One of the most honest things I can ever say is that I very scarcely remember what I was like as a person before I went to Paris. When I try to, it’s fuzzy and as if seen through squinted eyes. I didn’t even know how to define a perspective until I got up and left the one I had for 19 years.
My memory box is mostly in my head; the experiences and walks and feeling of seeing something for the first time. These items don’t have the capacity to explain what it felt like getting off the metro and walking up the stairs directly to the statue of Saint Michael, or how the air felt when I wandered into a park and laid flat on a bench. My Sorbonne transcripts don’t take me back to my french professor handing out macaroons and candy after a difficult test. But it’s what we have, and I’ve come to learn the weight that a piece of paper can carry.
My first item, in Parisian fashion, is the cork from a wine bottle.
It’s safe to say that during many of the dinners I had in Paris, I became increasingly more of a wide-eyed alcoholic as each one passed. Any trip we took to le marché included some sort of vegetable and protein, sometimes pasta, sometimes chicken, very often different peppers and squashes. But, most stagnantly, a good bottle of wine. Having become accustomed to dropping $20 or more on a drinkable wine in the US, you can imagine my delight when the local and incredible wine in my neighborhood cost me around 5 euros. Rosé, chardonnay, champagne; also known as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…
With our full brown paper bags in tow, we would climb the staircase in my apartment and lay all our ingredients out on the kitchen counter. Friends would travel from different metro stations to my then-home, and we would all squeeze into any space left available in my dollhouse sized apartment and chat about everything and nothing, sipping on wine and smelling the wafts of dinner coming from the kitchen. My roommate mostly went out, but some of the nights I loved most were staying in. Many people in my class didn’t really like their living situations. But for me, it was the first time I felt I could rightfully call a living space mine.
My second item is the biggest and warmest scarf I’ve ever own, purchased for a bargained price on Rue De Rivoli. Self-described as 5”10 with a love of heels, I never jumped on the Parisian trend of white Adidas sneakers, but instead stuck to my heeled boots and occasional ballet flats. But, I couldn’t argue against the scarves I saw piled on the Parisian’s necks, wrapping up their [frustratingly] flawless complexions while the rest of the fabric hung down their backs. I bought mine less than a week in.
I wore that scarf an uncountable amount of days. I still wear that scarf an uncountable amount of days. And when I do, it’s not just something to throw on. It’s a memory of the first time a local spoke to me in French instead of English. It was the first time I successfully fought the Parisian rain. It was the first time I blended in, and the first taste of a strange, foreign acceptance. It was the first time that I realized my home didn’t have to be the city I was born in.
My third item is a ticket for the La Cinémathéque Française. Because my mass collection of movie tickets doesn’t count as one item, this ticket is instead an accumulation of the movies I went to by myself or with others while I lived there. In the US, it’s a strange thing to be in a theatre without someone sitting next to you. But when I went in Paris, it was the first time that I had seen handfuls of people doing the same thing I was. There was no need to discuss the film afterwards, or even during. There were not expectations of how you should or shouldn’t react to the scenes playing on the screen in front of you. It was just you and the images you were looking at, and the best part was that when you left, you didn’t have to say a word. Some people had their biggest moments of independence as one usually does; traveling to a different country alone or going to a restaurant and asking for a table for one. But the most independent I’ve ever felt was in that darkened theater, legs stretched out and eyes stretched wide.
My fourth item strangely isn’t from my time in Paris. Instead, it’s a torn piece of journal paper from my friend Jamie’s notebook that I quickly scribbled thoughts onto while walking through the narrow streets of Venice. Often when traveling Jamie and I would take the time to sit at a cafe and write in our journals. At this particular time, Jamie decided to write in a small church we found along our walk. I decided instead to walk around.
Reading this note now, I don’t necessarily feel like I’m in the moment I was in while writing it. Rather, I feel like I’m watching a home video of myself, laughing at how lost I assume I looked. I wrote about meeting a waiter outside a restaurant down one of those narrow streets, saying, “He quickly spoke to me in English after realizing my failed attempt at conversationalist Italian, and we even exchanged some sentences in French. I soon left with a business card in my pocket and the promise of a free glass of prosecco if I were to return later”. This note gives me a strange but acute sense of time, of the moments you’re in and how quickly they can pass. What if I hadn’t stopped by and met that waiter, and what would I have written about instead? Where have I visited recently that I haven’t written about? And why did I feel it was so important to write about it? What’s worth writing about?
My final item is my school notebook from my time learning French at the Sorbonne. The all black moleskin, a gift from my brother earlier that year, is almost completely full with conjugations and sentences and mispronounced verbs. And it’s very, very coffee-stained.
The classes I took in Paris were, to this day (at the tail end of my college education), the most frustrating, difficult and amazing classes I’ve ever taken. My French professor, a tall, brunette and blue eyed Parisian woman named Élodie has to be the most patient woman I have ever met on this planet. She waited as I mispronounced heureuse countless times, and she giggled as I explained what some words were translated to in English. She still messages me on Facebook asking if I could explain some of my captions and posts. I very badly try to explain them to her.
Much like my note in Venice, this notebook is filled with tiny tidbits of what I was seeing around me and what I found worth writing about. It’s full of architecture terms from my elective course, of quotes from the book I was reading at the time, and of lyrics from the songs that I replayed over and over again on my metro commute. This journal is the closest I’m able to feel like my Paris-time self. And the last entry, written just days before my departure from the city and below the l’imperatif conjugation of the verb prendre, sums all these memories up into one cohesive sentence:
I’m going to let all of this consume me.