This morning, I took some time to go through pictures of Paris from the winter and spring of 2014, when I had the good fortune to visit the City of Light twice in a matter of months.
Most of my pictures are not of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, though there are a few of those. Most of them are, instead, of the people I saw, the places that intrigued me. More than anything, they are snapshots to remind me of the time that I lived there in a little apartment, in the neighborhood of Belleville.
Far off the beaten tourist path, Belleville is – like much of Paris – a neighborhood for the senses: families rushing in and out of the Monoprix, men eating fragrant shwarma and smoking ever-present cigarettes in streetcorner groups, young people contributing to the noise and tumble on weekend nights as they crowd into café chairs lining the road.
I lived on Rue de Faubourg de Temple, a 10 minute walk from Place de la Republique and an easy stroll to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which quickly became one of my favorite places in the entire city. I say “lived” generously here; I stayed there a month, renting an apartment from a stranger, and worked as hard as I could to bring a bit of Paris into my soul.
It worked. At the end of the month, I was not cured of my desire to know Paris intimately. Instead, to my surprise, it seemed that my love for the city had grown into something enormous, and insatiable.
I think of Paris most days, now. I dream of returning. Living there, for real.
On Friday, I received messages from my brother and father within minutes of each other: had I seen the news about Paris? I hadn’t. On my way into a meeting, I glanced at Twitter, and then could think of little else.
A few hours later, a friend contacted me. “I don’t want you to go,” she said, referring to my upcoming trip to Europe over the holidays. I told her how I honestly felt: on Friday, there was nowhere I wanted to be more than in the City of Light.
It’s Tuesday now: morning on the west coast of the United States, late afternoon in Paris. In between Friday and now, I’ve learned belatedly of violence in Beirut, and read about the attack, back in April, at a university in Africa that didn’t make our national news. All of this is deeply troubling, on many levels.
I do not care more about the people in France than I care about the people in Lebanon or Kenya. The sadness is so real, in each place, and my empathy extends as far as it possibly can, to reach those actively mourning and continually grieving.
Out of the three, I only personally know Paris.
My trip this winter is still in the planning stages; Christmas will be in Denmark, New Year’s perhaps in Italy. I will visit France last. Logistically, it makes sense to skip Paris completely, but – before Friday – I couldn’t consider not going because I can’t be that close to my favorite place and pass it by. Now, I can’t entertain that notion because to do so would be to acquiesce to a level of fear that I can’t condone.
There is nothing brave about traveling, not when compared to many acts of courage.
But there is so much within it that is important, and I wish we could all head to other lands, frequently. It gives us the chance to see each other, to know each other, to embrace each other.
Like the City of Light, herself, it gives us the chance to shine.
And in the darkest of days, perhaps that simple act – of traveling – becomes something much more significant: a quiet, powerful protest to the fears that render us motionless, separating us from the many people who we might recognize as versions of ourselves, if ever we had the chance to meet.