It would have been easier not to go to Paris. In fact, in my three years living in New York City, I’ve learned that it’s so much easier not to leave: anything you could ever want is constantly at your fingertips. And therefore, I needed to challenge myself.
Before going to college, I was told that this was the first time in my life where I could focus exclusively on me: I’d have no one to take care of, my parents were still taking care of me, and I was at the perfect time in my life for self-discovery. So, in the spirit of this selfish/personally enlightening independence, I applied for a creative writing workshop in Paris, was accepted, and was soon scouting for cheap flights to France.
I still had to move downtown, find a subletter, arrange my work schedule, among with various other tasks, but it was decided—I was going to Paris!
Somehow I accomplished all the I needed to (thanks to my parents for moving me, and my friends for keeping me calm the days before I left) and before I knew it, I was sitting at a Laura Marling concert in Prospect Park, realizing that 12 hours from then I would be flying to Paris.
Europe + cute outfit = fabulous time.
If you know anything about travelling to France, or Western Europe for that matter, you know that filling your suitcase with cute dresses is a must. At least, this is what a good number of romantic comedies and a fair sprinkling of chick lit have taught me. My packing strategy: purposely-forget-things-so-I-can-buy-better-replacements-in-Paris and then sell my old New York things for extra coffee money at Beacon’s Closet. So far, I’ve forgotten: coat hangers, spoons, and conditioner, none of which will be profitable at a thrift store.
Pink suitcase stuffed with summer dresses, lipstick, shoes, and purses (plus a few notebooks in which I plan to write my fabulous memoirs and future Pulitzer Prize winning novels), I was ready for my Parisian Adventure.
I dragged my luggage onto the subway and attempted to find Penn Station. Attempted being the key word. Before I knew it, my pink suitcase and I were standing outside the Empire State Building being sold tickets for a ride to the top. I walked back across town to the Highline. Still not right. My mind was elsewhere—I was needlessly terrified for leaving New York for a foreign country for the next month. And that’s why I reminded myself why I had to go, why I needed to challenge myself, and I pushed my 50 pounds of wardrobe towards Madison Square Garden.
“Señora, you dropped your book.”
Yes, I was freaking out on the NJ Transit to Newark. Why? I have no idea. Uncertain expectations for my month in France? Fear of missing out on the wonderfulness that is summer in NYC? Too much change all at once? Whatever the reason, I was not in my best mental state in the few days leading up to my trip. (Once in Paris, I learned that this was similar with my friends in the program, so I feel a little less crazy…). So yes, long story short, I spoke a lot of languages to Americans on NJ Transit. They did find me very crazy.
I flew TAP Portugal to Lisbon and then continued on to Paris. Apparently, I look very Portuguese, but unfortunately for the nice people at the Lisbon airport, I am not. Passport and luggage and transfer instructions were spewed off at me in a language of which the only words I understand refer to food and beverage. Should I turn left or right at the gate? Cachaça pão de queijo saido obrigado bom dia? Excelente.
A strange combination of hand gestures, drawings, and Yiddish-infused Spanish later, I made my connecting flight by five minutes, and was off to the City of Lights!
I took the RER from Orly airport to Port Royal, the closest stop to the Maison I’d be staying in for the next month. I somehow navigated the French commuter train better than my transportation to Newark, so suck it New Jersey, France wins.
However, being the brilliant navigator that I am, as I exited the RER at Port Royal, I realize I had no idea where I was going. Paris isn’t on a grid system. I couldn’t walk down 5th Avenue to 32nd Street. The roads twist and turn and have names like Rue Croissant au Chocolate and Rue Menage a Trois and Rue FrenchFrenchFrenchIcannotPronounce You. I'd written my address on Rue Saint Jacques on multiple pieces of paper, to insure I wouldn’t get lost, but it never occurred to me to look up how to get there. Rain started pouring down and I thought of the only French word I could remember: merde.
A street is not a boulevard is not a road.
Unlike New York, Paris doesn’t smell like garbage. In fact, the city smells like newly baked baguettes, flowery perfume, and fresh landscapes. Parisian air is amazing—even despite the city’s notorious chain-smoking habits! (Side note: If you’re a Parisian who rolls a perfect cigarette by hand while walking in crowds of tourists, I admire you immensely, for reasons I cannot quite understand) So even in the rain, Paris is lovely.
If you speak English in a French accent to a local, there is a higher chance they will understand you. At least, this is my personal belief. I asked a woman waiting for a taxi, where I could find Rue Saint Jacques, and she told me if I go past a building, I will find it. Of course!
My soaking wet hair, luggage, and I dodged puddles and walked the ten minutes around what must be the longest hospital in Paris to find Rue Saint Jacques. And there it was! All I had to do was ask! I am a pro traveler.
Twenty more minutes down Rue Saint Jacques and no sign of any number close to my address. I came to an intersection that split into Boulevard Saint Jacques, which looked to be a continuation of the Rue. Well, the French and their streets are weird, so I followed kept walking down the boulevard. Another twenty minutes and no sign of anything remotely close to my Maison, I decided to ask once more about Rue Saint Jacques.
“Is a long way. Very long. You go far that way.”
Apparently, Saint Jacques is kind of a popular guy. There are many roads, boulevards, parks, and squares named after him. I was not at any of the correct ones. Trekking back uphill, I eventually found my Maison, threw my luggage down, and crashed for the most satisfying two-hour nap of my life!