I had always wanted to live in Paris, but it was more like oh yes, wouldn't it be fun to live in Paris. It was high up on a pedestal for "someday." Looking back, I actually surprised myself, and perhaps a few others, when I quit my job and made the big move last year. Best leap ever.
First and foremost, I felt extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to live and experience the city and culture on a daily, not just passing through, basis. It really provided a completely different perspective. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't remind myself of how lucky I was.
I remember being filled with fear, excitement, anxiety and joy on the plane ride over with all of my belongings, or at least all that would fit in my new petit abode. The first few months were pure bliss. I wasn't sure if I'd be staying longer than the end of the year so I felt like I was enjoying an extended vacation where I had the time to explore many cobblestone streets and historic monuments, and not just the big 3 tourists attractions.
Once I realized that this adventure must continue, I felt the subtle shift from tourist to that more of a local as I braved the infamous French bureaucracy and several months negotiation process to open a bank account and get a cell phone plan. I experienced firsthand the unraveling of miles long red tape necessary to try and get a Visa to stay more than 3 months. The acquisition of a tourist Visa felt akin to prepping an application for my top pick university, only I didn't have a safety city to fall back on. It had to be Paris.
After I conquered (more like survived) the logistics phase of living in Paris on a longer term basis, I got to settle in and enjoy Parisian life at a different pace and with a different perspective. I was getting to know Paris now beyond the guide books. In fact, I was now writing my own guides and recommendations for travelers with weekly restaurant reviews and walking tours of what to see and do in the city for Girls' Guide to Paris.
I fell in love with the City. The history and architecture never ceased to amaze me, and not just because I come from LA, where history and culture aren't the main calling cards.
Going out to take a walk in any direction would often leave me spellbound. Every wrong turn produced a new treasure. Getting lost was a treat. I felt small, but open, alive, in awe.
I would often wonder if I preferred Paris by day or night. It is the City of Light and its reflection would be magnificent at many times of the day, except perhaps all those times when it was grey and rainy, but I will selectively forget those. ALL of those.
I looked forward to Sunday's when the Quai was closed so I could run along the water up to the Louvre and Tuilieries, and yes, along side other Parisians. They do run, but I have to say, I much prefer them in their day clothes to the amount of spandex they wear when they run.
I became fast friends with the Velib bike system where you can grab a bike from any of the 1800 stations across the city and just ride, admire, and glide.
On those especially bone chilling nights when the Velib was just a bit too open aired, the bus and metro offered a great alternative to transportation and sight seeing. I could hear great music and choirs in the metro stations (though I could do without some of the smells), and could always learn about the latest exhibits around town from the billboards along the walls, of which there was never a shortage.
The art, architecture, and plethora of museums was mind blowing. There was always something to do and too many things to see.
I came to love some of the French traditions like the double cheek kiss greeting. I hope some of you might indulge me in a few to aid in the weaning process. I now own more scarves than jeans or jackets combined. A day didn't go by when I didn't have some form of cloth slung around me in an attempted effortless way.
While I fought and was once scolded for the continuous need to greet on entry and departure, I came to love the civility and formality. Bonjour was always a must on entering any location or making eye contact with any vendor, but it didn't stop there. Whether you made a purchase or not, there had to be an Au Revoir when you were leaving, and if there was an interaction, there would also be a Merci and a bonne journée (good day). And if you were at your local farmer's market, there would be another a Dimanche to indicate you'll see them next week.
Which brings me to the marché. What a perfect playground for anyone who likes food like moi.
Around the corner from my place was a 4 block long, 8 lane wide, open market of some of the best and freshest products in France.
I would often go without a shopping list and simply buy whatever was in season and looked good. My meal for the night would be called out to me by the most appealing ingredients displayed. I had my "guys" for eggs, lettuce, mushrooms, olives, fruit, vegetables, chicken, fish, and the list goes on.
I will miss tremendously picking these seasonal ingredients and interacting with the colorful purveyors. One such man used to call me Hollywood. He was always quick with a smile, some fresh strawberries and an over the top compliment.
The classes in Paris were also enjoyable, though the French one's were definitely more painful than the food and wine courses, but a necessary evil.
Before you ask again, no, I'm not fluent in French. Can I order in a restaurant and get through my day to day activities with the native speakers, yes. Can I speak about politics and architecture in French? No.
I found I was most fluent (and confident) in French when I was traveling outside of the country, which ended up being fairly often.
France is so close to so many wonderful places, I took advantage of the proximity and time off to visit so many places on my travel list.
It would have taken me the rest of my 2 week vacations for life to see all that I did, but it will now take me about that long to work to replenish my bank account from these trips. Worth every penny.
How can I speak of Paris without speaking further about the food. If you've been following my blog, you know that I did all that I could to enjoy EVERY French delicacy I could get my hands on.
There is wonderful cooking in Paris, and some not so wonderful, but any meal was always made better with good company. And with the right group, you enjoyed the leisurely paced meals that usually ran at least 3 hours.
There's definitely a different pace and cadence to Paris, and I'm looking forward to attempting to continue that, even if it means telling the waiter here for the fifth time, no I'm not ready to order yet, or I'm not done with my dish.
I'll miss the simple pleasure of buying some cheese (or rather fabulous fromage) with a baguette and sitting along the Seine and enjoying the Parisian's favorite pastime of the picnic along the water. We may not have always done this simply, but it was a great pleasure that everyone enjoyed on a warm day.
Which brings me to the people. While Paris is a magnificent city, it could be a lonely one without others with whom to experience it. I was extremely fortunate to meet a great group of ex-Pats early in my stay. We traveled, dined, drank, cooked, explored, drank, went to the horse races, drank and really did our best to enjoy European life.
Unfortunately with the ex-Pats you have high turnover so I also had to say goodbye too often to many people I met and liked.
I really enjoyed meeting so many new people. I sometimes felt like I was back in school when you encounter such a large group of people you don't know, and sadly, those meetings seems to drop off the older you get. While many of the people I met weren't from France, there was still a commonality to the people living there. There were people who couldn't tell you where "home" was anymore. There were people who will never return to the US. There are people who had never visited the US. Everyone had a love of travel and an openness to new experiences and cultures.
I always loved hearing about the different customs and practices each person brought with them. I will miss the global atmosphere and sharing of ideas and viewpoints that are bigger scale and bigger picture.
I did have a special French ami Raphael (that yes, I'm just now speaking about in the final post), who I enjoyed spending time with to experience French culture, meals, art, and even the language. While his English was very good, he'd make me speak French every time we were together so I'd stay in practice.
He was my champion in getting me hot water and an all around good guy, even if he did eat his hamburger with a fork and knife.
I got to live through about 5 season changes in Paris. My favorite spot to sit and admire the transitions was the Luxembourg Gardens.
While it's easy to love Spring, Summer and Fall, I also learned to love the Winter. There's a different perspective you get in the winter. Things are bare, but it allows you to see further and make new discoveries. It's a blank canvas without color or lines. The possibilities seem endless. It's a time and a place to reflect, to plan, to create, and then to look forward to the next growth.
"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young (wo)man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." Ernest Hemingway