Temps Suspendu

IMG_0005When I was a kid, I liked to play something I called “The Apartment Game.” This entailed imagining my future life as a twenty-something living in an apartment. Hello, adulthood! Turning 20 seemed like a mythically distant event, a milestone I’d never hit. Being in my twenties seemed on par with becoming my grandma. Still, I loved the thought of it. I imagined Adult Lauren to be the kind of gal you’d find in a Doris Day movie. I had my apartment design down pat. I’d decided on decor assigned by decade–a 50’s kitchen, a Victorian parlor, an Art Nouveau bedroom, and a tacky leopard chaise lounge across from a claw-footed tub in the bathroom. But whereas friends dreamed of lives in New York or Los Angeles, my apartment was in Paris.

But I grew up, and immigration policies, visas, and endless paperwork swam into focus. I came to understand that as an American, Paris was a vacation, not a place to build a life. Yet this too was turned upside down when I arrived, fresh-faced and eager, in the Fall of 2013 to study abroad for four months.

In the words of John Dickson Carr, “When I was 21, I went to Paris to study: this probably being the only thing in Paris I did not do.”  I drank more red wine than I thought physically possible. I formulated the idea for a novel. I learned the history of the buildings that sparked my imagination. I lived in a bookstore. I drew up a mental map of memories–firsts, lasts–moments that changed Paris from the novel unknown to the comforting familiar. I wore holes in the soles of my shoes. I fell in love.

Four months felt like a dream, a lifetime–time suspended–and all too soon I was on a plane back to Los Angeles. On the drive home from the airport, I stared out the window. As El Segundo slid into Manhattan Beach, then Redondo to Hermosa, Torrance to Palos Verdes, the weight of my experience settled ever heavier on my chest. I’d escaped the mundane. I’d changed so much, but here in California nothing else had. I waited for the feeling to dissipate, but with the passing of weeks, it only intensified.

This is all to say that it became imperative that I return to France. My final semester at Chapman University turned into a countdown to expatriation. Two weeks after graduating college, I hopped on a plane back to Paris, clutching a one-way ticket in my hand.

With my eight-month France-iversary on the horizon, I’ve considered some of my Post-Grad milestones. I’ve opened bank accounts, found and lost jobs, and turned 23. I’ve called both Montmartre and Saint Germain des Pres my home, and made peace with the fact that any apartment I can afford will be about the size of my parent’s master bathroom, yet won’t have a toilet en suite. I’ve made a commitment to travel, and struggled to learn French when all I really wanted to do was take a walk around the quartier.

It’s a very different thing to visit a place and to try to make it your home. With an ocean between us, it’s easy to think Paris is all baguettes, red wine, and strolls along the Seine. Yet, the crushing reality of French bureaucracy, the city’s perfume of urine and cigarettes, and the daily struggle of sidestepping piles of shit left in the middle of the sidewalk sink lofty dreams of Parisian elegance back down to earth. I’ve never experienced such soaring, euphoric highs and shattering lows. Paris is a roller coaster, and you can read all about it right here.

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  • As someone who witnessed this initial first 4 months of that Paris study abroad, it is great to read of you thriving and struggling there. That means you have truly made the city your home.