Why Paris always pulls me back
It’s been 4 years since I lived in Paris. I’ve officially lived longer away from the city than when I lived in it. But somehow it has managed to consistently pull me back to its beautiful streets. I find myself stomping through the metro or sitting in its bistros far too often than I ever imagined when I first left. And it’s not a conscious choice, situations pull me towards it, like it won’t let me forget it.
When I moved back to Manchester I was glad to be away from Paris, I needed a new start. I spent a few months applying for Manchester based jobs and eventually found something in an international company. Within a month they sent me to Paris, which escalated to every month for an entire year. My boyfriend of the time also lived there which naturally tied me to the city even more.
Once I left that job and my boyfriend moved to Manchester, I thought oh well Paris that’s me and you done. But I should’ve known that it wasn’t about to let me off the hook so easily. 6 months later, I decide to become a freelancer and my first client, who ended up being Parisian, asked me to work from Paris for 3 months. I spent an entire summer being Parisian again. It felt like I’d pressed pause on my life there just to press play and start where I left off.
Shortly after that job, my relationship ended and with it, coincidentally my work trips to Paris. I thought this time around the city had finally let me go. Skip to 2 years down the line, and I meet man on holiday who, you guessed it, lives in Paris. I remember when we first spoke and he told me, I caught myself smiling and thinking ‘Of course you do’.
The sheer number of situations that pull me back to Paris make me feel like I’ve been in an off and on, long-distance relationship with the city, without having any say in it. So here I am, back again, walking along my love hate cobbled streets.
And of course, my link to France and speaking French means I am more likely to find French speaking jobs in the capital of the country. It also increases the likelihood of meeting and getting on with a Francophone man. But I am a romantic, and Paris is my one and only, so I like to think it’s trying to win my heart again.
Forget me not
I also remember when I lived in France that I never thought I would move back to England, let alone stay here for so long. I was one of those people that thought they’d live abroad forever. Until one day I woke up and realised I was tired of it all. A lot of my friends have asked me what I mean by ‘tired’, the only way I can explain it is that even though I still loved my complicated city, I was done. I needed to move on or move back home to something easier.
I think it was a build up of a lot of different things, but one of the reasons was that I was becoming Parisian, and I didn’t like it. A good example is Parisians at best tolerate tourists, not because they hate anyone foreign, but because they mostly get in the way of a hectic life. One day I was late to meet someone or do something, I was in a packed, hot metro, my face was squished up against the greasy metro door and my patience was quickly disappearing. Once we all piled out, a tourist decided to stop right in front of the doors with their suitcase in tow, and I swiftly fell over the suitcase. Now, my Mancunian self would’ve laughed out of shock and maybe given them an inquisitive look, but my full blown Parisienne hurled the best French expletives I knew and kicked their suitcase. I kicked a stranger’s suitcase.
I knew then that I needed to leave my shouty dirty city for a while. Manchester gave me exactly what I needed, it helped me recharged my batteries and remember who I was. At the time I thought I needed a bit of a break, and then I’d head right back. But I ended up finding good friends here, a job I like and have so far enjoyed how easy but fun this city can be. Manchester also has a spirit and a uniqueness that is hard to find anywhere else.
Love stories suck
But even though I’ve been happier and more settled here. I’ve never been able to properly get Paris out of my head. Sometimes I miss it like a first love and sometimes I go back and want to strangle it. It’s a city that gets into your bones, especially if you resist it. It’s a place with multiple layers that it doesn’t show to any old person, because you have to earn it.
I’m writing a book about Paris and its inhabitants. While writing it, I made the city a living breathing thing, and in a way its own character. I think because there’s something so alive about it. You can hate it, love it or be nonplussed about it but if you stay there long enough it affects you, it changes you in some way.
It’s also a city that constantly teaches me something, like a wise old woman waiting for me to get her subtle tells. This time round, I hadn’t been for a while and was very concentrated on finding my old haunts. I walked around familiar areas and instead of seeing sunshine filled streets, I saw black and white wisps of my old life. I even dragged the man I went to see to all the places I used to go to, and he very kindly obliged my sepia ghost hunt.
I at one point purposely got a metro to south Pigalle just so I could find a specific wine bar I liked when I lived there. It was hot, 35 degrees, I needed a wee and I spent 25 minutes miserably trudging round trying to find it. My body was telling me to stop but my nostalgia was spurring me on. I walked around in a hopeless loop all the while walking past bistro after bistro teeming with atmosphere. Instead of sitting in one of them, experiencing something new and enjoying the moment, I was trying to relive something from the past.
And as we all know, reliving rose tinted memories is a poisoned chalice. They are memories for a reason and should remain exactly that. This trip helped me to let my old Parisian life go, accept that the city isn’t the same and that the life I had isn’t there anymore.
And while all of this was happening, the new Paris started to slowly seep in. I rented an apartment in an area I’d never been to and spent time with someone I didn’t know during my time in Paris. I saw old friends who had changed and evolved, who showed me newer, grungier places I’d never been to.
This trip was the first time that I remembered why I left and why I stayed for so long. Instead of just seeing the bad, I saw all the good too. I found a much-needed balance again with a city that I think will always pull me right back to its complicated but unforgettable streets. And when I got on the plane and headed back to Manchester, I felt a slight pang for my adopted city, which made me think that its grand plan for me might be slowly working after all.