My first trip to Paris was a marking experience in my life. I remember walking through Tuilleries, without even really knowing where we were. We sat on the green chairs on the elevated area near the Jeu de Paume museum, looking out across the Place de la Concorde and towards the Eiffel Tower. There's a picture of me, with my sunglasses on, slightly tipped on my nose so that you can see my eyes. I'm looking back at my mom, who took the picture, from the chair. It was my first attempt at Parisian attitude.
I don't remember what I ate (seriously...this is strange for me), I don't remember any certain smells or even certain emotions. I just remember Tuilleries, and then walking up the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe. And that's when I saw her. This tall, thin, glamourous Parisian woman. She was wearing all black with towering black high heel shoes. She walked with such confidence down the Champs-Élysées. She even jaywalked across the avenue, which at the time shocked me so much, but I admired her guts, her courage...her Parisian swagger. In my unsure, unconfident teenage mind, I saw some certainty in this woman.
I would be her one day.
Fast forward thirteen years. I said good-bye to my family and friends and boarded a plane to Paris. I had been selected for an internship at the US Embassy there, and was off to live in a small apartment with a girl I had never met before and the woman who owned my new home. Afterwards, I would spend some time in Strasbourg, studying, and then I would come back to Memphis after about 7 months to finish my degree. At least that's what I thought.
I swore after the turmoil that was the riots, strikes, and chaos of 2005-2006, that I would never live in Paris again (yeah, the fates are laughing now...) But when I arrived in Paris back in May 2009, the city intoxicated me in a new way. Maybe it was because I was a bit older, or maybe it was because Paris and I had come to terms and I could handle its craziness. I don't know how it happened, but I fell in love with Paris all over again. I wanted to discover all that she was and all she could teach me.
I never went back to Memphis to finish my degree. I stayed in Paris and did it from a distance. As much as my logic told me it was the right thing to do, my heart told me that it would be the biggest mistake of my life to leave Paris and go back home. I never looked back and I stayed. Through bad jobs and broken hearts, through cultural differences and feeling utterly alone at times, I have turned Paris into my home. On even the worst day, like walking 2.5 hours home in the cold rain because you can't find a taxi cab at night, all I have to do is go back to where it began. The Place de la Concorde. I look across that square, and remember what it was like to drink it in for the very first time. And I can't help but smile.
Paris has changed me in ways I will never realize. I am so very thankful for this life. For the memories that appear in my head when I close my eyes. For the people I have met and who have touched my life here. For the places I have been. For the tastes and smells.
Of course, my three years wouldn't have been as great (or even existed!) if it wasn't for the now husband. What started off as a beautiful friendship, blossomed into love during an insomnia-induced walk through Paris. We talked about anything and everything, as we kept walking until 4 AM. He has been my Paris (and France) survival guide and my sounding board when I have my I hate Paris/France moments (mostly involving immigration, banks, and customer service) ever since. We discover Paris together, and it never gets old.
So here's to three years in Paris. I'm not quite as tall as that woman I saw all those years ago, but I've learned to walk with my head high, in towering high heels, across this city as I head home to my little Parisian apartment. Occasionally, I'll hear American women say, "I don't know how those French women walk in such high heels on these uneven walkways!"
And I can't help but smile.