Updated: Jun 7, 2019
I’ve wanted to go to Paris for as long as I can remember. In my childhood bedroom I had an Eiffel Tower statuette I'd gotten at the France World Showcase in Disney World. I took French in middle school but switched to Japanese in high school. And it was with that switch that I let myself fall for another country and culture. I’ve been head over heels with all things Japonais ever since. I’ve been to Japan four times, two of which were 30-50 hour layovers I just couldn’t resist grabbing. And yet Paris, mon cherie, has never left. It’s lingered like a desperate lover lounging on a chaise puffing a long cigarette—waiting for her time to be ravaged. This is my story of Paris, and why I couldn’t wait another moment to live it.
Paris of my 20s
I turned twenty in Tokyo, a city that, ironically, reignited my childhood dream of Paris. In Tokyo I walked the streets alone, often aimlessly—a true flaneur—pausing in cafes to read. Tokyo even had its own Café de Flore. As I wound down my study abroad year in Tokyo I vowed that someday I would go to Paris and do it right.
At 21 I moved to Seattle “to sit in coffee shops and write poetry and look out at the rain” as I told people when they asked why I came. And so I continued the dream. Rain-soaked streets. Lattes and dog-eared poetry books. But being a young teacher (with a young teacher’s salary) I wasn’t ready for Paris. So I went to Anthropologie. I bought mugs with pictures of mademoiselles at bistro tables, postcards of the Eiffel Tower, photo books of Atget’s Paris, and anything toile. I wanted that French life so badly. But even as my salary inched up and I knew of “Europe on the cheap,” I didn’t want to do it on the cheap. I wanted to do it big and fancy. I wanted to lie in a bed of lace and cakes like Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette. But there was always a part of me that felt I wasn’t good enough for Paris—not rich enough, sexy enough, or accomplished enough to live my dream. I was barely good enough for Anthropologie. So I stepped into my 30s with shelves of French décor and my tucked away dream.
Paris of my 30s
Even though I thought I wasn’t good enough for Paris, I still traveled. To Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India, yoga retreats in Costa Rica and Mexico, and running around the U.S. chasing another dream. Virtually everywhere (it seemed) but Paris. Each of those trips was more than enough. Each fulfilled its own dream I didn’t know I had. I was at peace with not going to Paris because I believed that travel comes to you, just as each of those trips had. I believed that someday, at some perfect time, with some perfect guy, I would go to Paris. A year ago I’d talked of my dream with my then-boyfriend who wanted to go to Paris with me. But our relationship was crumbling, bit by bit, off and on. In the middle of the crumbling he’d gone to visit his dad and told him of us going of Paris. When my boyfriend got home and we began unwinding our relationship and our home, a package came in the mail from his dad. My boyfriend opened it and turned to me with a shaken face—it was a Paris guidebook. We were both crushed, and yet I knew, so very clearly, that my Paris would not be with him.
And yet I could feel myself getting closer to Paris. On a trip to Southeast Asia I met a wonderful group of European travelers whom I promised to visit someday. I walked under an arch in Vientiane, Laos that gave me the magic of Paris I’d wanted for so long. On a family trip to Disney World I spent as much time in Epcot’s France as I could. I learned that their 18-minute Cinerama film “Impressions de France” showed every quarter past and quarter til—every day since 1982. I went to see it three times. The first time I teared up as Claire de Lune played to a sweeping aerial view of the French Alps. The narrator quoted/misquoted Baudelaire, “We leave for the sake of leaving. And without knowing why we always say, ‘we must go.’”
I really believed that my Paris would come to me… someday… somehow until Notre Dame burned. I watched Facebook friends post their photos of the icon, “my year study abroad…” “where we got engaged…” and wondered, “My God, if I don’t get there soon, what else will be gone?” Paris became more urgent. I had to go before the rest of the city, and my dream, went up in flames.
Paris in the springtime
This spring in the weeks before and after the cathedral burned, I developed hearing trouble. It changed day to day—from buzzing and ringing in my right ear to any sounds, especially background noise, amplified. “Why is everyone yelling?” I wondered. I covered my ears when my boss came by to ask me a question. I joked that I could hear dogs barking a mile away. Restaurants were almost unbearable. A few times I got dizzy, lasting from a few uncomfortable minutes to hours of a drunk-like vertigo. Sometimes I couldn’t even turn my head. When an audiology test showed I’d experienced sudden hearing loss in my right ear, I reluctantly took the doctor’s advice to go on Prednisone for a week. There was a 30% chance I’d get all of my hearing back, 30% I’d get some back, and 30% I’d get none back. So even though I was warned by the doctor and my mom that I might have trouble sleeping, be extra energized, and “a little moody,” I started the dosage.
What do hearing loss and a round of steroids have to do with Paris? While on Prednisone I couldn’t stop thinking of the ashes of Notre Dame. And for whatever reason, I also couldn’t stop thinking about bicycling in France. So I started to look up bike tours in Provence “just for fun” I told myself. But the tours looked really good, and I got a bee in my bonnet about the whole thing. I thought that not only would a bicycle tour get me to France, but it would also give me a reason to get in shape after years dialing back my running because of plantar fasciitis. It could be the thing that brings me back. The thing that makes me feel like the best version of me—the version that’s athletic, independent, and a glamorous world traveler. The thoughts swirled as the Prednisone coursed through my body. I cut out coffee that week—I was wired enough. I biked up hills like Lance Armstrong, cleaned like a crazy lady, and might have had a few emotional breakdowns. I was on 60 mg a day which—when my parents told me they’d been on 10 a day when they’d taken it—explains a lot. It also explains why one busy Tuesday some wild force of Prednisone and Paris prompted me to book a 4-day luxury bike tour in Provence, a week in Paris, and a very expensive plane ticket to France. I couldn’t wait another minute to live my dream. And no, I regret nothing.
Restez à l'écoute pour la deuxième partie.