1. It always feels like saying goodbye to people is a living, breathing thing. The conversations you have where everything is urgent and final (and you say the things that are important and bittersweet) are too heavy to leave sitting on their own, bookending the time you spent together. You almost have to lighten it all with another coffee, another lunch, another couple of drinks on a terrace so everything can be regular and normal and not-sad again. No one ever wants to hug and cry and say those real, hard goodbyes. Maybe they make you feel a little better when you actually get on the plane — as though you have placed something in its final resting spot — but they always feel like they are going to kill you in the moment, like your heart is going to burst.
2. The amount of shit that we accumulate is just monstrous. Going through papers, receipts, old mail, cards, it all feels like you’re surrounded by a cloud of dust, like Pig-Pen in the Peanuts comics. How do we ever let ourselves be so well-documented? When we keep these little paper proofs of existence, do we really think that we’ll ever need them again?
I dedicated a folder just to the paper items that I want to take with me, make a collage of, and frame. How do I have so many train tickets? So many postcards that I never gave a proper thank you for? Eventually, the folder got too thick and threatened to compromise my relatively limited baggage space, and I started deciding what was and wasn’t good enough to take with me. The first thing that had to stay was the ticket to the Brel concert I saw for my first birthday here. It changes colors when you move it in the light.
3. My French friends are always mythicizing New York, and the Americans are always fawning over Paris. Neither perspective seems particularly just or realistic (I’m assuming for New York, I have never lived there). But there is something pleasant about listening to them talk about it. When I walk through Paris with a friend who is visiting, everything is in Technicolor. Everything is just so interesting, so beautiful, so novel. When they ask me to talk about it, I feel like I’m telling them a fairy tale about a city that exists only in snippets from perfume commercials. And when my French friends talk about how much they want to go to New York, how big and fast and thrilling and young and cutting-edge it all is, I can’t help but feel a twinge of pride. “Yes,” I think, “Paris is a beautiful little music box of a city. New York is going to be a jungle.”
4. New York intimidates me immensely. While putting the little guidebooks and maps I got upon my arrival in Paris into the “Donate” box, I can’t help but marvel at how compact it all is. It’s a city of 40 square miles, compared to New York’s 400-something. I could walk from my apartment in Saint Michel all the way to the south end of the city in a little over an hour. New York seems so enormous, so full of people and things that will never want to get to know you.
5. I have never tried escargot. I have been confronted with it so many times, and each time the prospect offends me in such a profound way that I can’t bring myself to not be “that guy,” that incredibly unadventurous and culturally-limited guy. It’s just… the texture. The knowledge I have of what a snail is. I can’t disconnect it from the inarguably luscious parsley butter.
There are other things I’ve eaten so many times that I feel I’ll never be able to get the taste out of my mouth. The bakery next to my old apartment made macarons so perfect — so crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and filled thick with cream — that I couldn’t invite people over without getting a little box of them for everyone to try. Once, for breakfast, I went and got myself a box of six and made a big pot of tea. It might have been my best morning ever.
6. I miss good Chinese food. There are pockets here and there in Paris, but for the most part, the Chinese take-out options are fairly bleak. For every incredible Szechuan hole-in-the-wall restaurant that makes you cry of simultaneous pleasure and pain, there are a thousand lackluster takeout joints that can’t even do a good beef with broccoli. I miss the little boxes, the bag of crispy noodles, and the comfort of curling up under a blanket on the couch and watching a movie with your dinner. When I put a business card from my favorite takeout place into my “Collage” folder, I think about how it was still just something to order in a pinch. I can’t wait for the kind of takeout Chinese you go out of your way for.
7. There is something so satisfying about the act of packing a suitcase. You can arrange, and rearrange, and re-rearrange, playing Tetris with your belongings until everything seems to be in the perfect order. I look over at my bags a lot and wonder how many more of them I would need if I didn’t fold my dresses just so, or get rid of half of the things I wanted to take with me. There always comes the moment, though, when I feel like I could do it just that much better. I take everything out and start over again, and everything becomes refreshed and calm. It’s a form of control that we rarely get.
8. There aren’t really seasons in Paris, so to speak. There are clearly changes in general temperature, and there are leaves that come and go as they do anywhere. But “spring,” “winter” and “fall” are less clearly-defined periods of weather and more long, blurry stretches of rain and grey that erode your ability to get your bearings. From dawn until late evening, the sky is a shade of grey that completely obscures the sun and seems to be precariously close the ground. From September until May, there are variations in coldness, but there is always the same chilly, life-sapping rain. It’s the part of Paris they rarely tell you about, the part where — like this spring — everyone is overcome with a kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder that turns every basic activity into a foot-dragging trial. By the time summer comes around, you are happy to melt under the sun and forgo air conditioning for a little bit of dry air. The sun on your skin feels like a strange, wonderful thing.
It has snowed twice in the three years I’ve lived here, and one time it even stuck, for about a day. Just enough to bring all transport to a complete standstill.
9. I will miss the architecture. I have explored most of Williamsburg on Google Street View — as my memories from the four days I spent there in 2010 are rather vague — and it has its charm. It has a kind of style. But there is an industrial, necessary quality about it that makes everything look just a little too human. Parisian architecture is utter whipped cream, superfluous flakes of gold and wrought-iron curlicues and curving roofs and tiny little chimneys everywhere. The sprawling governmental buildings which, despite their very tedious functions, are remnants of monarchies who valued aesthetics above all else. You get your boring paperwork processed in 18th-century estates. Everything feels just a little better than it needs to be.
10. My friend asks me when I’m going to come back as I sort through my books, 90 percent of which I will have to sell or give away. “I think in the spring, we will come back to visit friends and family. I hope.” I don’t tell her that every night I look at the ticket prices, and am already planning my next trip back before I have even left. I don’t tell her that, no matter how wonderful New York will be and how highly my friends here speak of my future life there, I am terrified. I don’t tell her that I am taking way too long to pack each bag, that I feel like I’m putting my sense of comfort and warmth into the “Donate” pile as I go, that I don’t know if I will ever feel at home again.