I don’t brag about this often. Hand on my heart, I swear I don’t; it took a lot of work and fortunate circumstances to put me here. But I live in the most beautiful city in the world. This city of lights impressed me even from a distance, on the RER B from Charles de Gaulle you can see Sacré Cœur on a hilltop until you are plunged into a tunnel of darkness and the very next image is swarms of people with suitcases huddled underneath the sign “Paris Gare du Nord.”
When I moved here in January, 2013 the resident director for my study abroad program took us group of New Jersey 20-somethings on a walk that led to a restaurant. Starting at a hostel on Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau she cut corners and skipped street lights and in my sorry jet-lagged state I lacked focus. Until we passed underneath one more impressive archway and there I stood in front of the Louvre Pyramid.
This symbol of modern-day Paris existed in front of me in the dark, lit up by streetlights and some sort of internal glow. Despite the fact that I had only been in France for a number of hours, the reality of this structure, its concreteness and its presence in the courtyard of the one of the greatest art museums on the planet, the fact that I had achieved my goals started to seep into me. I could have cried; I might have cried. It was the first picture I took, blurry and out of focus, that pyramid.
I had dabbled in French as a middle schooler, more so because of my love for European history. Rattling off names like Jacques Chirac and Place de l’Étoile. In high school I got serious about language study, first having a passionate romance with Latin, and later French. But during my first semester of college, when I thought I wanted to study music and teach music, I made serious and enormous decisions that affected my entire life; I changed direction and I devoted the entirety of my existence to studying French, and moving to France.
So many years later, when I came face to face with the Louvre Pyramid, I started another part of my life.
It would be extremely impractical, and it would take an extremely long time, to photograph each streetlight in Paris individually. But if I could do it I would. Every single one of these street lamps is a work of art that illuminates a city that is a work of art. The glow is at once powerful but dim, orange but yellow.
I’ve been taking walks in the early evening, usually from Saint-Michel to my apartment near Saint Lazare. I walk along the left bank. Some of the bridges offer a stunning view of architecture in all directions, in front of you, behind you, and on either side. The lights glimmer on the water which is dark and rippling, and there are reflections and shadows to keep your eyes from standing still. It’s always too much to take in. I simply cannot absorb it, ever. A million pictures wouldn’t be enough, and neither would one. I haven’t taken any photographs during my walks despite the magnificent view that I get of Paris. Every moment is really a moment that would be dulled by a picture.
So I keep walking. I can’t afford to not see Paris at night, sitting pretty under the streetlights. It was in these moments I started to feel ecstatic that I live here, that I am lucky enough to see this whenever I want. All of the beauty gave me a renewed sense of purpose, my cold and flu had gone away and I am finally breathing in the delightfully cold winter air.
All of Paris, and I am going to visit New Jersey. At the end of the month I am taking a brief trip to my hometown. There are numerous motivations behind this voyage, practical and personal and even just for fun. Lately I’ve been caught up in a “life is fleeting” kind of mindset, which hasn’t led to reckless behavior but rather appreciative behavior.
Because I live in this distressingly beautiful city, I am missing my best friend’s daughter grow up. I couldn’t help another friend move, I can’t help my sister when she transferred schools, I don’t see my parents often, I lack the ability to aid any of my friends with any physical task. I praise the age of time I live in, with the technology we all have and so I can write this blog post and use Skype, but I chose to separate my life between two continents.
Thank you airplanes, and thank you school breaks; they make the ocean between my two worlds seem less large. I love my life in my France and I love the people I am going to visit; I have two homes.