Paris je t’aime: For better or for worse

Post- Magazine, Brown Daily Herald, 12/6/12

Paris and I, we go way back. Our first date, the summer before my senior year of high school, was a little rocky—my luggage got lost, I spent four days in the same jeans and navy sweatshirt, and it rained the entire time—but somehow I knew that this would turn into something special. When I came back to study abroad as a junior, things heated up pretty quickly. Paris seduced me with its colorful macarons, its sparkly Seine and red lipstick, its singular je ne sais quoi and delicious joie de vivre. We were hot and heavy for several months, spending our days lounging on riverbanks or in perfectly manicured squares full of smoking teenagers and chic toddlers. Almost every night was spent drinking cheap wine in the shadow of Notre Dame, while a violinist under the bridge played La Vie en Rose or some other suitably stereotypical soundtrack. Before I knew it, I was head over heels in love with the City of Lights.
That’s not to say we didn’t have our rough moments. The smell of the metro and the drizzly cold provoked spats during which I would hole up in my apartment, drinking tea and watching Lost while Paris sulked behind dense grey clouds. One incident, in which a lowlife asshole attempted to steal my iPhone out of my hand in the metro, provoked a particularly vicious fight. But whenever I was upset or annoyed, whenever the rude cashiers and endless bureaucracy got me down, Paris would show up, glorious sunshine in hand, to remind me how lucky I was to be there. I wasn’t ready to leave at the end of June, and I knew that somehow I would find a  way back. I wanted more, more romance, more passion, more carefree days strolling the banks of the Seine, Ella Fitzgerald in my ears and a pain au raisin in my hand.
But here’s the thing about relationships: Passion, however wonderful, only lasts so long. The honeymoon period inevitably comes to a close, and then you’re left with the not-so-rosy reality of commitment. Paris and I moved in together this September. I got a job (two in fact) and a tiny apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower (if you stick your head out the kitchen window). And we tried to pick things up where we left off. I was armed with a list of all our favorite spots, having spent the summer dreaming about the dinners we would eat, the museums we would visit, the weekend trips we would take to Edinburgh or Amsterdam. But I was working a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of money, and, well, we got into a bit of a rut. Suddenly we were an old married couple, staying in on Friday nights to watch Gilmore Girls, finding any excuse (the cold, the rain, the sorry state of my checking account) not to venture out of our cozy little den. I met some of Paris’s newer, younger lovers—current study abroad students—and listened jealously as they gushed about spontaneous trips to Berlin, Tuesday nights at a club with cute Italian boys, abundant amounts of free time. And, for the first time since I left Brunonia’s hallowed halls, I felt old.
There’s a big difference between studying and living abroad, one that my fellow teaching assistants and I have come to realize more and more as we settle into our routines. We talk to friends from home who ask in awed tones, “How’s Paris?”(a romanticized reverence best illustrated by one friend with jazz hands and spirit fingers). Usually, I just play along. “Paris is wonderful,” I say with an enthusiastic smile, rattling off tales of free chocolate tastings and walks by the Seine, art exhibits and Shakespeare & Company, picnics in the Tuileries and macaron competitions. But in reality, these are the exceptions to the rule. Most days, I leave my house at 7:15 a.m. (an ungodly hour that makes me feel simultaneously old and like I’m in high school again), commute three hours a day, work two jobs, and have just enough time to stop by the grocery store before I get home around 9, make myself dinner, and go to bed. It’s not always Paris!, with fireworks and romantic candlelight; it’s Paris, the city where I live, where I wash dishes, deposit paychecks, and have to do my laundry in a bucket.
Now I don’t mean for this to sound self-pitying or whiny. (As my mother is only too happy to remind me, “You live in Paris. Nobody feels sorry for you.”) Because the truth is, despite the early mornings, the hours on the bus, the rain and the cold, I’m still in love. And not fiery, fun, fleeting love, but the kind that lasts a lifetime. See, Paris and I, we’re in it for the long haul. I look at the students who come into my coffee shop, armed with guidebooks and exploding with glee when I offer them ice in their water, and I smile. I’ve been there. I know the giddy happiness that comes with your first real romance. But while they may be having more fun now, in a month or two they’ll leave, go back to their real lives, and move on. Even if someday I move on too, bidding adieu to my iron balconies and flaky croissants in search of new adventures (or a real job), true love never quite goes away. Paris and I, we’ll always have each other.

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