The first time I remember visiting Paris was in October of 1994. My family had moved overseas to London and on a bank holiday weekend my family took a train through the Chunnel to Paris. I was 11 years old. (The first time I actually visited Paris had been as a baby with my parents during a summer my Dad was working in the South of France but I of course don’t recall that!)
My life would forever be changed by that 1994 trip as I now not only knew what made Paris so special – I couldn’t get enough of the city and have been returning ever since.
How I Fell in Love with Paris
I began studying French in 4th grade and would eventually carry on taking French every year of my life through college. I graduated with a minor in French and in doing so I have been able to steep myself in French culture and history throughout all my language studies.
I loved Paris deeply every subsequent time I visited. There would be another trip in the summer of 1996. I then visited in middle school around 1998 to see my best friend from London who lived just outside of Paris.
I’d spend two weeks in France – including Paris- in 2000 on a French class trip in high school and my family returned the following summer with a quick visit to Paris. By this point it was my favorite place on earth. I felt alive and enchanted. And set my sites on studying abroad in Paris when the time came.
The time for study abroad applications for the Fall semester of 2005 arrived. The experience almost didn’t happen as I was dealing with depression and anxiety induced following a chronic headache diagnosis after I was rear ended by an elderly man in a car accident my junior year of high school. My parents were worried about my going but thankfully placed their trust in me and in August of 2005 I boarded a plan to live in a city I had fallen in love with when I was little.
I spent four months exploring the city, taking courses on French culture, literature and learned as much outside the classroom as I did in one. It was a life changing experience for me.
I penned the below journal entry at 20 years old on my last evening in Paris for study abroad in December of 2005 and I thought I’d open my heart and share it with you all as I think it perfectly illustrates how deeply I fell in love with the city and how much certain experiences can move and shape our lives.
Journaling- December 11, 2005
Had someone asked me to picture my life at this time, December 2005, a couple years ago I would have hoped the answer would include ‘Paris’, but looking back at all that has happened to me in the past 5 years, I am still quite surprised I am here in a Parisian apartment, packing up what has become my life for the past 4 months. It is incredible to realize all I have seen, done, tasted, touched, experienced in this last semester because I, myself, can hardly believe it. I have ticket stubs, photos, brochures, maps, and handouts all that hold a piece of my experience in this city.
I knew this would be a life-changing experience for me, but I don’t know if I ever expected to feel so clueless as to what lays ahead for me at this point. I know it will be yet another transition to go home and then to return to Santa Clara and I look forward to it, but I know I will miss this city.
The past month has been incredibly trying on me both emotionally and physically and made it all the more exciting to anticipate returning home. It is frustrating to live amidst a different culture and language all the while taking classes, exploring, and trying to hold your own. But having been forced to do all these things has made me stronger, more independent, and overall I believe more stable. I missed things I never imagined I would miss, I became less dependent on cell phones, watches, driving, and so many other things that I had become accustomed to having provided for me.
I stayed true to my personality by always planning, trying to fill and savor every moment, but allowed myself to branch out in many ways. I ate things that never sounded appealing before. I went out a lot so as to not miss the chance to make memories and laugh. I felt comfortable in my own skin and that same skin thickened as a result of living in a less than desirable neighborhood.
I am comfortable sitting at a table by myself just reading and enjoying a coffee or hot chocolate. I don’t worry about what others think of me because passing judgments will be made by all we encounter or even pass on the street. I was hoping I might become more patient, but I think that is a lesson I will have to put on hold for another experience.
Before Paris, I found it very hard to stop and smile or take a deep breath to appreciate a moment. Here, it came naturally. Today I stood watching 5 older gentleman playing music and just listened for 10 or 15 minutes. I took in all that was around me, the beautiful time of day, and the music that just made you have to tap your toe. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
And, last night as I walked to the metro from the American Church in Paris where I saw a beautiful choral and bell concert, tears came down my face as I realized what treasures this city holds. It is magnificent as a tourist, but once you really know it- it takes on this whole new dimension. It’s like having had a million puzzle pieces put in front of you and being told, “you have 4 months to put all these together” and it’s a great feeling to feel as though I have successfully completed the puzzle.
My life here has unfolded in a series of successions I could never have predicted and for that I thank God. He has given me the wonderful friendship of [name withheld] to explore and learn this city, to be amazed and satisfied, to be annoyed and angry when the time called for it, and to share every opportunity filled day.
I have lived in a city that so many people in this world just dream of visiting. Everything seems to blend together and I so badly wish I could remember forever every moment that my breath was taken away. I hope certain images will forever stay ingrained in my mind. Drinking wine in the courtyard of the Louvre with the pyramid lit up and discussing family values, politics, religion, and my depression with [name withheld]. Walking from the Musee d’Orsay across the Seine and through the Tuileries to end up at Angelina’s for hot chocolate all by myself. Seeing the Christmas tree in Strasbourg lit up and all the children’s eyes glittering with wonder and amazement.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle for the first time and standing on the street just staring. Having dinner at La Tour d’Argent with my parents and feeling a sense of comfort. Every time I walked around the city when the sun was beginning to set and thinking each time, “this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I could stare at this forever”.
Nights spent at the Crazy Violin dancing with [names withheld], not caring who was looking, but enjoying one another’s company and the fact that we could dance and nothing mattered except for that we were enjoying ourselves. Or when I did Christmas shopping all afternoon and the sun was shining and it was such a great feeling to be buying gifts in Paris for people who have had such positive impacts on my life.
And none of this is to say that there weren’t times when I was completely lonely and frustrated. Being sexually harassed with cat calls on a daily basis is not only exhausting, but humiliating. I’ve had headaches that made me want to curl up and cry and be in my own bed. It’s hard to come home to some place you don’t consider ‘home’ every night. It’s hard to speak French all the time. It’s hard to depend on public transportation and have to pay so much money for everything. Experiencing homesickness for the first time, too defiantly took its toll on certain nights.
Now, in six days I will board a plane and leave this city. The weird thing is no one here will really know I have gone. The bars will continue to have plenty of people in them on a nightly basis, [name withheld] will have a new student to house in her home, and [program withheld] will continue on with their practices.
Yet, I guess in the long run none of that really matters. What matters is that I will be leaving with a part of the city with ME. For all the lessons I have learned, no matter how large or insignificant they are in the long run, it is important to recognize that the past 4 months have forever changed me. I know now that I must always “prenez le temps de vivre”, take deep breaths, and when possible…let life take your breath away…
. . .
That last paragraph – that was penned initially in my head as I stood at the Place de la Concorde – where the photos in this post were taken some 15 years later. I was staring down the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe watching the city at night buzz by. I felt a physical stamp on my heart for that moment and it has stayed with me all these years later. I felt relief. I felt free.
After study abroad it wouldn’t be until 2014 that I would return with the closest friend I met while studying abroad. We relived our glory days and made such wonderful memories back in a city we had loved and from which we had learned so much. It reignited my love for the city and I began thinking about moving to Paris.
I’d return in 2015 for interviews but ultimately didn’t make the move – instead choosing to reimagine my career. I began planning for self employment shortly after my trip in October 2015. In May of 2016 I was back in Paris and planning to quit my job in a few days. I wrote this post following my return – on the brink of so much change and so much hope.
It was during my trip in June of 2019 that I had the idea for Paris, Perfected which was born out of my true love of sharing my version of Paris with others. I wanted to expand how I shared Paris with my wit & whimsy audience and Paris, Perfected has allowed me to do that more than 150 times already.
Paris, Perfected showed me that working hard and taking risks is worth it. I never could have imagined that coming to Paris every year would launch a business for me that allowed me to come to Paris even more often. That that business would open doors and make memories I couldn’t even begin to imagine. It’s been a true dream come true.
To this day I still revel in my time in Paris. I love when Paris is covered in rose gold light. The quiet and soft mornings. When the air is filled with the smell of fresh bread. The city’s rose filled gardens. I love their keeping of age old traditions. Their understanding of the sacredness in savoring each day. How each day is a gift to be enjoyed, loved and remembered.
I still seek ways to add a dose of something française to my life each week. It’s led to a lifetime of discovery of ways to lead a meaningful, joyful and fulfilled life.
My trips to Paris have blessedly been annual since 2014. I sincerely hope I can continue this tradition this year. Before the pandemic struck I had planned to be in Paris at least three times in 2020 but the world had other plans.
Do you have a moment when you fell in love with Paris? I’d love to hear it if so!