An American In Paris

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( This is a post I actually wrote a couple of months ago, but never shared. I still think it’s pretty applicable to how I feel about the city.)

The first time I stepped off the train in Paris I noticed several distinctive things. First off were the smells: cigarette smoke, bread and industry. The French have an air all their own. They walk the streets as though they’ve already figured out the secrets of life, and some might argue that they have.

The first time I came to Paris I had no idea I would be moving to the city a week later, and I could only stand in awe at the grandeur that was around me. Paris knows how to impress a lady, and she knows it.

I am not from a small town, I’ve lived in cities or city suburbs my entire life and I love the busyness of my surroundings. The sound of car horns, men walking by with briefcases and beautifully tailored suits; buildings which stretch so high you have to align the back of your head with the pavement. These are the things that take my breath away.

Oh, and gold.

The amount of gold you can find on the structures, and inside and outside the historical buildings of Paris is ridiculous. Yesterday, while walking through the Louvre, it was amazing to think that the items that are now there, archived, used to be part of everyday life for the select few of France. What must life have been like to hold onto such an extravagant idea for everyday existence?

The rumors of Paris are true, when you walk the streets you can practically hear the stories of artist, writers, poets and intellectuals ricocheting from the sides of buildings and the pavement you walk on. The Seine whispers secrets to you as you walk its banks. This is Paris. And if there’s one thing that’s definitively French, it’s reminding you of where you are.

In Paris an American, or any other non-French nationality simply becomes someone who is not French. There are millions of us here. Drawn by stories, essays and works of art, which pointed us to this Mecca for finding ourselves. But who knows if anyone ever does. Perhaps it’s only after you return from the enchantment of Paris that you can once again resume, having been touched by the magic the city holds.

For now, though, we sit and eat crêpes.

We laugh at never knowing the beauty of eating a baguette sandwich, before we walked through the city of lights. We sit on metros, listening to the movie-esque live music of the accordion players. And, even if just for a moment, we wish this was our culture; a culture rich with wine and cheese, that makes you feel like you should be wearing a beret and eating more crêpes.

When did this become life? The lazy mentality of late weekend mornings and glowing nights that stretch into darkness is addictive. It’s like a trance placed over the city that cannot be broken, even by the bravest of liberators; mainly because no one wants it to be. While Los Vegas might be the fast and furious “Sin City”, Paris is the city that cradles you in luxury, blinding you to the realities of life, slowly suffocating the desire for anything beyond it’s clutches.

They say a person can be ruined by the mystique of Paris. You’ll never want to go back to the mundane reality of your prior existence, but I don’t think that’s true for me. Because, as an avid reader I know that struggling in the real world will always trump living a surreal dream of a reality.

While living in a trance may seem like a glorious substitute for real life, the reality is – life is still in motion outside this capsule of extravagant numbness. And while it could seem relevant, even suggested, to marinate in my own parisienne nirvana, I would prefer the grit of turmoil and hard work any day.

But I’ve never been one for the white gloved existence.

Because it’s when you’re hands are dirty, back feels broken and your feet are sore from wandering, that you really truly, deeply and completely find yourself.

And maybe that’s the real lesson Paris has to teach.

That perfection is never as it seems. And all the gold plated bridges in the world can’t help you on your journey to finding yourself.

Boldly Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

The window view from where I stayed in London.
The window view from where I stayed in London.

Have you ever done one of those trust fall exercises, where someone stands behind you and you roll back on your heels, hoping they’ll catch you before you meet the floor? Me neither. Because I think they’re mildly pointless and dangerous.

But, I think they happen to be the best illustration for how I feel this week. Yesterday was an extremely exciting day because I sent in my application for a French university. Hopefully, I would be attending the school starting this fall and throughout the time I’m living in France (fingers crossed!).

Initially, when I got my au pair position, I hadn’t thought about going to a university. It wasn’t in my budget, and I thought I’d probably just look for a short and sweet 10 weeklong program instead. Taking some kind of French language/culture courses, as an au pair, are required by law – but they don’t have to be at a university.

When the family I’ll be living with suggested the University of Orleans, I started to question my strategic “easy button” on educating myself while I was there.

There are two options at the Universitaire D’Orleans. You can either attend for one semester and stop, or you can attend for two and then graduate with a French certificate stating you are qualified for whatever a French language certificate qualifies you for.

At first I thought, “Cheaper option – duh.” And started filling out my application for one semester. But then, as the deadline got closer, I started to feel uneasy. It didn’t feel right taking the “easy way” out and not completing the program. And that little inner voice wouldn’t give me peace about it AT ALL.

So, instead, I changed my application over to the one-year program. Instantly I felt better. Having made the insane decision, I started looking at the numbers, because that’s what I always do. They don’t add up. Like I said before, attending college wasn’t in my plan when I decided to move to France.

But, then again, moving to France wasn’t in my plan when I decided to move to France, either.

While I was visiting my grandparents this Easter my grandma stopped me on the stairs, as I was leaving, and asked me, “Have you prayed about this [moving to France]? Do you have peace about it?”

Like most of my family members, she’s worried. I will be the first girl in my family to live abroad, and one of the first to have been to Europe. It’s foreign territory, and scary to think about, when I ask my family for their blessing.

But, when my grandma asked me that question, I was able to stand there, smiling slightly, and answer with confidence, “Yes.” I have total peace. Total confidence in where I’m going and what I’m doing. Does that mean I’m not terrified? No.

But, amidst the chaotic feelings to dig a hole and hide, I have a “peace that surpasses understanding”(Phil 4:7) aka peace that makes absolutely no logical sense.

I have no idea how I’m going to afford living in France for a year. How I’m going to pay student loans, and other expenses, when my living stipend is less than a quarter of what I make right now. I don’t know how I’m going to afford going to college for a year, when it would be smarter to go for a semester and call it good.

All I know is that I’m called to risk greatly. To step out into unknown territory. To boldly go where no man has gone before – kidding (Trekkie nerd alert).

Right now, I’m stepping out into something that could turn out to be crazy. I am risking greatly, following an inner guide who has never failed me before.

It doesn’t make sense. Maybe nothing worth succeeding at ever does. But right now I just have to fall, trusting that, seconds before I hit the floor, I’ll be reminded that someone had my back the entire time.

London, England
London, England