mercredi 25 novembre 2015

Dear Paris

Dear Paris,

It feels like you and I, we've never really managed to be a good match. But I wanted to say a few words. I was born in the 14th and spent my very first years in the 11th, "before it was cool", as my parents like to say. I don't remember much from these days, maybe a scene for la crèche or a view from our apartment rue Godefroy Cavaignac. We moved to Brittany before I knew how to read the names of the métro stations near us: Charonne, Bastille, République. But I was very proud to let my new friends know that I wasn't like them, me, I was a Parisian.

Even from afar, the city of light would cast an inescapable spell on me, and I was always excited to return. We used to travel on a small plane, and my ears would pop during take off, signifying we were on our way to a very special place. We would stay with family or friends, Belleville, Pigalle, exotic locales for kids used to growing up near the sea. Once, my brother got lost briefly when we were visiting a friends' apartment, he thought la cage d'escalier was just another room of the house, until it became really, really dark.

I have vivid memories of my parents taking us to the zoo du Jadin des plantes, to l'Ile Saint Louis to eat oeufs à la coque in old school brasseries, and to that uttermost Parisian attraction, Eurodisney. As a teen I was allowed to skip school to see my first big concert at Le Zenith, Alanis Morissette. I remember being constantly dazzled whenever I would spend a weekend or a holiday in Paris : going to the theatre with my godmother, recognizing famous faces in the streets of Saint Germain, admiring the Christmas lights on the Champs Elysées.

After I graduated from high school, I was ready for the big city! The usual journey from Brittany to Paris reversed, until I realized arriving at Gare de Montparnasse meant I was home. Slowly I learned to navigate the streets of Paris by myself. I loved walking after dark in the winter, when stores were still open and apartment windows shining bright, like a reassuring wink: you are not alone. I made friends for life ; went to see more concerts ; spent a lot of time at the Jardin du Luxembourg and Buttes Chaumont. But I left the city of light again, for the city of lights plural, Lyon, which felt really small and quiet at first. Eventually, I moved to the U.S. And as I had always planned all along, or so it seems, New York became my great love.

From there, I would go back to Paris every year as a tourist, slightly disoriented because everything felt familiar and foreign at the same time. After almost five years in New York, I had to go back to France. Paris was the obvious choice, Paris was home, right? Home is where the heart is, and many pieces of my heart are and will always be in Paris. But it didn't go so well. Maybe because for the first time in my life I wasn't uprooting myself for a new and exciting destination. Maybe because my experience in New York had been so intense, everything after that would pale in comparison. Maybe because Paris, I love you, but you bring me down.

I did give it a try. For almost three years I lived like a settler: make a home, grow your tribe, reclaim the surrounding territories. However, I wasn't willing to give up some of the rules that I had brought back with me from the New York jungle: smile big in the face of adversity (a.k.a when the waiters are rude) ; only drink coffee on the go ; and look for a new job keeping in mind the following mottos (alternate when needed): "when there is a will, there is a way" ; "yes we can!" ; "the most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time" ; "if you get an interview, apply lipstick".

Maybe, somehow I didn't want to become a "real" Parisian (whatever that means), and the Paris near me (the 11th, 10th, 9th) was becoming a mockup Brooklyn. We were both going through an identity crisis. There were lots of happy, fun moments with old and new friends. Joie de vivre, I don't know, but contentment and comfort, certainly. However it felt like I wasn't moving forward, no matter how much running around (literal and figurative) I did. I didn't give up though, but I started to complain, a lot. Seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night would barely make me smile.

So I left again at the end of this summer. It wasn't so hard because I can say "I'll always have Paris". Now that I am writing this from London, in retrospect it seems like such an obvious decision, even though I miss some things. I miss the people who have known me since before I could walk. I miss my friends and their kids who I have know since before they could walk. I miss my partners in crime ; my fruits and vegetables guys ; my baristas ; anyone and everyone who was there for me, my chers tous.

On November 13th, 2015 I was going back to France for the first time in a while. So it happens, I didn't even get a glimpse of Paris from the plane, I was going to a mountain town to celebrate a friend's birthday. I was so excited about our reunion that I forgot to bring candles for the cake, without knowing that, sadly, there would be many to be lighted in the upcoming days. People were killed, injured, traumatized in my old neighborhood, in the streets were I had been running, shopping, drinking, cooking, and smiling probably more than anywhere else in Paris. My New York friends contacted me even though they know I don't live there anymore, because they know. My London coworkers went silent for a minute, an hour before noon French time. I wasn't in Paris then, but I know things will never be the same. And until I go back, when people ask me where I'm from, I will say, as I always do, "I was born in Paris". No matter what, that will never change.

Rétrospective "Dear Paris" :
Paris, je t'aime (collective, 2006)