I could tell you about the museums, the way La Tour Eiffel lights up every night against a pastel summer sky, the sound of the accordions on the métro and the way the rain softly kisses La Seine. I could tell you these things, but this is a postcard’s Paris. This was not my Paris, not the way I will remember her.
I will tell you instead of Anne, my host mother, sixty four and easily the most vibrant woman I have ever met. She is all purple eye liner and leopard skin skirts. She is resolution and joie de vivre. We drink rosé on her terrasse and argue immigration policy. We don’t share the same views. We still laugh, over chocolate ice cream and strawberries. I still have to blink back tears as I kiss her goodbye at the airport.
I will tell you of Jessica from Argentina. Jessica does not speak a word of English, but Portugese, Spanish and French roll off her tongue like water. She talks to me about life and love while we wander the streets of Montmartre. We spend two hours looking for Amélie’s café. It’s her favourite film. I tell her I hated it. We never found the cafe, but ended the night eating crepes by the Sacré-Coeur, watching all of Paris sleep at our feet.
I will tell you of Alice: dainty, English, proper. We discuss French right wing politics and gossip over boyfriends as we get lost in the Quartier Latin. Then there is Florent from Auvergne who argues with me over third wave feminism as the sun beats down over us on the banks of the Canal Saint Martin. He teaches me how to say “smash the patriarchy” in French. And Ben, who speaks five languages and carries with him an endless cloud of nicotine haze and restless energy, with whom I carry on a conversation in Sinhala, while he talks back at me in Hebrew. We miss our metro stop, but end up with a broken slipper and a story neither of us will forget.
There is Yannick, my professor, who talks at a million miles per minute and puts on an exaggerated Texan accent whenever he is forced to speak in English. There is the old man who runs the épicerie down the road, who yells “bon courage” at me everyday as I rush past him on way to school. There is the silver-haired lady at the bookstore in Le Marais, who brings out an exquisite edition of Les Fleurs du Mal for me, and talks to me of poetry and language.
This is my Paris- golden afternoons with friends from different continents, 9 am vanilla lattes and earnest debates over cultural appropriation, with incredible people that I might never see again. My Paris is watching fireworks all night, is getting lost on the way home at 2 am, is conversations with strangers in bus stops, is ending up huddled behind a shoe shop, eating challah in the pouring rain with someone you’ve only just met.
This is my Paris. A hundred different encounters in a hundred different ways, in a city that pulsates with antiquity, with old world charm and new world romance, a city that exudes possibility with every breath. Paris, tu me manqueras toujours.