longest lasting relationship, the safest and probably the most open one. The city I arrived in as a very young adult has become a home, a friend, a lifeline. An endless realm of paths to get lost on and opportunities to find myself again.
After all this time, I still look up and am amazed by things I think I know (an unexpected glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, new sandwiches at one of my favorite cafés) and by things I seem to see for the first time (a richly decorated metro entrance, a random bar I love the music of).
I was semi-seriously considering leaving Paris when that friend told me how Parisian I was. In weighing the pros and cons of following what I thought was love, the idea of being so attached to the city felt like a weakness holding me back. When asked in Spring over a year ago to which other French city I could move to, I toyed around with several answers before the person in front of me concluded: “Is the answer ‘none of the above’? You’re not willing to leave!” I hated to admit it, but all those cities, no matter how attractive they seemed, just weren’t mine. They weren’t the city with the streets, museums, theaters and most importantly friendships that supported me through love, heartbreak, despair, joy and ice cream cravings.
No other city in France offers that balance of ease and uncertainty, of feeling like myself and questioning my sense of self, of daydreaming on my own one minute and being surrounded by friends the next, of being exactly where I should be and knowing there is no such place. Of being at peace and craving for a better world.
I said jokingly last winter that my love for Paris saved my life and my sanity, but it was not really Paris, it was how it makes me feel, the habits I built and the friends I met. The ability to be anonymous in the crowd and then to chit-chat with your favorite bartender, to run into a friend from high school in a local restaurant and to have an unexpected lunch with another long-lost one who has successfully moved away (but is coming back often). People for whom I have carried pretty much everything in my bike basket – everyday groceries and birthday flowers, cookies for first dates and conferences, grief in bottles of wine and fancy delicious pick-me-ups – and who have been equally thoughtful to me, if not more (certainly more). And who have shown me that here you have the freedom to be whoever you want, even if that person is just yourself.