Paris ne vaut rien,
Mais rien ne vaut Paris
Paris is worth nothing,
But nothing is worth Paris.
I think that postcard I found strolling on Montmartre today pretty much sums up everything I have learned about life.
Coming to France was always a second choice- it was never a priority. I came here first as an English teacher, and was suitably humbled to find that a minor odd job teaching English a few hours a day, doing something pretty much anybody could do, was an incredible experience. not only did I get a chance to share my culture and really learn another language, but I also got to see the world on a budget and do things I never really imagined.
I thought I’d be in Washington, DC building a career in politics. As it happened, I applied for an MBA and at the moment, am working in marketing. Same difference.
I fell so in love with Paris, or so I thought, that I became depressed and disenchanted with everything and could only think of moving back, thinking it was a huge mistake that I didn’t just stay after my study abroad, that I should throw all caution and other ambitions I had to the wind and just get on a plane and go back, that everyhing I was doing in my life was wrong. And eventually, realizing that I needed to make money and getting a visa to come to France wouldn’t be easy, I realized I might have to put my dream of living and working in France- Paris, actually- on hold. At least till I could get some marketable skills and money saved up.
More or less at the moment I opened up to life, life opened up to me.
I met a woman based in New York who introduced me to her counterpart in Paris, and here I am. And all the additional travels, the fact of finishing my mBA, are what made it possible.
After much paperwork and hassle and omnishambles and mroe than three months delay, I made it back to Paris, took up my maid’s quarters, realized the company I had been hired to work at was less than I had thought it was despite having a stellar reputation, and that my old flame would not be renewed . It was hard to get a bank account due to new regulations for Americans making money abroad, and with that the internet, phone, gym, etc.
At work and in my own personal life, I realized why the economy was growing at less than 1% per year and why so many French intellectuals claim their patrie’s (homeland) glory days are gone.
And I realized it myself, that so many come to Paris for her romantic past and the memories of Louis XVI, the Moulin Rouge, and Jean Paul Sartre, while French people today dream of Silicon Valley and New York.
Yet Paris remains an important center of Europe, the gateway and hub of Francophonie, and an eternal sort of city that’s stood for over a thousand years and is likely to keep on proudly standing for another three thousand more.
I thought Paris might be the place I’d start my life- and by start, I mean take root for a few years, or several, indefinitely. While obviously that’s up to God, I find myself a bit less than eager. At one point I thought I’d go home, but knowing I’ve made a commitment to stay, and that I have a unique opportunity, I will finish out my pilgrimage.
To what? The decline of a once decadent empire? Une vielle ruine enchanteresse? Homage to great lights now gone on to Elysian Fields au-dela des Champs Elysees? Or maybe, just another way of living, of thinking, of being Western than the now-dominant Anglo-American tradition to which I belong- to the most beautiful country in the world.
What has France given me?
A new language- a new way of understanding myself and how I think- not only a new world of people to communicate with, but consciousness of what it means to communicate
The opportunity to teach- and therefore to really learn and reflect on my own language, culture, civilization, and to be of service to others, to be their light and so be healed myself- an inestimable gift
Wonder at everyday marvels, curiousity in the little miracles, appreciation for the things I know not and the thousand things to learn that every day surround me
And love, not only of a person, but a country, and an understanding of what it means to love and to let go.
If I knew I would live in Paris forever, or to live anywhere forever, I might become as bored and fickle as a Greek god. But knowing how easily and how quickly my stay is wont to end, I can appreciate the good and be less righteously indignant about the bad.
France has become a part of myself, for the better.
What greater gift could I ask?