December 16, 2010 § 3 Comments
The last time she came to visit, my best friend asked me if I believed Paris was the « city of love, » as people often say. I think I replied to the negative, laughable as it was that this city full of aggressive French men coming at you in every direction could ever hold the keys to my heart. Afterall, this is a city where it is hard to walk out of a restaurant without a waiter’s number, where we have bartenders who have never charged us and take us out to questionable places after they close up the bar. A boring Tuesday night might include bringing home two red roses, my crepe vendor keeps requesting my email so that I can send pictures from America but I keep going back because I swear they’re the best crepes in town. I have now finally learned to avoid eye contact after being followed through several metro changes. One of my very first days here I was shoved into a wall in broad daylight on a busy sidewalk by a guy who wanted to kiss my face, you can hardly walk down the street without having to say, “Désolée, je n’ai pas de numéro de téléphone.” I have sat in smoky bars at night, wishing only for 5:30 to come so the metro would start running again and I could escape the griminess of men sitting uncomfortably close to me.
Where is this, you may ask, surely this is not the beautiful, classy, romantic Paris they show you in the movies. No, this is the Paris of real-life nights that end at 7 a.m., nights of pushing through crowds, dancing to house music that seems to shake your insides, the Paris that hardens you, makes people say “la vie à Paris, c’est dure non?” and then the Paris that, after a long fight, finally lets you breathe, lets your soul take that raspy first breath after hours spent in the smoke and the sweat, pressed against leather jackets and legs propped up in 4-in stilettos. Because it is Paris that has taken my heart afterall, not one of the “friendlier” French cities. And after three months here, when I went out for a Thanksgiving dinner with some Americans here, and the waiter actually thought I was French, I swore I never wanted to leave this country. This country where the espresso shot is not in fact taken as a shot to keep you awake while studying, but actually savored as a way to end a pleasurable meal, and where hazelnut is the only natural accompaniment to milk chocolate. Where strange noises like “Bah” seem to have been adopted into the language as if they were actual words, where one would never dream of being discreet about the giving of extremely critical once-overs on the street, where hugs are replaced by two kisses, even amongst people who have just met.
But despite its eccentricities and its failures — the lack of taxis being one of my main concerns — Paris allowed me to grow in a way no other city has. Being for the first time wholly and completely alone in a new city has forced me to have lunch with people I would never have spoken to in the states and who have ended up surprising me for the better. It has forced me to accept that things are usually — and especially in France — not going to go my way and when it comes down to it, life is about just letting yourself go where you know you want to go and forgetting the rest. For me, it has been about learning certain neighborhoods like the back of my hand so that I only need myself to get out of situations. And for all the times we have stood on street corners waiting for buses and taxis that never came, there have also been times when walking from the 16eme to the 5eme meant seeing the sunrise, times when a smile could get you a brioche from the local boulanger. And when, even though you ditched out on the 850 euro table he bought you at the club, he offers you money for the cab ride home and still wishes you a “bon voyage” the next week, you know you are leaving a lot of good people — and very good-hearted city — behind. And so Paris, even though you may sometimes come off as cold and standoffish, and even though I was sometimes scared and put off and felt like running away, je t’adore. Though I am still struggling to accept that “J’adore” means “I like” and not “I adore.” So when I say je t’adore, I really mean I adore you.