On reconciling nostalgia with reality
An incomplete list of what I will miss about Paris, in alphabetical order:
· Acute awareness of how much of an American I am
· The anti-austerity movement
· Being nervous every time I start a conversation because there's always a chance I won't understand the response
· Le Centre-Pompidou
· Feeling completely at home participating in conversations with my French friends
· Feeling hopelessly lost listening to conversations among my French friends
· The feeling that I am walking through history
· Fresh croissants and baguettes
· Having time to read for pleasure
· Long walks along the Seine
· The Marais
· New friends
· Nightly walks to the Champs de Mars
· Outdoor café culture, which Parisians refuse to give up, even when it is cold and raining
· Parties where I am the only American
· Protests as commonplace activity
· Shakespeare and Company
· Speaking French even when I don't know how to say what I'm trying to say
· Walking into Starbucks and feeling instantly at home, even though I never go to Starbucks in the U.S.
As I think about leaving Paris, I can think of only lists: what I will miss, what I learned, what I am most looking forward to about returning to New York. It is hard to synthesize this experience while I am still in it, and it is hard to reconcile my growing nostalgia for this city with the knowledge that I prefer New York.
I am too sentimental for my own good; it clouds my vision and my judgment. I do not leave for eleven more days, but already I am thinking about saying goodbye to great friends who I fear I may never see again and planning how I want to spend my final days here as if they will be my last on earth. I know that this is unnecessary; I know that I will undoubtedly return to Paris, probably fairly soon, and that I will undoubtedly see the French friends to whom I have grown the closest again.
And yet, despite my current fond feelings for this beautiful city, the most important lesson that I have learned over the past semester is this: I enjoy Paris and I love speaking French and I have a genuine desire to make friends and connections with people from all over the world, but I do not wish to live in Paris. It was a good lesson to learn. Before coming here, I always said that I could never live anywhere but New York, but that if I had to live somewhere else, it would be Paris. I am incredibly grateful to have discovered that I do not actually want to move here for any extended period of time.
But still, the nostalgia will not go away. Already I am thinking but it was actually pretty nice being here
and maybe it's only now, as I'm getting ready to leave, that I realize how much I've loved living here
. I am doing my best to both control and embrace these feelings, to acknowledge that I am romanticizing my experience because I hate watching things end while also allowing myself to focus only on the best parts of living in Paris for my final few days. I tell myself that there is no harm in this, that I have learned the larger lesson and that, as I watch the days pass by at an alarming speed, it is best to think not of what is awaiting me back in New York but of what is awaiting me here, outside my front door. After all, there is a long list of things that I will miss about Paris, and it is only growing by the second.
(The photo is my own, taken at the November 14th European general strike events in Paris.)