My good friend Brian (he’s the one in the pictures) shared this a little over a week ago with our friends from our time in Paris and I couldn’t help but share it with you. Although some of the details are personal to our friends, and some of our opinions are a different (there is much better cuisine than French, Brian – its way too thick, creamy, and meat-based for me), I think it is a wonderful summary of our time abroad (although he was lucky enough to do a bit more traveling than I…).
“Ah ma vie! The suitcases have been put back into storage. The innumerable pictures sorted, (posted on facebook of course), cataloging a journey that seems comme un rêve in retrospect. Reunions with friends and quintessential American cravings satisfied: a juicy burger, a slice of pizza, a bean burrito, skim milk. Home is how it has always been; steadfast, familiar, and filled with a constant stability. And yet surrounded by a life that I have always known, I find myself thinking, “Can I go back to Paris already?”
Although my life in Paris lasted only 4 months, they were 4 glorious months; without a doubt the best of my life. My time in Europe can best be described as a dream, for surely real life does not consist of frolicking in Paris everyday where the doctor-prescribed cure for boredom is to hop on a plane and fly to a new country. I visited 10 countries in 4 months! Sometimes when I reminisce I am unable to comprehend how much I saw in so little time. I have always possessed the traveling bug but hopping to a new city each weekend serves as such stark contrast to the reality I have returned to in the US. Despite the travels, we somehow managed to learn a lot without having any homework. I would not really call study abroad college, yet I feel pretty well versed in French politics and I think I can call myself quite the savant concerning the tumultuous history of the city of lights (not to mention French cheese).
But oh what a city Paris is! For those ignorant few, who cannot appreciate the grandeur and beauty of a city so steeped in a timeless history or those who see Paris as a city of snobs not worth visiting, I really have nothing to say. La Ville de Lumiere has a sparkle that simply cannot be matched by any other place that I have ever witnessed. It is true that the Parisians are proud, but in my estimation they are entitled to pride, living in such a city like Paris. They actually enjoy Americans, especially the younger generation, probably in part due to their support for Obama. Surprisingly they fail to smoke as much as the movies depict, although it is quite jarring to see 20 high school students lighting up outside of class. And for the life of me, I really have yet to figure out the secret of how they all stay so damn skinny. I mean they definitely eat less but the food is just so decadent! MY GOD. Heaven is surely fed by a French chef. Pastries, Baguettes, Cheese, Wine, Escargot, Duck Confit, Foie gras… I don’t need to go on. It’s the best food in the world. WITHOUT A DOUBT.
Nonetheless, having toured Europe and been fortunate enough to see many countries in my 21 years, I can confidently say that Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. Just start with the Haussmanian buildings: uniform yet so ornate, probably the reason why Paris earns such an allure. There is something magical about walking around Paris, best seen from the stunning opera district with its grand boulevards and balconies running for as far as the eye can see, that makes one stop and simply marvel. Or how can you not fall in love with Paris if you see the Eiffel tower sparkle? Gaze at it from anywhere in the city and there is something so captivating and romantic that just causes you to sigh in hopeless restlessness, either that or fake cry over the fact that there is no one beside you to kiss passionately. WARNING. If you see it sparkle from Trocadero, a stroke induced out of sheer emotion-induced overload may result. Furthermore, here is a philosophical conundrum to mull over: What is more beautiful, Paris at night or Paris during the day (preferably the Spring time)? I really have not decided, and I don’t think I ever will when I’m faced with ranking a stroll along the Seine with a Berthillion cone in hand versus a nighttime romp around the Louvre to see le grand pyramid and get a drink.
As for a favorite neighborhood in Paris, that is just too hard of a designation. I mean ask all my friends and they will tell you that I’m in love with the 16th arrondissement, my home for 4 months. (It’s an Eden, don’t let them tell you any different) But I cannot call it my favorite when St. Germain des Pres is in the mix where adorable boutique shopping lines the streets or perhaps Le Marais, where one really sees Paris before Haussman with narrow streets filled with secrets waiting to be discovered. But then how can one forget the Latin Quarter or Bastille, great for bar hopping at night and always beautiful during the day. Explore Rue de Rivoli and Rue St. Honore if you want to get fancy or the quaint Ile St. Louis which is just a picturesque island yearning to be explored. I mean don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to spend a Friday night in Porte de Clignancourt or Belleville, but stroll with me in the 7th, maybe along the Seine, and we are set for a magical evening. Having visited Paris before, never did I think that I would fall in love with its sights, sounds, people, food, and overall persona in the way that I did. Truthfully I do not understand why I failed to see that Paris is perfect for me; its decadent, chic nature, slight haughtiness, class, propriety… I mean come on, am I describing myself?
But possibly the most important detail, without which Paris would have paled in comparison, is finding the great friends I made during my time in Europe. More than just companions in class or good company when hitting up the bars, we traveled around Europe together and made strong friendships through our both breathtaking and crazy escapades. I always said that traveling serves as one of the best tests of friendship and after almost 10 trips, I think we’re in it for the long-run kids. We laughed, we cried (except me of course who just fake cried when applicable), we sang, and we became so close within mere weeks. Never before have I felt so at ease with a group of people after so little time! Whether dealing with crazy gypsy bitches, avoiding bus explosions, or simply dealing with a plethora of interesting characters at IES, we killed it in Paris. Sitting here writing this in my living room, I really wish that we were all together again (in Paris of course, not the suburbs of NJ) possibly staring out at the Seine, or hitting up Queen, or just hanging out together at one of our Parisian apartments…
They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, but I always knew what I had in Paris. From the first time I got into a cab that took me from Gare de l’Est to my apartment, I knew that Paris had my heart at first glimpse. Driving past the center of Paris with all its iconic monuments and then along the Seine with the Eiffel Tower looming above the rooftops, I felt like I was Anne Hathaway in the Devil Wears Prada; googly-eyed and marveling at my luck for being able to spend my life in a such a beautiful city. But just as soon as I arrived, sadly, it seemed as though the clock struck 12 necessitating me to take my leave. As my host mother took me down the same route again, back to Gare de L’Est, I saw all the sights but now they were more than just postcard images but rather filled with memories. She said to me in French, look well, because this is the last time you will see the monuments of Paris. But I smiled and said “Je vais retourner à Paris, C’est certain”. And I know that I will.
Thank you Paris. To my time abroad I owe so much. Although the time flew by in the snap of my finger, looking back I feel like I left home a long time ago. Possibly due to the fact of my numerous travels, or maybe rather due to the fact that I just did so much every day in Paris. But I think the real reason is because I myself grew a lot in Paris. When I came back to my room for the first time, I felt out of place. Almost as if my room were too small, as if I’d outgrown its walls. Paris revived me. Paris lifted me up and maybe bitchslapped me a few times into seeing reason. Truly, Paris taught me a lot about myself and also elucidated what I wanted in life. It’s pretty hard not to be pensive when looking out at a Greek sunset (or maybe 7 for that matter), staring at the Eiffel tower as it sparkles, or simply letting your mind wander on 1 of maybe 20 flights. I looked at my life and really reassessed everything: friendships, ambitions, ideals, and those things that I need the most to attain that potentially holy grail that we call happiness. I think that I was imbued with the nature of a quintessential Parisian, no doubt aided by the swagger of some crazy friends. But truthfully life in the fast lane showed me that life can be marvelous, reaffirming my belief to never allow myself to settle for anything less than wonderful.
On my last night in Paris I walked home from the dinner cruise (through eden-like streets of course), reminiscing on undoubtedly one of the top five days of my life, I thought back on the semester and smiled for I had attained all that I wanted out of my time abroad. Looking back at pictures and just thinking about all that I did, I still catch myself smiling as my mind replays wonderful memories. As for now it is off to a new city and new adventures, though Paris really endowed me with a sense that I can do anything. Maybe I’m just fou-fou, but feeling empowered is not the worst thing in the world, right? I know that throughout my life glimpses of all those memories will resurface inducing a passing smile. I saw so much in 4 months and spent time with people who I really came to love. I am certain that those memories will never stray too far, always close at hand to add a little perspective to the sinuous paths of life. JE SAIS that we will always have Paris.
Merci Paris, Tu possedes mon coeur.”