Paris has always held a special place in my heart: the lights, the language, the romance of it all. Even before I knew what most of it was, I loved anything French – pastries, berets, anything that was typically French.
I spent most of my childhood listening to my mother, her siblings, and my grandmother – her mother – speak French when my sisters or I were around. It was their way of communicating over us – we had no idea what was being said. Hearing the melodic flowing of sounds made me want to learn the language, if only to know what they were saying. It was my first link to anything French, anything Parisian, and I loved it.
Once I entered junior high – 7th grade – I had my first opportunity to take French classes. I loved it. Classes were relatively short – 45 minutes a day – but it was worth it. I picked it up relatively quickly, and continued through high school. I would read anything that referred to Paris or to France, however remote the reference. I lived for those escapes into the country, the city of my dreams, but never thought I would see it firsthand.
My first year of college, I took a semester of conversational French. I got okay – not great, definitely not fluent. But it continued my knowledge of the language. That semester I decided to change my major from English to Biology; at that point, I knew that I would no longer be able to take any further French courses. I had taken 6.5 years of the language, and I could hold a decent conversation. I enjoyed speaking in French, and luckily found that the French Club at my college took trips to Montréal and to Québec City on a regular basis (one per semester). It wasn’t France, but it was an opportunity to speak the language in a foreign place, and a chance to travel a little bit.
My sophomore year, I was still a part of the French club, and had since enjoyed two trips to Québec City, and one to Montréal. The first semester of my sophomore year was difficult – I was taking multiple science courses and a math course, in addition to two other required classes. I had no options for any additional French class. That fall, a friend mentioned that there was a meeting she wanted to attend for the study abroad program. It was something that I had never considered, but I decided to go with her, just to lend support.
I left the meeting determined to spend the following spring in France.
The only difficulty would be in convincing my parents that it would be a good opportunity, that I would be fine, that it would be worth it.
One weekend in the fall of 2002, I went back home. I had been thinking about how best to approach my parents, but I didn’t have the guts to do it. I finally cornered my parents in the laundry room, and told them that I wanted to spend the next semester in France. I had the paperwork, I had the information, I had the details. It wouldn’t cost anything extra (except spending money for traveling), and my loans and scholarships would cover everything; I even would get a stipend for food. My parents gave a collective sigh of relief – I later found out that they had caught on to my following them around the house (which I didn’t realize I had even been doing), and thought that I was going to tell them that I was pregnant. The desire to spend a semester abroad was a much easier discussion to have.
I left for France in early January 2003. January 3. I spent 4 months with awesome people; we took classes, drank beer, explored Le Mans, traveled Europe, and ate wonderful food. I saw Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, and multiple parts of Ireland, and it wasn’t enough.
Paris was astounding. The lights, the sounds, the smells, the food – it was all as I had hoped, had expected, had dreamed of for so long – and it was more. I enjoyed the touristy areas more than the less-populated areas, mainly because I had a mere 4 days in Paris, and who can see all of Paris in 4 days? Certainly not I. I saw some things that I will return to (La Tour Eiffel, L’Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, La Cathédrale Notre Dame, La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre), and some that I won’t (Les Catacombs). I would love the opportunity to walk through the streets of Paris with no destination, no deadlines, no need to be somewhere by a certain time.
I wanted more time; I wanted to travel more; I wanted to see more of the world. I had originally planned to extend my stay, but in early April, my grandfather fell and his health took a severe downturn. Instead, I left with the group on April 28th, the original departure date.
It has been just over 10 years now since I left France. I haven’t been back since (though I was able to score incredibly cheap non-stop flights to London from Boston, and spent New Year 2004-2005 in London with my mother); I haven’t been back to Québec City or Montréal, either. I transferred schools (and changed my major again) when I returned from studying abroad, and squeezed a full degree program into two years. I had zero time for French courses (though the school I ended up at didn’t have them anyway, just French 101 and 102 – the basics).
My mother doesn’t speak French anymore. My grandmother passed away 19 years ago, my mother’s brother – the one she spoke French with the most – passed away 17 years ago. There’s nobody for her to speak French with, and she has forgotten most of it.
Life has changed, has interfered.
I no longer speak much French; I have nobody to speak with. I am currently using an app to attempt to brush up on some of my vocabulary, but it’s not the same. I just don’t remember much of the language.
What had always brought me such joy now leads to such an intense longing, such heartache. I watched Midnight in Paris recently, not for the first time. I had purchased it unseen, and I have since watched it numerous times. It is one of my favorites. It reminds me that life is short, but there is such history. Where we walk, many others have walked in the past. Where we live, others have lived. Where we love, others have loved. We will never be the first to do something, nor will we be the last. But watching Midnight in Paris has reminded me that because of choices I have made – choices I would not change for the world – I will not be returning to Paris anytime soon.
I love Paris.
I crave Paris.
But I can’t have Paris.
I will continue to watch Paris in television shows and movies, and read of it in novels. I will continue to admire from afar, and someday… someday, I will return.