Even the Eiffel Tower's light show turns off at 1 am

August 3, 2012 
It’s my last time walking up towards the Arc de Triomphe, the three of us pacing the Champs Elysees as we leave Chabad—headed to Trocadero. The lights, the movement, it all disappears as we step down into the metro. I hurriedly whisk out my wallet, undoing the button as I finger the few tickets left in my coin compartment. I slip my ticket into the mouth of the machine, the bud of the paper sliding out on the end.

It's four metro stops and six minutes left. The thump of my heart is the beat for our steps. It's a drum race with the clock and for the first time, it's me that's in the race.
_________________
I was the only one at work this afternoon—save the two hours my boss, Arnaud, came in. He had called me into his offer, complimenting me on the notes I'd prepared for the future intern
. If I ever wanted to come back to Paris, Arnaud said, I should contact him. Of course, no guarantee of a job, but “we’ll see,” he added.

I took my last stroll to the Jardin du Luxembourg for lunch, returning to the office to put my final touches on my work, before leaving a little after 2:45.   

I handed the office keys to a lady in the architecture firm. She asked if I was leaving for my three week vacation.

Something like that.
_________________
I closed my bank account, withdrawing the euros of my paycheck before snipping my French credit card—each slither falling into the haphazard pile scattered in the garbage.


I spent the rest of my afternoon on a walking tour of Paris—stopping into ACCENT (the French organization that coordinated my semester program) to say a final goodbye, before heading to Centre Pompidou for a last overlook of the city. I wandered through to l’Hotel de Ville, stopping to watch the Olympics on a large screen installed just outside Paris’s town hall.

From there, I walked to St. Michel, visiting one of my favorite boulangeries, eating my patisserie in the garden my friends and I used to eat our lunch in before Phonetics. A free shuttle was running in between St. Michel and Invalides (given the RER was down), and I hopped on board, stopping off at the Musee d'Orsay, before walking home, exhausted by it all.  

I had planned to go to Sacre Coeur before Shabbat that evening. But my afternoon walk had left me drained, and it dawned on me that there was no real reason to pay a last visit to my favorite spot in Paris. I've been so many times before.
 It'll still be there once I come back.
View of Sacre Coeur from the Musee d'Orsay 
_____________________
I hadn’t planned to go to Chabad for my final Shabbat—my last evening—in Paris. But a French friend, Julia, had offered to join me and I had agreed, messaging Natalia, a German law student studying in Paris, to let her know of the plans. I had been put in contact with Natalia through my German- Jewish friend, Lili, a few weeks prior. And though Natalia wasn't Jewish, she had expressed interest in joining for a Shabbat.

While Julia ended up canceling due to work commitments, Natalia remained firm on her agreement. Her friend, Sergej—a charming German boy with piercing blue- green eyes and blonde hair-- was in town visiting. And so he too, joined us for the evening.

With the exception of one guy I had briefly met at the Jewish soirée this past Wednesday, I didn’t recognize any of the attendees at Chabad. The Rabbi too wasn’t there—he had told me the week prior he’d have already left for his vacation. The freshness of the faces was strange, yet it’s the ever-constant reminder that the flow of people, the flow of experiences, the flow of connections, come and go in life. In many ways, the fresh faces eased my goodbye to the synagogue that had had such an influence in my six months abroad.

It's tradition to go around and introduce yourself during the Shabbat meal. Strangely, all seemed to be paired with husbands who felt it their responsibility to introduce their wives (not sure why given women aren’t mute). And through the paired introductions, somehow my German friends, the Belgian man at the end of our table and I got skipped.
 

I had wanted to say that I've come here for six months—that tonight was my last Shabbat. But no one here knew that this was the Chabad that’s given me home for the majority of my Shabbats in Paris. That it was here that I met all that enriched my experience this summer. I wanted to say thank you. But I guess no one really would have cared anyway, nor had they been here for the six months to follow me through.

I enjoyed the conversation at our dinner table—a couple from London, another from Australia, my two German friends and a man who commutes weekly from Belgium. The British couple spoke of their time while studying abroad in Germany-- the Australian couple inquiring as to the lingering affects of the Holocaust within modern society.

The Holocaust doesn’t define our people, yet there’s no denying the weight it places on our most recent past. Jews throughout history have been persecuted; Yet through it, we've maintained a sense of tradition within our culture. This Shabbat dinner here in Paris is the same Shabbat dinner worldwide. It’s our shared traditions that provide us with a shared connection, no matter where we are in the world.  Not all at the table realized my German friends weren’t Jewish, and while it’s natural the conversation shifted to Germany and the Holocaust, I felt strongly that I didn’t want my German friends to feel uncomfortable.

I’d never wanted to visit Germany, prior to meeting my German- Jewish, friend Lili. I think Jews come in twos—the ones who are proud of their right to enter Germany freely. And the others, who wish to never step foot in the country.

I’d forever been the latter—regardless of my awareness of Germany’s immediate step to repair the past, the depth of Holocaust education they receive in schools and the burden this generation bears as a result of their ancestors’ past.

It was through Lili that I gained insight into a Jewish family who, following the war, made a home for themselves in Berlin. Who let go of the past—who moved forward, putting behind the pain and suffering of yesterday in starting the new life of tomorrow. Yet, in doing so, her family hasn’t let go of their identity as Jews. They’re Jewish- German, every right to practice their religion as they please. In Berlin, Lili can walk with her Magen David showing.

Which is ironic, in many ways, given that’s not one that Jews feel comfortable doing in France.
_________________
I noticed the time had just passed 11:30. I motioned to Natalia and Sergej.

There was somewhere I wanted to go.
__________________
I remember running from the metro stop with Michelle, racing to get her to Troacdero in time to see the Eiffel Tower's on- the- hour, five minute light show. I recall her smile, her few moments of silence as she stared ahead, amazed by the beauty of the sparkle of the tower’s lights. 

Michelle was my lucky charm this summer.
 For it was the weekend I had offered to take her around Paris-- given she was traveling alone-- that I had received the party invite from Deborah, the same party I had bumped back into Eric. And it was the following day that I had gone for drinks and dinner with Joh and Phillipe—Michelle with Phillipe, I with Joh. It was Joh that I dated for the two months of my summer— our first date in which he surprised me with an evening boat ride and dinner on the Seine. It’s not everyday you find a connection with another—one that you build so quickly, so naturally. And while our romantic interest slowly faded, it was a remarkably strong friendship that, rather, replaced.

You never know the power of the people that come into your life. That weekend with Michelle changed my summer—what had all started with my suggestion that I spend my Sunday with her.

Which was right before I asked if she had time that evening, for I wanted to take her to Trocadero-- the best spot to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle.
__________________
Mariene, Lili, some random Asian girl (who we had thought we were saving from a man who appeared to be harassing her) and I rushed Ari to Trocadero, after a Shabbat dinner. Ari had been visiting Paris alone, and a camp best friend, Nathan, had put the two of us in contact.


We had made it to Trocadero just as the Eiffel Tower’s light show flickered on—the five us energized by the surge of adrenaline from our race to get to the viewing point in time. It was Ari’s first time seeing the Eiffel Tower’s light show—and it left me with the deepest feeling of satisfaction for having shared the experience with him.
__________________


It was a full moon, my last night in Paris. A full circle, like all within my summer. 

Natalia and Sergej raced with me to get to the Eiffel Tower for the midnight light show. They too had wanted to give me the moment, 
sitting with me for an hour after-- half in silence, half in conversation, soaking in my last few hours remaining in the city.  

There's no planning to where experiences will take you—to who you'll meet, where you'll go. I don't know how I got so lucky this summer, how everything fell into place so perfectly. I don’t know how I managed to secure a job, how I fell into my summer living arrangements and how I managed to never spend the important moments alone.  

I don't know why I got lucky. But I had it all this summer. Each puzzle fit, everything made sense.

The universe pulls together in helping get you where you’re meant to end up. I had followed my instincts in piecing together my plans for the six months. And where it's left me?

Well, here. Here, sitting on the steps at Trocadero, watching the shimmer of the Eiffel Tower’s lights with two friends.
__________________
The firing lights seemed to blaze off the metal hatches of the Eiffel Tower. There's an urgency to the flickering of the lights—a bulb for each hope, each dream. All waiting to be picked off.

The lights are beautiful—the tower, as always, magnificent.
 

I could feel my heartbeat getting louder, the weight settling just below the lobes of my eyes. But I held in the tears. Because why cry? With six months of memories, there's nothing to be sad about.

Natalia, Sergej and I talked forever; Natalia and I sharing memories of Paris, our hopes for the future. They laughed when I said my future husband would be taking me here on our honeymoon.

Except, I wasn’t kidding.

Paris is the city of dreams and romance, of class and culture, of life and energy. It's a city that doesn't extend the warm welcome to the visitor; They raise their nose and click their heal as the walk on. It’s for us to tail behind, to blend in (though they know we never will) and go along too.

There's a refinement to their culture, a beauty to their manner of living. Paris is a city unlike any other.

Six months of life in Paris.
I really am quite lucky.
_________________
August 13, 2012 
It’s been just over a week since I’ve been home. And weirdly, my life across the seas doesn’t seem as if it never happened. It sort of feels, rather, as if it’s on pause. Awaiting my return, someday.

Florida seems so quiet, so still in comparison. I’m back to writing in my favorite Starbucks—just down the street from my house. My usual table I like to write at is typically empty. It’s the one right next to the window that looks out onto the parking lot— the scatter of this evening’s yellow lights illuminating the few seated outdoors.

There had been a man, a few days ago, who had walked in, complaining of a group smoking outside. “I can’t sit around that,” he had said. I smiled. I haven’t heard a comment like that in quite some time.

I’ve maintained the contact with my Parisian friends, writing our messages in French in attempt to keep up my progress of the past six months. My mother also speaks to my baby brother in French—and every once in a while I’ll join in on the conversation. But it doesn’t last for long, given it’s a lot easier to speak in French when you’re not used to speaking to the other person in English.

It’s amazing how little has changed in the seven months I’ve been away from Florida-- how quickly all that I had left off has picked back up. I’m back on the journalism track—having just received the incredible opportunity to work as a collegiate correspondent for USA TODAY. I’ve been offered an internship from The Washington Post Express—and am waiting to hear from an internship from The Washington Post before making a final decision. But first, I’ve got D.C. to move back to and a new apartment to settle into.

Every once in a while I sit back, wandering what life is like in Paris right now. And while I’m not always sure of the time difference, I do know that at 7 pm my time—1 am Paris time— the last flicker of the Eiffel Tower’s bulbs shine, before the lights of the entire structure shut off.

Lights have to turn off at some point. But off never means forever. 

Around 6 am, Paris time, the Eiffel Tower will reawaken—shining it’s beauty on the city below. I’d love to turn my lights back on in Paris—to one day move back. I don’t want to give up on my dreams of writing and so if it's meant to be, I think it’ll fall into place. One day, perhaps I’ll have the two.

But first, I’ve got the honeymoon in Paris to take—the future Jewish (Parisian or not) husband to find. The job to start, a year left of school to finish.

As a chapter of my life folds over, a new part takes place. There’s a lot in store as I move forward. Yet in doing so, I carry forth six months of an experience that truly marked the me I brought home.

Everything works as it should— everything in life fits together as it’s supposed to.
Thank you Paris for teaching me just that.

A bientot, Paris. Tu me manques, déjà.




Sacre Coeur- my favorite spot in Paris. From the top of the hill you can see the entire city, below. Picture was taken back in February. 


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