I fell in love in Paris. With the city and with life and with so many things.
I can’t recall the exact moment when I fell for France, but I think growing up watching Gene Kelly dance his way through the City of Light in An American in Paris played a strong part in it. I started taking French in eighth grade and was a semester shy of minoring in it in college. I make a mean coq au vin even though I don’t eat meat, my death row bottle of wine would be a grand cru Burgundy, and if I can’t be buried alongside Oscar Wilde at Père-Lachaise, I at least want my ashes scattered in the Seine so I can spend eternity in the place I love most.
Those who know me most intimately understand that my year didn’t get off to the best start. Things were . . . difficult, and in hopes of improving them, I started a journal on my computer and saved it as “The Best Year.” At the very top of the first page, I started my bucket list. I thought that between the positive title and forcing myself to see my grandest and most seemingly outrageous goals every day I might nudge my life in the direction in which I want it to go.
I’m happy to report that life has indeed begun moving for me. Whether it’s moving in the correct direction remains to be determined, but I’ve certainly been enjoying the ride, and that’s all that really matters, right? And I was able to cross two items off my bucket list this year: sunbathe topless (thank you, South Beach), and live in Paris (thank you, France). And Paris made me fall back in love with my life.
Around spring of this year I began toying with the idea of spending a month in Paris. I ruminated and talked about it with friends. One moment it would seem mere inches away from reality and the next it seemed ridiculously far-fetched. Then one day, late in the summer, I decided to just buy the ticket and take the ride, to borrow from Hunter S. Thompson. And so, on September 25, I boarded a Paris-bound flight from DFW and spent the next five weeks having the greatest adventure of my life thus far.
The experience left me with so many things to write about, and I’ll get to all of them eventually. But for the moment, and in light of the recent tragedy in Paris, I just want to luxuriate in the collective memory of my incroyable month in France.
I rented an apartment in Le Marais and I miss it intensely. Every morning I would walk through the neighborhood, follow the Seine, hear the bells of Notre Dame, stroll through the courtyard of the Louvre when no one else was there, stop for breakfast at one of the countless inviting cafés that dot the city like stars in a perfect sky. In the evenings I would watch the sun set and see the Tour Eiffel light up in the distance, listen to the symphony of street musicians and traffic and noisy tourists, plant myself at a warm bar with a book and a glass of rosé, then saunter home, slowly, usually past Shakespeare and Company so I could spy on its shabby, hopeful denizens.
Truth be told, most of the days I spent in Paris melt together in my mind, into a single intoxicating and bittersweet memory. Yes, I wrote every single day and I have hundreds of singular memories. But Paris itself is an idea and a goal and a promise—it’s my green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, forever just out of reach . . . but tomorrow I will fun faster, stretch my arms out farther, and one fine morning . . .
A Parisian told me the French have a saying: “Love lasts three years.” I believe this is a reference to the book L’amour dure tois ans and the movie based on it. French dramatist Françoise Quoirez also summed up the idea as follows: “When asked if she believed in love: ‘Are you joking? I believe in passion. Nothing else. Two years, no more. All right then: three.'”
Perhaps “love” in the sense of electricity and passion does have an expiration date. The unspoken thrill of the first time your hand grazes someone else’s. The heart-pounding lightheadedness of a long-anticipated kiss. The aching desire to have someone immediately on the kitchen counter. All of those things can and often do fade over time. Of course, if you’re lucky, what you’re left with is a deeper sort of love that’s content with Friday nights on the couch, the comfort of a shoulder that is reliably there for you to cry on, and someone who can tolerate the full spectrum of your bullshit.
But there’s something to be said for those first heady days of infatuation. Maybe that sort of love really does only last three years. But only with a person. Because I can say with absolute certainty that I am and always will be head-over-heels in love with Paris. The mere idea of it makes my heart do back-flips. I scroll through my pictures and feel like a starry-eyed teenager with a crush the size of Everest. I am a woman possessed by something I can touch for a moment but never truly have. Not unless the world tilts on its axis in my favor.
Which brings me to my next point, and another very French idea: la douleur exquise. The exquisite pain of wanting someone, or something, that you cannot have. Some may call it wishful, futile thinking. Moi? I call it motivation.
Paris, je t’aime. Depuis quand? Depuis toujours . . . dans mes rêves . . .
And I’ll be back. I’ll always be back.