Paris, the City of Rain
The rain came quickly, pouring heavily, teasing the promise of quick retreat, though I could not wait. A twenty minute walk in a Parisian downpour means soaked clothes and an approaching illness, and most pressing, an end to the adventure of museum hopping.
Tonight is the annual European museum night. Across the continent museums open freely their doors late into the evenings, clad with performances and special delights. As I walk from my first museum stop, the people on the streets are coming to life, rife with anticipation, their footsteps mimicking the beats of the live African drum performance I just witnessed at the Museum of Music, their bodies swaying to the city’s rhythmic heart, in tune with the delicate dancers hidden inside Picasso’s museum.
I originally targeted six museums for my itinerary but after my first stop I realized I had been too ambitious. The distance across Parisian neighborhoods is broad, with many of my stops 30 or 40 minutes away, even by metro. I was trying a new tactic this year, though am not confident the change up was wise. Last year I concentrated on one neighborhood but that resulted in a handful of awkward, good-intended-at-best museums, like the exhibit on Hungarian communist puppets. Today I planned to go big and stop at the heavy hitters: Grand Palais, Picasso, Louis Vuitton Foundation, to name a few.
Yet here I am, only 8:30pm and diving into a cafe to avoid the rain. After ordering dinner, knowing I might as well fuel up while sitting out the storm, the weather turned as quickly as I began this story; the sun is shining through the windows now. To distract myself, I look around the restaurant. The place is cute, called Nous, which translates to “We” in English, with bamboo lampshades, floor-to-ceiling windows, with healthy bowls on the menu and drinks with names like Deep Purple and Glowilicious. As I am handed my smoothie, I realize the rain is back. I feel slightly more vindicated.
Spring in Paris is like this, unpredictable and never true to meteorologist's forecast. Visitors often stick to the hourly prediction, only to be left without an umbrella on nights like tonight or maybe worse, overly prepared with gear then quickly surprised by the sunny skies.
Like a fool I didn’t take my own advice and instead listened to the weather forecast. And here I am, in a bohemian health bar, when I should be trekking through the cobbled streets of Paris, tackling my cultural list of stomps.
As I finish up dinner, I decide to tackle a museum nearby and quickly ask for my check. As the waiter bids me “au revoir,” I get a flash of loneliness. Originally empowered by my grand plans to tackle the museum night, like a true cultural gallivanter, I now feel a bit empty of my presupposition. I’m not a sad person, quite the contrary. But his city may be a beauty yet she’s anything but easy. Paris is like the lover, the one that got away, tempting you to bare your soul and give your all, to bathe in the presence of true beauty, only to be silently told “you will never be good enough.” She never stops giving you that glitter of hope though, that there could be something special, something solid, so you never leave. The chase continues, no matter how exhausted you are.
Happiness and sorrow exist simultaneously for me in Paris. Choosing to live here, miles away from my home country, family and friends I hold dear, I straddle the past and present with delicate arms. For how can one love the present when their heart is so drenched with the remnants of the past? There’s been no waving disasters or tragedies in my story, at least not yet. Instead, maybe now, I have the symptoms of a broken heart, the tender intertwining of blossoming hope and withering melancholy. Maybe that melancholy manifests itself into loneliness, here, away from where I call home.
Loneliness then, is omnipresent, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen her, quietly hiding as I distracted myself with the protective repetition of everyday life. Alone today, in my own mind, not entertained by friends or family or responsibility, I’m expecting to feel free. Instead I feel empty. Stuck inside Paris, the City of Lights and romance and quiet talks under a moonlit sky, where all tongues are foreign, today feels less than inviting. No matter how hard I try to be like them, speak their language, walk their walk, embody their style, I’ll never be enough. I wonder what brings people here to Paris, what brought me here. Maybe some people come to big cities in search of reinventing themselves, though really I think, they come to escape themselves. Or maybe people do get the chance at authenticity in the big city, away from burden and judgements of their small-minded communities.
What about me? Sometimes I watch my life from afar, only an observer in this thing called life and I see I’m stuck, tied to my past I can’t shake yet simultaneously yearning to move on to something, just not what I was, not what I am now. Then I step outside to look around, with the rain hitting my face, the water rolling down my neck and underneath my shirt, slowly caressing my spine and remember: there is no destination in this thing called life, only our journey. We are all in this together, in the City of Lights, in America, across the time of space, linked together in this experience called humanity. That seems like hope to me, a little spark of something telling me it’s okay to give myself permission to own my story, that where I’m at right now is just a stop on my journey.
The sadness, like the rain, passes quickly. I continue on my ambitious museum adventure, thankful for the opportunity in front of me and the sunshine just around the corner.