I hate Paris.
So were the words on the tip of my tongue our first two days in the City of Light. It wasn’t a brutal, vitriolic hate; it was more the wail of a pouty, dramatic teenager.
Because here was this place—this perfect place, so full of promise—and in those first couple of days, it wasn’t anything I needed it to be. How dare it not be everything that I expected? How dare it not live up to my romanticized ideals? Artists from all walks of life have been flocking to Paris for centuries in search of inspiration. Where was my inspiration? All I felt was anxiety.
The first few encounters were pas bon. A quiet moment spent sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower was quickly interrupted by a constant stream of men hawking alcohol and cigarettes. My French lessons I took so faithfully for months seemed to vanish from memory; Awkward and red-faced, I couldn’t find the courage to use them. I felt so rejected by the city. Unwelcome, an outsider. I spent those days searching for a connection—something, anything—but there wasn’t one. I’ve traveled to places that I didn’t really jibe with before (Charleston, Savannah) but no city broke my heart like Paris. Paris was supposed to be mine. It was meant to be my special place.
And then something changed. I remember the exact moment I felt it click.
Bastille Day, sitting at a café, eating steak and drinking a glass of red wine the size of my head, I felt…comfortable. At ease. Home, even. This was the Paris of my dreams.
Was it the wine? The meal? (Food has been known to be the way to my heart). The celebratory atmosphere? The friendly waiter that excused my terrible French? Difficult to say. But from that moment on, Paris morphed into the city that I dreamt it would be. And I fell head over heels.
I was still too nervous to speak French, and that continued for most of our time. The disappointment that brought on wasn’t really Paris’ problem—it was mine. But I’ll continue to practice, taking my daily lessons so the next time we
move there visit, I can converse in the language of the people (it’s true what they say: Even if you are terrible, they seem to appreciate that you tried).
The fact that our apartment offered the most incredible view of the Eiffel Tower probably didn’t hurt, either (thanks, Airbnb). I remember sitting and having a drink that le 14 Juillet evening in view of one of the most iconic, exquisite monuments on this planet, and I just felt so in awe I nearly cried. (Okay, I cried). Was this real? How fortunate are we? No seriously, is this real?
And it continued like that for the rest of the week. Each morning I’d wake up and greet the Eiffel Tower, and each night it would dazzle us with its lights, luring us off to sleep. I got into the groove of going out for coffee each morning—down and up 6 flights of stairs will get you energized to begin the day!—and we’d bring our cafe au laits and croissants back to eat breakfast in view of—you guessed it—our friend, la tour Eiffel. We’d go out and explore museums, make a midday sidewalk café stop for a glass of wine and a people-watching sesh, and hop on and off the metro system like total pros (D.C., take note: this is how a metro is supposed to run). I had found my Paris—or perhaps, it had found me. I felt like I belonged—if not completely, at least part of the way there.
And then that week ended. And I wasn’t quite ready to leave. We’d been away from home for 3 weeks by then, and while it was reasonably time to get back to real life, I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
Funny, how the first day or two in Paris had me willing the week away, so I could go home. By the end, I was instead wishing to do it all over again—better yet, to stay forever.
I’m thankful for those first few bumps in the road—that road led me to the realization that, no matter how perfect something seems, nothing is without its flaws. And now, with a slight adjustment in perspective, I adore those flaws. My initial disdain for the city makes the way I feel about it now even sweeter, and passionately so.
Paris, je t’aime.