Au revoir, Paris

I was trying to push the idea of leaving Paris to the corner of my mind, but after facing up to the fact that it’s my final week – aided by a sudden panic about the inches of dust that have accumulated in hidden corners of my apartment – I think it’s finally time to accept that I’m bidding adieu to Paris and will be back in Southgate, waiting for the 299 and eating kebabs, by the end of the week.

When I get the Eurostar home on Sunday, I’ll have lived in Paris for 374 days, completed two full time six-month internships, and drunk a hell of a lot of dangerously affordable L’Heritage de Carillan wine.

Leaving is bittersweet. I’m excited to see my friends and family, to go back to Uni and live like a student again. But leaving Paris seems horribly daunting. I guess it doesn’t help that I’ll be leaving my gorgeous flat in the City of Love to move into a terraced student house in Leeds, on which somebody has spray-painted the word “turd.” Lovely.

Where do I even start with what I’ll miss about living here? Tripping over bakeries like the British equivalent of a corner shop, where it’s easier to get a daily fix of freshly baked carbs than it is to get a pint of milk; gorgeous buildings even in the seedier districts of the city; grumpy French women, swathed in scarves on a perfectly temperate day, stomping down the street with a cigarette in one hand and a surly Frenchman in the other. The Seine, infinitely more beautiful than the Thames for no reason in particular, lined by the river banks which change with the seasons; elderly couples salsa-ing in the summer, students reading and sipping coffee in the autumn, chilly walks in the winter, glorious trees and huddles of friends drinking cheap wine and dangling their legs in spring.

It’s true that Paris changes with the seasons. Last autumn was a blur of making new friends and rushing to accustom myself to new surroundings, kicking orange leaves in the Pere Lachaise cemetery, getting far too used to the ever-drinkable 3 euro glasses of wine; winter was spent marveling at the Christmas decorations at the Galeries Lafayette, dragging friends for mulled wines, Christmas markets, getting an impossibly chilly nose no matter how much I wrapped up; spring, me clamoring for weekly picnics, cooking meals with friends and rushing outdoors at any hint of weak early sunshine, camera poised, ready to capture Paris in every possible angle; summer, napping in the shade in the Luxembourg gardens, drowsy with happiness and content with the quieter nature of the city in the hotter months.

There are, of course, aspects of living in Paris I won’t miss. The more overtly creepy and sexist men, the cost of basic supermarket items, the unfriendly, often uptight Parisians. It’s a shame that I quickly gave up on trying to become fluent in French, when everyone responded to me in English and a lack of friendly locals didn’t force me to expand my capabilities. Having said that, I’m proud of myself for doing many things in a different language – opening a bank account, renting a flat, getting a travel pass, et cetera – and I can’t help but think that working is going to be a total breeze back in the UK when we all speak the same bloody language.

I also think, in hindsight, me and my pals shouldn’t have eaten at and gone out to the same places over again, as I almost feel weepy when I think about never again getting a pizza from Pizza Julia, the chips from Nouvel Institut, duck fried noodles from Les Pates Vivantes, steak tartare from Cafe des Anges, or jumping around to terrible French cover bands at Supersonic, dancing on a Friday night at Les Disquaires. We forged our own small checkpoints in the city to make it cosy, familiar; and soon it’ll all be gone.

OK, I’m aware I sound dramatic. I’ll definitely be coming back to visit. But all that Paris has had to offer me won’t be readily available any more. I can’t just choose to wander down to the market and haggle over courgettes because I feel like it.

I love laughing at the French — especially the food. They go into the canteen at work and have plain pasta with a side of frites and this weird pulverized fruit baby food thing for dessert; they peel absolutely everything, recoiling in disgust when I inform them that sometimes I don’t even peel my carrots or potatoes; they are so proud of their cuisine when it is 99% watery meat stew with plain vegetables and a nondescript side of carb. They’re oh-so proud, the French, and though I can’t say I’m that fond of them, I’ll miss laughing about their unabashed idiosyncrasies.

Merci Paris, for the new friends, for your whitewashed buildings, for helping me overcome daunting prospects, for twelve blissful months of unfettered freedom to wander around your beautiful streets. Bye for now.

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