“The more you come to know a place, in general, the more it loses its essence and becomes defined by its quirks and its shortcomings. The suggestion of something numinous or meaningful is usually available with full force only to the first time visitor and gradually decreases with familiarity”
Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Gray
I have changed the tense to the present tense because those two sentences jumped out at me when I read Charlotte Gray (a wonderful book, by the way!). I first came to Paris to live in November of 2013. I walked everywhere. I had time to walk everywhere. I was so full with wonder, awe and amazement at the beauty of Paris, at my good fortune to be able to pick up and leave California and live in Paris, there were times I thought my heart would burst open.
It has been a long time since I’ve had those feelings. I live here, have commitments here, pay bills here, run up against French administration here and unless I write it down as a date with myself, I don’t take those long walks anymore. I still love Paris but it is completely different. I have also changed apartments. I used to live on the corner of Git-le-Coeur and Quai des Grands Augustins. I sat at my table and looked out on the Pont-Neuf. I could stick my head out the window, look right and see a perfect view of Notre Dame. I understood how Monet felt when he wanted to paint certain things at every hour of the day. These two views changed all the time depending on the weather, on the time of day, on my mood. Many days it would take my breath away.
Now I live in the 16th. I have a large terrace which I said I wanted. In exchange, I gave up the view of the Seine, the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame. I look out on another apartment building. Below me is a lovely courtyard. Every hour on the hour, I see the reflected lights of the Tour Eiffle flickering on the glass of the building across the way. The blinking lights last for five minutes then I lose the reflection. That is the only reminder I have that I live in Paris. And there are no high buildings or skyscrapers. Strictly interdit in Paris. It’s not till I walk outside and turn left on Avenue Mozart to go to the metro that the atmosphere of Paris washes over me. Some days, especially days that it has been raining, it seems especially beautiful as the lights bounce off the sidewalk and glass store fronts. Those days, I take a deep breath and pinch myself. But those days have gotten far and few between.
There are no tourists here where I live. I only hear French on the streets. Am I saying I would trade all this to be back in the centre of Paris where tourists abound, walk incredibly slowly driving me nuts. Where all the photos of Paris postcards originate? Good question. One I ask myself every day.
People ask me if I think I will stay here. I always have to think out my answer carefully because it changes all the time. Last Saturday when someone asked me, I responded that I thought I was a more interesting person living here in Paris. I like having to walk to the metro. I like that I can go to morning matinees of movies once a week. I like that I never have to drive a car. I like that I can jump on the TGV and be almost anywhere in France in less than five hours. And that’s only because the train stops everywhere on the Cote d’Azur taking an extra two hours. Marseilles is three plus hours away. I adore Brittany and that I can go there and not have the tremendous crowds that Mendocino and the Northern California coast attracts. I love going to the American Library and hearing wonderful speakers and authors one or two nights a week. Does it really matter where I live in Paris? The fact of the matter is that I LIVE IN PARIS! How many Americans have the luxury of pulling up their lives and roots and move 6,000 miles away just because?
As they say in Twelve Step rooms, More Will be Revealed.