SAME OLD PARIS, VERY DIFFERENT ME

8.20.15

The rain was coming down hard as we packed our bags. We had been in Paris only three nights, but the summer days seemed to stretch on indefinitely. The sun refusing to set gave us countless hours to explore the narrow roads between our apartment and the sprawling city.

We were staying in a cozy studio in Le Marais. On our sleepy street, a heavy wooden door opened into a courtyard overgrown with ivy. Tables and benches littered the corners, collecting dust. It was clear they hadn’t been used in years, but their general wear gave me the impression this area was once a lively setting for chic Parisian social gatherings. Its dilapidation only further enhancing the enchantment. Once inside the apartment, the charm came from its size, or lack thereof. There was barely enough room for a bed, but it was aptly positioned adjacent to the rather petite wood burning fireplace. While it never cooled off enough to use it, the mere presence and direct view into the lush green courtyard through floor to ceiling paned windows made it impossibly seductive. The kitchen was non-existent, but with a bed placement like that there wasn’t much need (or time) for making meals. By the time we left, our bedside table held a staggering amount of empty bottles of wine and remnants of the local patisserie's chocolate delicacies. 

We moved slowly around the room that morning as the weight of the wine made our bodies heavier than usual. We were in no rush and chose instead to keep warm under the sheets as we waited for the storm to pass.

Even after we put our clothes back on and drank up the last bit of tea our tiny home had to offer, the rain refused to stop and we decided to head out anyways.

We had planned to spend the next few days driving through the French countryside to Germany where I was meeting my family for a short holiday. After that I would be continuing on my solo exploration of northern Europe. In search of something - myself maybe, or perhaps a sense of comfort being on my own.

It was in Germany I would say goodbye to Todd for what could have been forever. He had decided prior to our trip that time apart was best for us over the next several months, unsure of his ability to commit after our unconventional convergence. Perhaps unsure of mine as well. We had run full speed into each other the past few months, and he wanted to be certain it was because of what was in front of us, and not behind. 

The inevitable goodbye was always in the back of our minds, which only made us hold on tighter for the short amount of time we had together. Every sweet moment turning bitter at the thought of it all coming to an end.

The idea of being without him distracted me that morning as I waited for him to return with our rental car. He pulled up in a red and white fiat imposter. Brand name unknown, but just as delightfully miniature. Our bags were stacked to the ceiling in what couldn’t possibly be considered a back seat.

As we drove away, Paris disappeared quickly into the rearview mirror. We were moving fast, and that movement felt real. Like my life was being forced in a direction I wasn’t prepared for. Time had stood still when we were in Paris. And now it was moving too quickly for me to keep up. 

I watched him closely as he drove. Sunglasses on, effortlessly navigating the winding roads turning more and more desolate by the minute. Each town we passed was less inhabited, more quaint than the last. I didn’t say a word, but my heart was screaming - love me! And his just quietly whispering back – I want to, but I need to learn how to love me first. 

I wanted to turn around. Go back to Paris. Go back to playing pretend. The way we had when we first fell in love. But the thing about playing pretend is that reality always surrounds your make believe world, and eventually the two collide. In this case rather painfully. 

I knew if we were to ever be together again, I would have to let him go. Even more harrowing was the ability to comprehend why. Our lives were messy, and to bring them together might have made things even more chaotic. Individually lost and confused, I wanted to be the person to help him realize all the things he never saw. Love his flaws, so he would love them too. Maybe we could clean each other up, or live forever our own imperfect world. But he had a methodical path to discovery that I couldn’t begin to understand. And I had learned you never have to force what’s real. So I was prepared to wait. Hopeful that path would lead him to me. 

11.18.16

To be back in Paris, walking those same narrow streets hand in hand with the man I love so dear was surreal. It didn’t feel like the second time, but the 100th time. I knew then my soul had loved him for lifetimes, not months and not years. 

LETTERS FROM EUROPE & MY FORMER SELF

One of the most grounding things you can do is read your old journal entries. Getting a backward view into who you use to be, what emotions and situations plagued you at the time and how far you have come – optimistically speaking. I have kept a journal ever since I could write my name on paper. Scribbles turned into words, then eventually complete sentences and stories. I had a lot to say back then. So much that my parents made a house decree in hopes of getting a break from my endless chattering. I was to write down everything I was thinking rather than say it out loud.

There still remain stacks of notebooks in the back of my mother’s closet – housing my most precious thoughts, sealed in time. Some of my favorite entries include a poem called “50 million question grandma” and an essay on how to avoid credit card debt. A bit narrow in scope and reference as the single source of information was my parents, but quite intriguing from the perspective of an 8-year-old child. 

More than anything, those journals capture my youthful perspective. Most words are observations, with little assessment. Moments of anger or sadness captured in the form of what happened rather than how I was feeling and why. That eventually evolved over time as I learned to use writing as a tool to balance my mind and allow me the space to make my thoughts whole.

Recently, I read the entire journal I kept while backpacking around Europe last summer. A little more acrimonious than the poems and stories I wrote as a child, the pages are filled with endless rumination over love and loss, purpose and self acceptance. 

One entry seems to capture it perfectly:

October 1st, 2015 (Positano, Italy) - If anyone were to read my journal, I think they would find me to be an emotional mess and not even realize that I had been traveling the world for the last 3 months. Perhaps by a mention of location, but these pages are mostly filled with the tragedy that is my love life. And while it took me flying halfway across the globe, I have learned nothing makes the world turn more than love, or the absence of it in anyone’s life. I should include that from where I sit I can see the coast line, tiny box houses precariously perched atop the hillside peeking out above a low layer of clouds. I can smell that it rained all night and morning and hear the gentle sounds of people talking around me…

Those three months traveling and writing helped me process, organize and prioritize my life. Allowed the waves of optimism to coincide with extreme anxiety in order to find balance and happiness. No longer letting my former self step in front of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish. More than anything they capture a period of time so imperative to who I am today. And while sometimes I want to go back and smack that disparaging girl I once was, I must respect the journey as much as destination.

Check out the gallery. 

LOVE IN VERSAILLES

We had been in Paris for only a couple of hours when Todd made the suggestion to visit the Palace of Versailles. Ugh, I thought to myself. The whole concept of paying to tour another dead person’s home didn’t interest me at all. Sure castles are cool. Historical sites are insightful and all, but they are always the same. No matter how big they are.

For me the problem lies in being too much of a realist. I know I won’t get to gallivant through the vast, spacious hallways. Sneak into the bedrooms and open the drawers of these former prince and princesses. See what weird shit they were getting into back in the day. Let my mind really wander, envisioning what life was like back then. No no no. I will wait. For hours. Up to 3 sometimes, just to get a ticket. And then be informed I must wait again, “over there,” in a separate line for ticket holders. When I finally reach the entry point I am exhausted, tired and far from enchanted. 

Typically, the average paying tourist will get to see a couple of rooms that have been redecorated in what the assumed style of the time was. Which is always gaudy and overdone. I am definitely not getting any ideas on how to furnish my future home and there is a reason why big houses and covering everything you own in gold went out of style. It's just silly. 

I told Todd I had no interest in spending my hard earned euros continuing to indulge in some under endowed former king’s wet dream of still being a commodity after all these years. I don’t know why Louis XIV thought his shit didn’t stink more than the rest of those old royal folks. But seriously, no one needs a 720,000 sq feet palace. And that’s not even including the grounds.

Obviously I lost that battle. And off we went.

A quick history lesson will teach you the Palace of Versailles is the central most part of the complex which housed the French government, most notably its royalty, during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. Infamous Louis XIV was largely responsible for its construction and expansion during his 72 years as king. This great mirage of wealth manifested from power, luxury and overindulgence is now one of the largest tourist attractions in Paris. And for good reason I discovered. A short train ride from Paris, you board a lovely branded car at a stop with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. The precise location where I stopped talking so much shit and actually began to appreciate the whole experience. Which was in fact quite splendid. 

The walk from the train to the palace – charming. The line to get inside - manageable. The views – incredible. The weather – perfect.

We set aside an entire day for the excursion, which relieved my chronic travelers anxiety of accomplishing as much as possible in a single stretch of daylight. Todd is a self proclaimed history buff and insists we do the audio tour whenever available. I frequently complain but am often impressed with the commentary they provide throughout. Germ infested console in hand we set out in our exploration. 

We might have liked to move at our own pace, but Todd and I both lack the height needed to spot someone from afar and can get easily lost in a crowd. Surrounded by what felt like a southern grown football team, we locked arms and pushed our way through the introduction videos and educational notes. 

Despite being abraded from both sides of my body, and by no means in a good way, I was quite astonished with the place. The sheer amount of incredible architecture and art meant we spent little time talking to each other and a lot of time wide eyed, glued to our audio guides. Todd and I were both in awe and amazed at how even in the most crowded places you can find a certain repose that evokes true appreciation. 

And then there were the gardens. The incredible and unimaginably beautiful gardens! At first it seems impossible to imagine so few people having the opportunity to enjoy such luxurious sanctity back then. But if you walk just a short distance, remove yourself from the crowds and erase the noise completely you can arrive there. Todd and I spent the afternoon walking through the maze of trees - mini bottles of champagne and crepes in hand. 

Stomachs full, tipsy and happy from the day's events, we headed towards the exit. A lofty attempt at one last adventure, Todd urged us to rent a boat before we departed. It really did look like fun and I screamed, "Yes, lets do it." 

My natural abilities on the water confirmed I wouldn’t have faired well in a place like Versailles, or what I imagine an ivy league school being like. I cant play tennis for shit, horses terrify me and rowing didn't make any sense at all. After a few failed attempts, my man took care of the rest.  

He toured me around the lake for over an hour. We had planned on a brief and cost effective ride, but after finding a corner all to ourselves we were in no hurry. As we drifted away from everyone, I closed my eyes. The rock of the boat and euphonious sound of the paddle hitting the water put me in a disarming trance. All the emotions from the day culminating. In those moments my mind clears completely and the world appears infinite. 

When I opened them we were stopped and Todd was smiling in my direction. He leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “sometimes watching you lost in a moment is better than being lost in one myself.” 

I rolled my eyes, smiled and thought again how silly this place was and how silly I was in it. Sitting in an overpriced rented boat, on a crowded lake, in the biggest tourist trap in France - who was I? My heart kindling over the picturesque backdrop and purely in awe of the man in front of me. Caught up in the cheesiness of it all and what I can best describe as a staggering moment of pure happiness, I realized I had found myself in love again. Utterly, irredeemably in love. 

By the time we made it back to Paris we decided to skip dinner and drink wine in bed until we fell asleep. I thought about how poor Louis XIV never understand the comfort in simplicity. But I do hope he knew a similar moment out on that lake. And love.

Check out the gallery.