Day 22 – Paris forever

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Day 22 of writing 1000+ words a day on Paris for Camp Nanowrimo.


Paris doesn’t change. People change.

This is the heading I scrawled in my journal in 2012 while sitting at the tiny round table in my apartment bedroom. As planned, I am sitting up writing in the early hours of the morning with the Eiffel Tower lit up like a Christmas tree just outside my window. I have always believed that a view is crucial, especially if you’re a solo traveller or have small children. If you can’t be out amongst it, at least you can still feel a part of it, while the kids are sleeping or you don’t feel like wandering around the city alone at night.

Paris doesn’t change. People change.

At the time I wrote this pithy sentence, I think I believed it. I had taken a sample of one person and one city so it’s entirely possible I had no idea what I was talking about. My test subject? Me. I felt I had changed dramatically since my first trip to the city nearly 20 years before, but outside my window Paris seemed not to have aged a day.

But Paris had changed and so had I so clearly my pithy sentence wasn’t so pithy. Paris and I were both nearly 20 years older and we were both better in some ways, others, not so much. I was healthy, happily married and had a gorgeous son at home, something my 1994-self hoped might be in her future but couldn’t be sure. Paris for her part had some sparkly new lights, wonderful new museums, push-bikes for public use.

Paris doesn’t change? People change?

In Paris in 2012, a lot more people were living rough. Perhaps I was able to see the homeless people in 2018, when they had previously not been on my radar, busy as I was with a small boy or as a newlywed. As I walked around the city that October, the leaves falling, the rain coming down, I had no one to distract me from the realities of life in a big city. The new homeless, with suitcases and phone chargers, keeping themselves clean in the basement bathrooms of the Centre Pompidou, the south facing glass facade of the building providing some protection from the elements.

Even before the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the awful events of November 2015 security was tighter than ever, protests and the potential for unrest, a constant threat. If I blinkered myself, stayed in the historic heart of the city, ate only in the tourist areas, Paris seemed, at heart, the same place I had visited as a lost and lonely young widow.

Paris doesn’t change. People change.

Then there were the bunches of locks sprouting like fungus on previously pristine bridges. Paris. Changed. This is not a tradition, not here in Paris. People changed Paris.

I try to think back to the woman I was in 2012, to understand what I was trying to get at. Of course a city like Paris changes. The tiny town I grew up in has changed dramatically since I was a kid so of course Paris is different. Exponentially different. I see myself, sitting there alone, my husband and son on the other side of the planet for some unknown reason. Why would a (legally) sane person go so far away from their family and friends? I ask myself something I have often been asked; What is the attraction to Paris. What was I hoping to find?

“You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”

Heraclitus

I see the woman that I was sitting at that table, still lost, at the ripe old age of 40. Was it a mid-life crisis? I don’t recall wondering that at the time. My son was growing up and would soon not need me as much. I knew I needed something for myself. I had dabbled with writing on and off since I was a kid. After writing a fairly ridiculous memoir in 2005, I was once more trying to write a book, this book, and I didn’t really know where to start so I was just scribbling nonsense in a notebook. I was writing when I was in Paris in ’94. There is something about writing that helps us find our way. I knew I was lost, but I also instinctively knew I had my life in front of me. At the time, I felt like it was looming in front of me because I’d never intended to be single again, didn’t know how to plan for a new life that I didn’t want.

In 2012, of course Paris had changed; it was ridiculous to think that it hadn’t but maybe I hadn’t really changed…in 18 years. Granted, my life looked different but I was still trying to work out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had a good job, my Dream Job really. Like all Dream Jobs it had its down sides but I could no longer dream of running away to Paris. That ship had sailed.

At 40, I needed to convince myself that my best years still loomed.

If I could go back and whisper in that woman’s ear, I would say Time isn’t running out; your best years are ahead of you…Paris changes, and so can you.

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