I have been trying to write about Paris for weeks. Her name sticks to my tongue – sweet like honey, sticky like tar. All half-written sentences and aborted stories. Perhaps I should take the hint.
We are working our way through our second pot of mint tea – drunk on easy conversation and wonderful food. The evening is warm, and long, all city sweat and summer air. So, she asks, settling more comfortably into her chair. Are you glad to be back?
The question is unexpected. It hangs there – I sift through my thoughts for an answer I do not have, and the silence goes on just long enough that she answers herself. You aren’t, are you. This time it isn’t a question. It’s not that, I finally say.
What is it, then ?
I thought Paris would be easy. Familiar. I expected to pick up right where we had left off and to seamlessly fit back into one another’s lives. I was so certain it would already be a home.
I feel estranged, I tell her. The thing about Paris is that I used to know her, and know I don’t. She is covered in memories – in dust and ghosts and old haunts that don’t belong to me anymore. Like an ill-fitting garment – tight in places and loose in others, wrong around my shoulders. I didn’t expect things to be so different.
I returned to Paris and spent the first few weeks tracing my way back to the places that had once felt like they were mine. The food is the same – but the bartender doesn’t remember me now. I cannot see the tip of the Sacré Cœur from my window anymore and the owners of the pizza joint have changed.
And the boy – the boy who felt like the cusp of love. Whose eyes, and hands, felt like they could make and unmake me with the slightest intake of air, body hum-hum-humming next to his, my skin rewritten. The boy who felt like mine, that one long, last night in Paris.
We might have loved each other, I think, had I not left for the better part of a year. And for so long I carried the ghost of that knowledge with me – it felt like so long before I could let it go.
And when I returned I sat down in front of him, and drank beer, and kissed him – and yet all I could think was how it all tasted like too little, too late. We might have loved each other, and I watched us hang on to that thought knowing we couldn’t, not anymore.
So much has changed, I tell her, and she chides me gently. Not really. You’re the one who has been doing the changing.
The only way is forward. I had forgotten, I think.
And so, this summer has been for falling back in love with Paris. Grudgingly, sometimes. But in love, nonetheless: with quiet marvel and laughter spilling free in public, eyes wide open. It has been about accepting that we are both new in this. About learning her again, and learning her differently.
About seeing she has so much to teach me still. And so much wonder to share.
The hidden dead-ends, covered in cobblestone and bloom, with something medieval about them, and that feel like well-kept secrets. The off-the-road coffee shops that feel like home before I even step inside them, with warm scones out of the oven and people with kind smiles, the wet markets spilling with noise and smells, crowded with people tasting fresh cheese, asking where the fish was caught, buying flowers wrapped in newspaper, chasing after their children. I find my way to the bookstores and the water.
I have, inexplicably, found a flat in a street covered in hearts. Stencilled onto the stone, superimposed onto one another, outlined and sometimes filled, in threes or all on their own. They are yellow and grey, black and pink and green. Blue.
It is a small blind street, off the main road, all uneven cobblestones and plants left to grow wild. There is a potted olive tree.
The people here know each other by name. There is always someone around – sometimes it’s loitering men barely out of teenage-hood with closed-off faces and impatient movements, and sometimes it’s kids running wild, all gleeful peals of laughter ringing late into the night.
I have a roommate, now. Someone to come home to and talk about our days with. There are evenings where I am exhausted and sad, for whatever reason, and on those evenings he sits on my couch and listens. I am not used to all the talking yet, but it is a strange, wonderful thing.
I have good people here. People that expand my galaxy, people to go on adventures with, people that make me feel loved.
I collect street-art – a treasure hunt, all over the city – and have tentatively begun to make my own. I find new haunts that make me feel belonged. I write.
I have three months left in Paris – which isn’t enough, and still so much. I have three months left and I am hungry for every single one of those days.