Le 14 juillet, other than being the fête nationale, also marked my last day in Paris, the last day I was able to spend in the dream like world that has been my past year. Despite the rain that marred the first half of the day, I was able to sit on my roof with dear friends and bid adieu to France under a perfect sunset, similar to the one that greeted me almost a year ago. Following our rooftop celebration of good food, champagne, fireworks, music, and laughter, I prolonged this final soirée by walking some friends to the Hôtel de Ville metro stop. After the inevitable goodbyes, I turned for my last beloved walk home. Through the empty plaza in front of the Hôtel de Ville, across the bridge where I have so often stopped to think, cry, or sit and listen to the sweet music that encapsulates my time in Paris. After the bridge I crossed in front of Notre Dame, walking over the center point of Paris. They say that if you stand on this spot it ensures a return to Paris. Over two years ago I stood there and said goodbye to Paris after finishing my semester at the Sorbonne. Hopefully it will work again.
Once leaving behind the late night gaiety of the area around Notre Dame, I climbed rue Saint-Jacques and passing the Panthéon, I found myself home. I know that home can be a fluid concept. Most often, home is when we find ourselves with the people we love, the ones who understand us and know us. But home can also be a place that you love so intensely and completely that it assumes an undue familiarity and comfort. My little room, high above rue Saint-Jacques is home. From its windows I have watched in awe as storms roll across this city, cloaking the Eiffel Tower in grey sheets of rain. I have been blessed with sunsets and sunrises that remind me of the fresh promise that each day holds. I have spent Sunday afternoons listening to the bands in the Luxembourg gardens and knowing that sometimes watching the clouds float across the sky is not a waste of time. I have shed lonely tears, happy tears, and all the tears in between. I have seen new tenants move in, old tenants move out, heard new babies cry, and listened to the changing sounds of each season of the year and of life. From my vantage point I have watched the city of Paris grow another year older with the quiet beauty and dignity that only she can assume.
The Saturday before I left I dropped by to say goodbye to the girls I took care of. Those three girls – once very much the bane of my existence – have since become dear little friends, faces, hugs, and sticky hands to which I look forward. The family gave me a parting gift, a lovely anthology of French poetry. They had marked a poem that they said made them think of me. Here is an excerpt that I loved:
Mon enfant, ma soeur, My child, my sister,
Songe à la douceur Think of the contentment
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble! Of living together there!
Aimer à loisir, Of loving at will,
Aimer à mourir Of loving till death,
Au pays qui te ressemble! In the land that is like you!
[…]Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, […] There, all is order and beauty,
Luxe, calme et volupté. Luxury, peace, and pleasure
-Invitation au Voyage, Baudelaire
I don’t know if I am like this land that I have come to love, this place that feels like home. I know that in many ways I long to be, and in other ways I never can be. But I can assert that this year has been about learning to live a life ordered around the peace, luxury, and pleasure that define Paris. A year spent finding that perfect measure of beauty that for me, will always be Paris.