Paris is probably a little cliche as an escape. Romantics, foodies, philosophers and history buffs alike talk about whisking themselves off to the city of light. Mention that you’re going, and everyone around you sighs dreamily and gets twinkly-eyed. That’s just what Paris means to people, at least in theory.
And I’m one of them, but for a slightly different reason. You see, my first visit to Paris inspired me to upend my life. Once upon a time, I was living somewhere I wasn’t crazy about, working bits and pieces of jobs to make ends meet, and generally sulking about being part of the rat race. I was tired, I was frustrated, and I was…stuck. I’m not ashamed to say that it was the film “Amelie” that put Paris in my head. I bought right into the cotton-candy pink images of flitting around on a moped, hearing snippets of love songs in the subway, musing about the meaning of life in sweet little cafes.
Maybe I should mention that years before, I did my thesis on Simone de Beauvoir, and no, that didn’t trigger any of this (sorry, Simone). The intellectual history of Paris just didn’t mean that much to me. The clincher was the idea that somewhere else, everyday life could include a healthy dose of whimsy. I needed the smell of croissants, the twinkle of lights on the Eiffel Tower, to be stared at by a gargoyle atop Notre Dame.
Long story short-Paris was everything I’d hoped it would be. We went for about a week, and packed in as much of the city as we could. On our first day, we sat on the edge of the fountain in the Trocadero and stuck our feet into it, like eager pilgrims who’ve reached the wellspring. We lived off lemon tarts and crusty bread. We walked, and walked, and walked, and observed how people enjoyed their meals without the distraction of electronics. Like many, many foreign suckers before us, we fell completely and utterly in love with the city.
And then we went home. And soon after, we quit our jobs. And then we moved. And then we started our own business. A complete life overhaul was all sparked by Paris. For a while, like a kid who becomes obsessed with dinosaurs after a trip to the museum, I was pretty single-minded about it. I decorated our kitchen with black and white photos of the city of light, and learned to bake Parisian treats. I watched every movie I could find that was set in Paris. I learned to wear an artfully-arranged scarf. Paris flipped a switch in my brain that wouldn’t be flipped back. It made me re-evaluate all the things I thought were important.
In the years that followed, there were two more trips to Paris, one just the two of us, and one with a preschooler who seemed to be just as enchanted as we were. The changes that came after each subsequent trip maybe weren’t as profound as the ones that followed the first one, but there was always some shift in world view, some re-evaluation of goals. Paris has become our symbol, our touchstone, our shorthand for needing something to move, to transform, to breathe.
Paris has taken up lodging in my subconscious too. I dream of it when I’m faced with major decisions or feeling stagnant. In my dreams, I mean to explore just the right little corner, to revisit something fascinating. In every dream I have of Paris, I run out of time and have to go home, or I keep walking past someplace important without realizing it. Sometimes part of the city is closed off or too crowded. Without fail, I wake to the overwhelming feeling that something has been left undone, that something has been uncovered.
It’s been about six years since I’ve been back. I’ve been lucky enough to explore all kinds of other fascinating cities around the world, but they’ve never had the same transformative effect that Paris does. Lately, I’ve started to notice drawings of the Parisian skyline on t-shirts and posters. I’m longing for roast chicken with frites and pain au chocolat. I’m feeling the need to wander through cobblestone streets, unhurried, past clever murals on the sides of buildings, to hear the lilt of chatter at the market.
I really have no idea what needs to change in my life right now, but I’m hearing the call, and with a little luck, I’ll be heeding it soon. This time around, I’ll be flying in from a place of curiosity, rather than dissatisfaction. When I come home, I won’t be quitting or uprooting anything, but I could be discovering or building. Once again, Paris has something to teach me, and I ache to learn.
“Paris is always a good idea.” Truer words were never spoken.