it’s been seven months since i last wrote, but in short: i left paris in a flurry and am now in new york city. most of you readers already know the details that fill the gaps in between, so i’ll leave them out here.
i work on the upper east side in a in a six-story mansion right off of park avenue and when i go out for my lunch break i see swarms of middle-aged women with puffy lips, tight skin, and legs so aerobiscised that their designer linen slacks barely coat their thighs. others, the majority of whom boast astonishingly toned arms, take brisk walks in central park while occasionally sipping iced coffees and chatting (loudly) about their now-grown children. many have very small dogs on leashes.
but really, what’s with all the toned arms and brisk walks? and don’t get me wrong–i do my fair share of running. but where parisian women intimidate with their delicate waifishness, manhattan’s skinny bitches could probably kick your ass.
little print-outs adorn the stairwells at my office to remind employees to “take the stairs, it burns 10 calories!” health benefits cover programs to quit smoking (which is illegal on the premises) and human resources offers an attractive gym-reimbursement package. there are “regular” (chain-brand chips) and “healthy” (more expensive, attractively-packaged chips with likely similar nutritional value) vending machines in the basement, though my plan is to go crazy on the “regular” treats and take the stairs all the way back up to the 4th floor to, according to the motivational signage, burn forty whole calories. see, i’ve already cracked the system and i’m only four weeks in.
zoom back to my last post. in february, i wrote that i finally felt content with my parisian experience. the city no longer paralyzed me with its beauty, but its wonder hadn’t worn off completely. boredom remained a foreign concept, because my aimless walks never ceased to entertain and café scenery remained a space ripe for musing. still, somewhere between march and august something changed. that exhilarating paris-high i could always count on didn’t go away, but it became part of the reality. that was just it–everyday nuisances infiltrated what had been my alternate parisian universe. waiting in line at the post office was no longer funny because it was french; it was actually waiting in line at the damn post office for an hour when i was on my way to my thankless job, irritating boss, the works. the boundaries had blurred. life’s dirt was messing up my paradise.
as daily annoyances slowly pushed paris off its pedestal, i felt homesick–for the place itself, not for its associations–for the first time in years. i missed the u.s. of a.
no, i’m not just talking about iced coffee, customer service, and tacos (though i’m not negating their greatness either). my window for european gallivanting was closing naturally, if not expiring. after years of idealizing elsewhere, of trying to crack parisian code, and of searching for ways to prolong my french fugue state, it lost all its glimmer. my status as an etrangère devolved from thrilling to constraining. i was une petite californienne above all, stubbornly defending my americanness while earnestly trying to convey my intimate relationship with paris, flaunting the fact that, despite my foreignness, i had made it my home. but that sense of ownership, however satisfying, was a finishing touch on my parisian séjour. my triumph over my wide-eyed 19-year-old dream of truly living in paris, whatever that meant or means, also stripped the karina versus saga of its raison d’être. my battle was no longer antagonistic, and so it tapered off. it was time to go.
so when i found out that i was moving to new york and, two days later, did just that, i didn’t curl up into a ball and retreat into some existential crisis. i packed up my apartment and left, more or less, with a goodbye walk, a croissant, and a farewell pastis at au chat noir somewhere in between. i bid adieu to my first ever parisian home, at 6 cite martignac. i kept bracing myself for some big moment where i’d pause from packing and look out my window at all the parisian rooftops and take a long sigh and then burst into tears, realizing that i was abandoning the world i had created for myself. it didn’t happen until i got to the airport, and, during a goodbye hug with my first friend in paris, became a weepy baby. but even then, i wasn’t mourning paris. i was just suddenly overwhelmed that life was happening, and that i was tucking paris away indefinitely as part of the past. it was closing, but i had closure.
new york feels like the big leagues. the real deal. no nonsense. lots of garbage. loud sounds. all the smells. sandwiched between chasidic jews, jamaicans, and lululemon-clad, hair-straightened blondes that get on the subway at the west 4th street stop. an obnoxious woman hanging on her boyfriend so loudly, quite audibly telling him her life story on an 8:31 a.m. F-train (everyone here is very loud). a chaotic morass where all the world’s parts converge. the whole mess of it all makes paris seem quaint, almost to the point of insignificance, a collage of old postcards that, while nice, exists on a different plane. and, because it’s amurrica, everything seems to work–disconnected parts meld together efficiently, everything is open all the time, and services don’t necessarily take a week to complete. my first day of work attests to this: en route to the office, my shoe broke (of course, because that’s how things go). after destroying my finger tips and manicure with superglue i managed to slap together a poor cobbling job, which unsurprisingly broke just an hour later. during my lunch break i found a shoe repair man, to whom i gave a long speech about my broken strap and how ann klein had single handedly wrecked my first day of work, in hopes that his sympathy for my helplessness would compell him to fix my shoe in a timely manner. he looked at me puzzled, nodded, and told me that it would take five minutes (and five dollars) to save my day. i was stunned. had he really just matter-of-fact-ly told me that he could fulfill my request in FIVE MINUTES, much less within an hour, or under a day or a week, no flirtation, negotiation, or complications involved? he had already run circles around my beloved cordonnier on rue du faubourg du temple, who, while charming, seemed to focus more on inviting me out to coffee or to watch algeria’s soccer game than on promptly addressing my shoe-related needs. veuillez patienter will no longer be the constant refrain delaying my every move.
paris is undeniably poetic in a way unrivaled by any other place i’ve been, and that’s special. but for the first time, i’ve stopped trying to locate its glory in other places. i’ve accepted that paris exists in paris, and i like it that way, to the point where i resented its embrace of foreign trends. i laughed at cafés à la newyorkais and hip paris’s decision that brooklyn had become the barometer of all things cool. i was bewildered at why the 10th arrondissement would trade croissants for carrot cake. bref, i fell in love with paris because i was convinced that it was timeless, and then felt betrayed when i found out that, like any other city, it was vulnerable and in flux.
(i’ll mention here that i recently ate carrot cake at a café in brooklyn and enjoyed it tremendously. carrot cake is actually really good.)
over expensive cocktails a week or two ago, a friend who has been living in new york for years told me the city is characterized by its constant dynamism. “to live in new york you need to accept that it’s never going to be the same thing from one minute to the next.” i was shocked at how perfectly that seemed to contrast with my understanding of paris, and it made sense that parisian trendsetters would so avidly import new york’s style.
paris was my place, and will remain so until some other city snatches its spot. but at the end of the day it may not have been where i belong permanently. i had mastered its geography, smells, and sounds, but still felt a degree off.
i haven’t decided yet if i like new york. that discovery period will only start when i move into my own apartment, unpack my bags, and hang things on the wall (there’s something undeniably grounding about decorating). so far, i’m trying to make sense of it all. landing on unfamiliar ground is as humbling as it is exciting. after triumphing over my parisian challenge, i’m reverting to zero. here it goes.