When I was younger, it seemed that those older than me constantly reiterated the phrase “take your time”.
Any normal day activity has always seemed like it has a timer on it: Waiting for classes to end, priding myself on being busy and always having someplace to go next, or even arbitrary things like finding the quickest place to pick up lunch. Before coming to France, I inhaled every online page, magazine article, or any sort of tidbit that would describe exactly what the culture in Paris would be like. I quickly discovered that same phrase making a reappearance when it came to describing the lifestyle I was about to be quickly introduced to, as it seemed that almost every source I found could be paraphrased into one sentence: “Parisians take their time.” And while walking down streets lined with people lounging at cafés and seeing groups walking in silent unison, I can’t find a better way to describe it.
I have never appreciated language more than now.
Not just French, and not just English. But just language in general. Having the ability to say how I feel and communicate it to others is something that I very often take for granted. I wondered how many times I’ve ordered something in English without thinking, and I’ve stood in complete awe as my classmates at the Sorbonne spoke the same sentence in multiple languages.
The language barrier while being abroad has by far been the most challenging aspect of it so far. I want to slap myself when I remember ever being to nervous to approach a salesperson, barista, or whomever in the states, especially now that the anxiety here isn’t from being nervous to speak but instead not knowing how to. I felt naïve realising how many words are exchanged each day, and how little each of those words are thought about before they were said.
My French class, however, is extremely helpful. My professor, an Parisian with a love of bright pink sweaters, has to be one of the most patient women I’ve ever met. She practices pronunciation with us class after class, pausing and waiting until each and every one of us have it perfected. Speaking only a small amount of English, she giggles when I tell her some common phrases, words, and verbs, some of her favourites including “to cure”, “molasses”, and “all bark and no bite”. It’s been five weeks since I arrived in Paris, and I’m only on my third week with her as a professor, yet I’ve already expanded my vocabulary and somehow developed a newfound interest in clothing that isn’t black.
When told stories of other abroad experiences, I usually hear about how much ground people cover in a short amount of time. Traveling is a number one priority, and I hear stories of cities I’ve never heard of and people they came to meet. My architecture professor took my class to Château de Vincennes last week, and as we rode the metro back she told us that there was no possible way of seeing all of Paris in four short months. She even said that we could spend a lifetime in Paris without seeing it all. And with Belgium and Dublin in my back-pocket, and Spain in my agenda for the near future, a day trip for the weekend was planned, but instead to stay in the city that I’ve been lucky enough to wake up in every morning, but have yet to fully see. And Montmartre was leading the top of the list.
The relatively lengthly commute dropped us off at the bottom of the hill leading to Sacré Cœur, and we shuffled past gamblers in the street asking people to bet euros to guess which cup a bright yellow ball was placed under. Shops lined the corners, and whistles and shrieks of excitement lined the air. Everything was immediately electric.
We began the climb to the top, and felt immediately grateful for the warm weather that was far unlike our usual grey. The Sacré Cœur seemed to shine a brighter white in front of a baby blue sky, and the snaps of photos echoed around our panting to reach the top. I noticed the heavy bustle of tourism, but I also noticed a large amount of Parisians, and I envied their casual strolls and their glances up to the monument that was in their backyard. Regardless, they walked with us, and everyone became alike in eyes that seemed permanently fixed at the top of the stairs. Finally, we reached it.
My view of Paris from Sacré Cœur was met with a perfectly heavy haze. This haze, however, was far from the one I’ve become used to that seems to perpetually drape itself over Los Angeles. This haze was outlined with buildings whose roofs looked like sketches, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance looked like it had been created with the tip of a pencil. Bodies around us clung to each other in the chill, and their eyes narrowed in astonishment at the environment that I was sure was impossible to get used to. A harpist has his back turned on the skyline, and instead his eyes were closed, focusing on his music, filling everyones ears with his own soundtrack. I took my eyes off the view from the sky to a much closer one, and noticed a couple to my left at the bottom of the stairs taking wedding photos. To my right anxious vendors attempted to sell trinkets and flimsy figurines, and in front of me a woman tried to angle her photo to fit the harpist into the landscape. I found it hard to imagine anything more perfect.
We watched, wishing there were more words to describe what we were feeling. Instead, we let it sink into us, and all the different types of languages spin around us. The buildings behind the Sacré Cœur were met with slanted streets, making me reminiscent of my visit to San Francisco, and the conversations and bustle of a city made me wonder how something so foreign could remind me so much of home. We wandered aimlessly, feeling content without a schedule or a place to go. Anxious thoughts about not understanding the language were washed away by the walls of the buildings, decorated with colourful art and sketches, and the doors that were painted bright blue on top of old Parisian stone. Scenes from one of my favourite movies Amélie came alive, everything from the café that she worked at to the fruit stand that she bought her apples and figs. For one of the first times since arriving in France, I felt perfectly at ease.
Montmartre fills you with the urge to make sudden transitions. Maybe it’s because of the hustle of bodies as you walk on a narrow sidewalk shoulder-to-shoulder, brushing arms with strangers who are all headed in different directions. Maybe it was the painters in Place du Tertre, some eyeing potential customers and others intently focused on their next piece. Maybe it’s the slanted streets, the buzzing of constant conversation, or the rhythm of multiple heels on cobblestone. Maybe it’s just Montmartre. Either way, at the end of the day as I got on the metro to head back into the heart of the city, I couldn’t help but feel dizzy; dizzy on the idea of what has been, what is, what will be, and how many languages it could be translated into.
“We could imagine all sorts of universes unlike this one, but this is the one that happened.”