Paris vs New York
So, I'm in Paris right now. Again. Couldn't resist, couldn't stay away, never want to leave again.
I love Paris in this really ridiculous and cliché way that makes me kind of shy to talk about it - I think every girl has dreamed, at some point, about running way to live this very romantic, bohemian life in Paris. I know I did, I know I have since I was 15. And even now, even if the life I want is not exactly bohemian, I want to move here - I am going to move here, somehow - but it's one of those things that I hate saying to like, my advisor. I feel like it always needs this, "No, seriously though" disclaimer, especially when accompanied by "Well, I'm really interested in fashion..."
When I came here in June, I was on a fact-finding mission. I had always kind of sort of known that I wanted to live here. The plan in June was to try it out - an apartment by myself in Montparnasse - and experience what my life would be like if I lived in Paris (and also didn't have a job and didn't do a whole lot other than ~cultural enrichment~ (bars and museums)). The semester before, I had taken a course on the social history of France, and I felt prepared to see the city not as a romanticized city of love but a real place where people lived and worked. And, to be honest, I was prepared to hate it - like the Japanese suffer from Paris Syndrome, right? It was going to suck, but it'd be cool, 'cause I'd have tried. I made it a point to find locals and get integrated, toute de suite. In a lot of ways, it worked out pretty well. I was able to compare Paris to New York less as clichés of themselves but as real, concrete places.
And it worked, you know? I fell in love. Of course, part of it was being almost-21 and alone in a foreign city for the first time. I wonder if other Americans in Europe ever feel this way - that you're suddenly thrown into this mythic storybook land, that you're suddenly walking among these giants you had only imagined existed. The entire world is suddenly at your fingertips, and everything is so wide-open with possibility and wonder that you find yourself forgetting to breathe, sometimes. There's the weird sense of power that comes from gaining - slowly - the command of a foreign language. None of it is real life, none of it matters in the best possible way; and then you catch your own eye in the mirror at a party and you realize exactly who and where you are, that this is all real and that you, you, are doing it. It's impossible to explain what that did for me, what that still does.
Now that we've dispensed with the trite and the cliché - part of the reason I came back was to make sure that it was really Paris I loved, not just being 21 and running around a foreign city for the summer. And it was.
To me Paris is just another city, just another place to live a life - my relationship to it is functional, you know? How's the job market, what can I expect in an apartment, how's the quality of life? (Bad, nothing, terrible). Can I stay forever? (Please?!) I'm trying to figure out how to make a life, and where I want to do it, and there are probably easier places.
Paris is dirty, and all the stores and the metro keep the STUPIDEST FUCKING HOURS OF OPERATION, and people don't know how to sit efficiently on the metro. It's impossible to navigate. It's expensive for no reason. Everything is closed on Sundays. Someone, somewhere, is always on strike for something. To me, it always feels more dangerous at night than New York does. There's less personal space than I am generally comfortable with. There are really narrow sidewalks and people walk REALLY SLOWLY on them.
But I'm at home here. This is it. This is home. I don't know how to explain it. There's a term in French, dépaysement, which gets translated into English as homesickness but is really more of a sense of disorientation, of being not right. Would you believe that I've felt that in New York and even in Buffalo but never, not once, when here? From the moment I step off the airplane, everything is just okay. Even if my French isn't perfect, even if it's not exactly easy to be here, it's comfortable. You know how they say that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life? It's like that - I mean yeah, being here is work - buuuut it's not.
I think coming from New York, my relationship with Paris is a lot different than it might have been if I'd come from elsewhere. A lot has been written about the relationship between the two, but to state here - in some bizarre way, I think they're sort of sister cities. It's been my experience that if you're comfortable in one, you're comfortable in the other.
They're like opposite sides of the same coin. New York is modernity; loud, insistent, moving constantly forward with or without you at an ever-increasing pace. New York worships the new unapologetically. It is in constant pursuit, never the same from one day to the next. Leave for a week and you'll find an entirely different city when you get back. New York is daring, bold, wild. It's the forefront, the very edge of everything, and at the same time - maybe because of that - I feel like New York takes itself so seriously sometimes.
Paris, on the other hand, ain't got shit to prove. Paris is old, unapologetically so. It's sophisticated, it's refined. Paris is going to sit here and enjoy its coffee while New York rushes off to work. But Paris is far from stagnant. It's playful, youthful. It's the wink to New York's nudge. If New York's motto is "work hard, play hard" than Paris strikes a balance somewhere right in the middle, the difference between a bon vivant and a glutton. In many ways Paris and New York are equally modern, but in Paris, there's more of a sense of history - of placement in something larger. The growth is checked, somehow. There's a certain whimsy to everything here, this sense that, calm down, it's not that serious - New York might be inventing it now but Paris has already seen it, New York has the knowledge but Paris has the wisdom.
And yet somehow, no two cities compliment each other so perfectly. There were certainly never two cities who copied each other in the funnier ways - like Brooklyn Café and Paris Baguette.
In a lot of ways, I feel as if I grew up in New York - I certainly became myself there, and I think I'm forever shaped by it. I don't really identify as an American nor as a New Yorker, but I do when I'm here - not only because, duh, what else am I going to say, but because you can see the differences outlined clearly in the negative space. Like for example, I consider coffee to be a mobile beverage. I'm terribly concerned about efficiency. I believe that cities, and lives, should be in business 24 hours a day.
And so it feels kind of weird, sometimes, to say that I want to leave New York for Paris. Last time I was here, I remember jokingly saying to someone that New York was like my husband and Paris like a lover - one is constant, consistent, eternal; the other passionate, all-consuming, ephemeral. It was a dumb and cliche thing to say even then, but then the other day I was reading a book, essentially Shit Parisians Say, and there it was, vice versa.
Only this time things have changed for me. New York no longer feels like a husband but like an ex - someone with whom I ended on good terms after the passion died and one of us moved away. Someone who will always be important to me - but at 3 am, even if they answer your call, there's never quite the same comfort in their arms. Paris to me is the one I should've been with this whole time - and maybe it's a little ridiculous and wild and stupid, but we've gotta try, fuck. Crazy kids.
I've been in New York for four years and I intend to stay there if the whole Paris thing doesn't work out. Who knows - I may yet change my mind. I can see a career slowly starting to build in New York, and I'm hesitant to throw a good life in New York away quite yet. I think Paris requires a certain leap of faith, this concentrated effort to promise yourself that you can live a real life in Paris.
For now, who knows. And who the fuck cares?
I'm 21, I'm in Paris. For how long, or with what frequency, it doesn't matter.
I'm in love with every single thing about it. The metro smells like an electric fire. The way the voice of the announcer says "Saint Sulpice." The fact that the bars close SO STUPIDLY EARLY but sometimes, they give you a to-go cup. The way the streets feel at night, so quiet and yet so unbridled and wild. Just, I don't know, the energy - how cliché is that? The people, as I've said, are so incredibly fantastic. Every single thing, I don't even know. I don't know how to describe it without sounding like a crazy person, but there's nowhere else I've ever felt like this.
New York, I love you, but I don't miss you much.