Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, a city close to my young heart


That's the only word right now.

I can't even process what's going on in Paris. I can't imagine what it's like to be there now, to be a resident there right now. This is a city I love.


When I was in college, I took a winter session course with one of my dearest friends that was called France and Economy, or something like that. I was an English major taking an economics class. What was I thinking? Math --at least college math-- was not my strong suit (high school math was a breeze). I got a C in Basic Accounting (Who gets a C in basic accounting?? I do. Me. The lit nerd.). And now I'm going to take a French economics course when I can't even understand my own personal economics?? What the what?

Here's the draw: I got to go to Paris and Evian during winter break!

How could I not sign up for this class? This was my chance to "go abroad" as I was too chicken to commit to an entire semester living overseas. And it was in France! The country I have loved since seventh grade when my parents signed me up for French class instead of Spanish, unbeknownst to me. I will admit that my seventh grade self was mad at this as everyone else was taking Spanish. French was just weird with all their rough throaty Rs. But after a month of classes, I loved the feel of the language in my mouth, in my throat: the softness of vowels against consonants that undulated with their own softness, alternating with occasional sharp edges. And yes, I learned to love those throaty Rs.

This was the country I fell in love with in high school when I went on a ten-day school trip, as I fumbled my way through the teenage years. To see, first-hand, the things I had studied: Versailles and its Hall of Mirrors, the Louvre and Mona Lisa herself, the Arc de Triomphe, and of course, la Tour Eiffel. It was an experience that helped shape me -- to physically connect with the abstract concepts presented in a textbook. These were actual things that helped create the very city I stood in. Of course, the Parisian reputation of being the city of love helped a little, too. When you're seventeen, everything is about love, or the lack of it.

So I signed up for this college course, under the guise of furthering my education, of branching out. Really, I just wanted to go to France with my best friend.

There, in Paris and later in Evian, there was a lot of fumbling around. Or as I liked to call it at that time: exploring.

I visited all the places I had seen in high school and then some. I checked out the Centre Georges Pompidou, the modern art museum, and found myself baffled by a piece that was simply a small canvas painted, in its entirety, a bright blue. I was blown away by the stained glass windows of Notre Dame, particularly, of course, the Rose Window. I did some shopping on the Champs Elysees and took advantage of the no-drinking-age life by having wine with every lunch and dinner I had. I felt fancy, grown up. I remember climbing the steps to Sacre Coeur and visiting Montmartre, seeing all of the artists painting and selling their work. I remember thinking, that's what I want to do: create art and sell it -- what an amazing life that must be! Yes, totally romanticized notions of the artist's life, but at the essence of that was my desire to create and to be true to one's life calling.

I loved my routine of going to the boulangerie and getting a baguette and some camembert cheese and walking around the city while eating it. Yes, I ate and walked. At the same time. Maybe this is how Parisians stay so slim despite their dairy-heavy cuisine, I thought to myself.

I loved speaking French. Because I was not white and, thus, not obviously American (at least in my mind), I tried so hard to hide my American accent when I spoke French. I didn't want to be seen as American -- this was when Parisians had the reputation of hating Americans in that snobby kind of way (as in, "You're American? I will give you a hard time."). Of course, I came to find that this was not the case as I engaged with so many wonderful, generous people, some of whom even tried to help me with my pronunciations. Sure, there were a select few who were bent on proving the snobby-Parisian reputation ("Non, je ne parle pas anglais" when I just heard you speak English to that other person!), but on the whole, I found a city full of kind people.

But the fumbling around? That's describing the interactions our group had with each other while in Paris. Various hookups and dramatic fights and plenty of drunk crying. Surprising for a group of college students, right? Funny enough, I wasn't part of that (except for maybe the drunk part) -- I was the observer. Figures. The poet and writer taking notes in her little journal, dreaming of the day that she can sit in a Parisian cafe, maybe at a small sidewalk table, with a cup of cafe au lait and, just for fun, a cigarette. Needless to say, I learned a lot on that trip.

This is why I consider Paris to be my coming-of-age city.


When I heard about the attacks in Paris last night, my skin rose into goosebumps. My body didn't want to move. As I write this, I want to stay glued to the computer and watch the news feeds on The Guardian for updates. I don't know anyone personally in Paris. I have a friend who is from there, who has family living there; I have no updates from him. I cannot imagine what he must be experiencing now, being here, in the US. 

But even though I know no one in the City of Lights, I do know the city itself as a real living presence in my life. For this to happen, for a group of people to try to put out the lights of this city, it breaks my heart. I felt so much love in Paris, so much creative energy, so much possibility that for something like this to happen, how can I not grieve?

I know that there are complex politics at play here. I know that. I am not trying to gloss over the political significance of these attacks and what the consequences will look like. I know that those consequences will not be ones that I agree with. I know we live in a world that grows increasingly violent.

I just want to take the time to grieve the loss of life, of human life, in great numbers. To honor the love that I feel for Paris. To do this before the grief turns to anger, to defiance, to questions about next-actions. Grief first. Then, maybe, when I'm ready, then love.

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