Abroadingly
Published in

Abroadingly

Living/Leaving

Paris can be a good idea, yes.

In late September, I found myself struggling to operate a handheld digital weighing scale. I’m a hoarder; I hate packing; I loathe moving. Same old, same old. I had been packing to move to Paris — sounds magical, doesn’t it? But the truth is that I was terrified about leaving Berlin and uprooting my life. Sure, I hadn’t had a permanent address in the longest time to sob over, but anyone could tell that I was attached in an oh-my-gosh-this-is-all-I-want-to-write-about way. Three months in Paris, easy. I had it in my head that I would see and absorb as much of the city as humanly possible. Exploring the city instead of moping over the loss of my supposed “home” had seemed like the better option. Ironically, moving to Paris had me unpacking my suitcases and living out of my own shelves after five months.

My first time in Paris was in September 2019. As someone who only had a week before school, I got through what I’m now calling the Paris Basic Starter Pack: Eiffel Tower picnics, the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Seine, the water fountain at Hôtel de Ville, and Bastille. But even then, I was up for all the rues that the city has to offer, so a few special places had made it to my list: Musee d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Buttes Chaumont, and Pere Lachaise Cemetery. It would interest you to know that the person who broke the “No Eating” rule in the Mona Lisa room swears on the grave of Oscar Wilde that she never got caught. Also, she is a hoarder. Hates packing. Loathes moving.

Steel and stone.

There is an unspoken magnetic pull that brings you back to Paris and you’re left wondering if there really is more to do. So, that was my Christmas in Paris. I spent one day in Versailles and another in Disneyland. By your second time, you already have stories that begin with “Remember that time in Paris when…” We saw the Eiffel Tower light up seven times in a row because we couldn’t find a bus back. December was when the public transportation strike was gaining momentum. We had spent seven hours in the neighbourhood of the giant. After the third time, we could really sense the steely thing mocking the little people frantically transferring from one bus to another just to circle back.

But I had been on vacation the other times. For my third time, I didn’t know how to live and work in Paris without making a big deal about every cobblestone. There were days when I would feel silly staring into my screen with Paris awaiting me on the other end of my window. That FOMO helped me keep my rep as a tourist. I made a list once more and this one was comprehensive. With a little help from Atlas Obscura and my own research I narrowed in on the most weirdly specific places that piqued my interest. These places were to be my side quests in life to keep me from hyperventilating about the main quest that remains — packing and hauling my suitcases every three months.

You can’t help but stare.

My personal list comprised both the meaningful and the whimsical. Shakespeare & Company, La Mutinerie, and Gaîté Lyrique were perhaps the more meaningful ones as compared to my great agenda to spot every coloured Wallace Water Fountain and every ceramic Space Invaders street art in Paris. The way that I had managed to keep up with the list was by leaving home at EOD and spending hours on foot. I’d mark a location on my map and walk in the general direction while losing myself to whatever else was on the way there. The street lights and the quays had a way substituting every buzzing thought with a calming image. It felt good, you know? Taking an off-beat path, being a tourist, an almost local: all of it.

Then came the curfew. For a good reason, of course. The walks had become shorter and less of an exploration. But, my spirit hadn’t entirely died out. I would still stick my nose against the glass windows of boulangeries and sit my bottom on every pretty bench. I had truly believed that there would be more time to seek out the elusive pink, yellow, red, and blue water fountains. But, you know where this is going. The curfew, of course, did nothing to reduce the number of COVID cases in the city. By the time that the rumours of a strict lockdown reached the news, I had begun questioning what I would be getting from staying on in Paris, in the absence of my obscure to-do list, not to mention the exponential rise in cases and deaths. That nascent thought of leaving started to make more sense when my friend in the Netherlands invited me to crash with them instead. As soon as the lockdown was announced, I remember heading out to a grocery store. Panic-buying? No, I had had this urge to buy crepes (in bulk). Paris is probably the only place where the supermarket-grade baked goods are on par with cafés and restaurants. There was another silly moment that night: I really wanted to see the tower light up one last time. In an attempt to placate the panic, I made my way to the metro with brown paper bags overflowing with baked goods. I even made a playlist and promptly named it: Last Night in Paris.

Deserted for miles, the tower did its usual thing as I watched on, stuffing my face with olive bread and croissants. With all my travel-lists rendered undoable and my work being remote, I had been handed the opportunity to leave. I had already been uprooted and declared mobile: wouldn’t it all be worth it to move to a safer place with blue skies and bike paths? It took me a few hours to pack and a day to leave. The government had set the weekend aside for people to regroup with their family in and around the country. It’s hard to sleep on an 8-hour 23 euro bus, so I found myself with a lot of time to think. I had chosen the safer option — the opportunity that I had been given was not one that many were handed.

I had not anticipated a small Dutch town in my fate. And yet, I sit here craving stroopwaffles with my coffee and Joppie sauce with my fries. I still find myself looking at my list achingly and cursing myself for visiting the same old Eiffel Tower on my last day instead of the pink Wallace Fountain or Shakespeare & Co. But, I was only passing by. I was a tourist who could pick things up and just leave. Despite all my fancy lists, I craved familiarity and a traditional farewell.

Paris truly is the most magical city to visit, but the thought of actually starting over and living in Paris had filled me with the fear that I’d never have stability and a place with my name on the letterbox for at least another 6 months. The transience was scary, so I went on to find creative distractions. My decision to leave Paris and end my obsession with seeing everything in the city cemented one thing: stability is overrated. The very real possibility that you need to open yourself up to is that you might never really live in a place long enough to sit on every bench or drink from every water fountain. And that’s okay.

TLDR; if you’d rather read a poem, click here.

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For all you brave, dissatisfied souls who started life afresh in another country, and all that that entails.

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Shruthi Subramanian

Shruthi Subramanian

I write and eat my feelings. Hi, I’m Shruthi.

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