Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paris - Toute Seule?

I can tell you unequivocally that being alone in Paris can suck.

I realized this when I visited Paris for the first time. After a rough start, I had finally fallen in love with Paris and was racing around the city trying to see everything listed in my Lonely Planet guidebook in less than five days. On one of these days I found myself standing in line outside at 79 rue de Varenne, home of Musée Rodin. It was mid-February, windy and pouring freezing rain. Waiting to get in, I stood huddled against the building in my black knee-length, down puffy coat - styled after a Canadian Tire sleeping bag – and felt my shoes fill with ice water. In front of me, a couple, so obviously French, merged into one, the man sheltering his girlfriend’s body with his own, whispering mots d’amour to her the whole time. There wasn’t even enough space between them to slip my Paris Museum Pass. Oblivious to the weather, oblivious to anything but each other, they were the antithesis of being alone. I remember feeling an absolute crushing loneliness and I vowed one day to return to Paris with My Love.

I have been lucky since then to return to Paris four times with Chris and each time we have seen versions of this French couple all over the city. Everywhere from the predictably romantic - la tour Eiffel, the arc at Pont Alexandre III - to the less so –on a bench in an unnamed park surrounded by dirty, one-legged pigeons, an alley just off the Louis Vuitton store at 6 Place Saint-Germain des Près. Though cliché, Paris is incredibly, intoxicatingly, overwhelmingly romantic and there is nothing better than exploring its streets with the one you love.

And yet I am considering Paris on my own.

While in Paris a few weeks ago, Chris and I visited the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). We were there at my doing. Last winter, while not writing and wasting precious time dreaming about Paris, I had Google-ed the phrase “Masters Programs in Paris about Paris” and ULIP was one of the first web sites that came up. ULIP offers an MA in Paris Studies – History and Culture. It is a one-year program, taught in English, and at the end of the year you write a dissertation about a chosen aspect of Parisian history or culture. The more I read about it, the more excited I got, and the more I felt like this was the Master program I had been hoping to find.

The meeting at ULIP was incredible. We took a campus tour (Yes, there are la Tour Eiffel views from some of the classrooms!) led by a former Ottawa native who only had great and encouraging things to say about being a Canadian in Paris. In so many ways, it was the kind of first-hand information that we had been waiting to hear. Yes, living in Paris is possible! No, you don’t have to speak flawless French! And yes, Paris is a wonderful city to live!

Now, the only difficult thing about pursuing my Masters at ULIP (the cost of the program aside) is that I would make the initial move to Paris alone. While this prospective move is several years away, the idea of living alone in Paris scares me to death. Me. Alone in Paris. For nearly an entire year.

Chris and I started our relationship with distance. In the beginning distance ruled and we were constantly trying to find ways to overcome it. When I went to Paris the first time, I spent a significant amount of my trip squished into a phone booth, making expensive, tearful calls to Chris, trying inadequately to describe not just what I felt for him but also what I felt for Paris. I am terrified of making those calls again. I am terrified that I will spend a year in Pars living what I know to be true and hate to admit: Paris, the experience of being in Paris, means nothing. Nothing without Chris.

However, I have always believed, long before I went to Paris, that I would one day live there. Now had I been more ambitious to pursue an opportunity like ULIP in my twenties, I would have left Victoria without a backward glance or a return ticket. But that was all before I met and fell in love with Chris. Most of what I have accomplished and most of what I am proud of, is because of Chris’ selflessness and unwavering support. It is hard for me to imagine pursuing, much less achieving, my Masters degree 7,915km away from Chris.

From a practical perspective, there are many reasons that it makes sense for me to go alone. First, a year, as Chris says and many people will now inevitably tell me, is not really that long. Second, Chris will visit me a lot, even if I will be living in 150 square foot student apartment and sleeping on a single bed. Most importantly though, me going to Paris alone, in the relatively risk-free life of a student, will give me time to research a permanent Paris while still keeping hold of our comfortable life in Victoria. At the end my studies, I will know whether we could have a life in Paris.

I guess what is comes down to is that my reason for wanting to stay is the same reason I should be brave enough to go. Chris. After so many years together, whatever I have dreamed, including Paris, he has not only supported but embraced. With Chris my dreams become realities and I know deep down that I will be able to conquer Paris toute seule.

1 comment:

Sharon luvs Paris said...

I am so happy I found your blog. I love Paris and have been "seule Paris". I need that time even when I am with my friends or my husband.
Even on my honeymoon in '95, I had to have some "seule Paris" time.
Paris speaks to me and I need the time on my own to wander, watch the people, enjoy the city and it's amazing history regardless of who I am travelling with....