A summer social life

There’s a small basket of candies laid onto the desk, as you leave my gym. It's sort of like the lollipops the dentist dishes out after a visit. It all defeats the purpose.

I made my way out of the gym, leaving the bowl of treats untouched. The board read 16-minutes until the arrival of my bus, and so I sat myself down, scooting over to the edge of the metal bench as an elderly woman approached. She nestled into her spot, titling her head as she slowly took me in. You get funny looks for walking outside in gym gear. They don’t do that in Paris. And so the strange stares, should you dare break the fashion rules of Parisian dress, are to be expected.

The woman cleared her throat-- she wanted to know why I looked so flushed.

She and I got to talking-- her commenting on gyms in Paris, I gushing over food in boulangeries. She asked what I was doing in Paris, wanted to know if Obama was nice and spilled out her unbridled opinion on French president, Francois Hollande. 

An elderly couple joined, the wife squeezing into the middle space between myself and the other lady. She remarked on the weather and, after hearing my American- laced- French accent, asked where I was from. It was a shame that I was seeing Paris with such awful weather, she said. But I assured her that I've seen Paris sunny, I've seen Paris snowing. And now summer, I see Paris cold and raining.

Not to worry, I responded. None if it changes my mind. Because five months in, and I’m still in love with everything about this city.
I approach the city differently, now that I’m working. There’s no time to tackle the sites—a good thing given I’ve exhausted Paris as a tourist. I spend the weekdays at work, stretching my legs during my hour lunch break, often strolling down to the Jardin du Luxembourg to watch locals play tennis. 

The workday ends at 5:30; Most days, I hop aboard the 20-minute bus to the gym—a productive way of channeling the day’s build up of energy. Other afternoons, I’ll walk home, taking my time as I weave through clothing stores and art galleries, hidden side streets and open- air markets.

What I hadn’t expected, however, was to have friends to share the summer with. Save the scatter of friends who plan to visit during the next two months, I hadn’t given thought that anything would develop out of the few, Parisian acquaintances I’ve met during my time abroad.

But life’s got a funny way of dishing out the unexpected. And this time, all it took was four months of Chabad, Shabbat dinners and one night of chance, for life’s surprise of a summer social life to fall into place.
It started last Friday; I had received a message from my friend, Amelia—a 23- year old, AEPHi from UC Irvine, spending her ten months post- grad as an au pair in Paris. She wanted to know if I’d be at Chabad.

I’ve been going to Chabad since my third shabbat in Paris. I like the crowd—a mix of individuals, the majority visitors from all parts of the world. Among the new, there are also the few regulars—roughly around my age, a mix of students and au pairs.

And so I met up with Amelia, she arriving at our agreed upon time, and me—30 minutes late, because G-d forbid I ever actually get somewhere when planned. We sat for dinner with two other Californian AEPHis, in addition to Amelia’s friend, a British nanny who moved to Paris permanently. I got into conversation with the man sitting opposite me, and smiled at his friend, seated to my left. But for the most part, it was just me and the girls—the first night all week that English, once more, became the main, spoken language.  

It was as I was leaving, that I bumped back into the two men from my table. They were in conversation with a girl who had sat at the end of our table, but I hadn’t spoken to. She was visiting Paris alone.

Alone? Hmph. Based off my week alone while in Italy, I believe there’s no way you can reap the all of a city when you’re taking it on as a solo traveler. So I quickly offered to spend my Sunday with her —the boys suggesting we meet up in the evening for drinks in Montmartre.

And then we proceeded to switch names.

The girl introduced herself as Michelle, a 26- year- old, Canadian, med student spending a week in Paris, before meeting her friends for a trip to India.

We walked to the metro together— the two of us huddled under Michelle's small umbrella as we made our way up the Champs Elysees, towards the Arc de Triomphe. There were 15 minutes left until midnight. I wanted to know if she had time to spare—there was somewhere I wanted to take her.

We got to Trocadero a minute before midnight.  It was there that Michelle got her first, close- up view of the Eiffel Tower-- the enormity of its slender slopes and, at the turn of the hour, the beauty of its lights as the bulbs flickered to initiate the midnight, five- minute light show.  

Five months ago, that was me—my first time at Trocadero, gazing ahead as I watched the tower come alive. I had looked on, overcome with emotion for the moment I was experiencing and excitement for the unknown of the six months to come.

It’s special to pass the moment on—to give Michelle, in my own way, a hand in experiencing this incredible city for all that it can offer.  
I returned home to find a Facebook message from a woman I had met at Chabad, a few weeks back. She invited me to a get together for the following Saturday night.

I responded with an enthusiastic yes.

The evening was lovely, spent among the company of Jewish, young professionals. A friend I had met at Shabbat, about a month prior, appeared halfway through the evening. And so I spent the rest of my night with him, a wonderful, 26- year- old who, as I’ve quickly discovered, seems to know everyone and their mother within the French, Jewish community.

He had interned in Haifa years back, spending the summer on his own before discovering a social scene the two weeks before his departure. He hadn't enjoyed his experience fully until the last two weeks, he said. And so he’s taken me under his wing, leaving me with a rundown of Jewish events I can tag along for.

I had ended off my workday, the afternoon before, with no plans for the weekend. And by that Saturday night, I had the next few days booked with people to see and things to do. 

I don’t know how it all works out, but by chance, by stroke of luck—it does. 
Somehow, the pieces fall into place. 
I spent Sunday with Michelle-- taking her from Opera Garnier, to La Defense (Paris’s business district—an area I absolutely detest) and the Champs de Mars, for an afternoon picnic.  

We met back up that evening in Montmartre— the boys taking us for drinks on a rooftop bar overlooking the city, and dinner at a wonderful, salad restaurant.  

There was a slight strangeness to saying goodbye to Michelle—the day had flowed so naturally, so effortlessly. She commented on the fact we’d probably never see each other again—realistic, yet odd. Our time together had left me with a sense of fulfillment for helping add to her experience in Paris. And it was touching when she said she would do the same for another, should she come across a solo traveler.

I wanted to spend the time with Michelle partly influenced by the remnants of my feelings from my week alone in Italy. My other friend had experienced Haifa alone, aware of the difference it had made after discovering a social scene. We take the lessons we learn and apply them as we move forward.

And now, it’s one passed on to Michelle.

It all comes full circle.
I spent Thursday evening with Mariene, the British nanny, and her friends, enjoying the evening’s Fete de la Musque (Paris’s national celebration of music with artists playing all across central Paris. But actually, the one night Paris turns into a drunken, hot mess.) 

As for this past Saturday, I headed out to Torcy, a small, quaint city about a 35- minute, RER ride out of Paris. An American couple, both in their early 30s, had invited me for dinner to the apartment of the women they live with. They’re friends I had made in my French Grammar class— a lively, warm pair who had moved to Paris in attempt to learn French and pursue their work as missionaries. The woman they live with-- a lovely woman, originally from Madagascar-- joined us for dinner. Given she speaks no English, we spent our three hours at dinner, conversing in French.

The evening was wonderful-- well spent in good company.
It’s taken four months to build this base—however small—of Parisian friends. They’re not quite as interested in becoming friends with the visiting American, but once you’ve got a hand in helping break into their crowd, the process becomes a bit easier. Surprisingly, many are eager to practice their English, leaving our conversations a mixture of Frenglish.  

I like the scene—a good mix of young professionals, mostly in their late 20s or early 30s. We often talk about their careers, them always asking after my internship. I find it easier to just respond that I’m managing the British website of a French company. Which at the most basic level, sums up my weekday work quite well.

I hadn’t expected this social life—hadn’t expected having friends to text or a flow of new people to meet. Strangely, if this time in Paris were permanent, this would be my process of building a new life.

I love this life abroad—I love the experiences and opportunities it’s given me. I’m grateful for how it’s all somehow  fallen into place.

Yet beneath the excitement, there’s always that lingering feeling of missing the life I’ve left, however temporarily. I miss my friends and family, I miss the ease of American life and I miss being surrounded by English. But to leave this new life, it’s not going to be easy either.

Because this, I’m going to miss too.

You can't be torn between two worlds, two lives at the one time. Nor can you have it all.

And so my take away is the importance of appreciation: Appreciation for each moment, for none of it lasts forever. Savoring the taste and soaking in the experience.

I had left off my last blog post with my question as to what really defines home. In many ways, I see home as my life in D.C. But home sounds permanent, sounds as if it’s a never- changing base. And as for the permanence of life in D.C., well there’s no certainty to that either. Who knows where the future will take us all. 

And so appreciate the now, because life changes quickly. It's not easy to leave one life in lieu of a new one without turning back. There’s always that something you leave behind.

But it’s the something that provides the pieces to start back from, come your return. Unless there’s no return, and then it’s that something that reminds you of that the time well spent, of the moments well appreciated.  

I believe that no part of our experiences truly ends. Rather they build—build into the chapters of our stories, the lives we continue developing and the person we end up becoming. We keep on moving in life. And it’s this constant change that leaves our worlds refreshed, our experiences renewed.

For every little something left behind, I believe there’s always a greater something to be had ahead.
Jardin du Luxembourg during my lunch break

The main in church (as seen at the end of the road) in Torcy
Fete de la Musique

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