“Paris is the sower. Where does he sow? In the shadows. What does he sow? Sparks. All that is, in the intellects scattered across the earth, catching flame here and there, and sparkling, is due to Paris. It is Paris that has kindled the magnificent blaze of progress.”
-Victor Hugo Paris*
They say that if you stand on this spot, the center of Paris, right in front of Notre Dame, that you will return to Paris. I’ve made sure to stop there several times on each visit, stepping in that slightly lower indentation where multitudes of tourists have stood and hoped. Because to be in Paris is to hope to return. I can’t imagine it any other way.
Every time I have been in Paris has been a moment of transition in my life, a moment where the future yawned uncertainly and terrifyingly, even if excitingly, before me. The semester in college where so many things seemed changing in my life; the year after graduation where I had no clue what to do with my future; the summer before I moved to DC, wondering what would happen there, what would happen with James. Paris, that graceful, old, and unchanging city has been a constant in my life, the hovering constant that there was somewhere I could flee where I had been happy, where I could always be happy again. Paris was a safe place when I didn’t know how I wanted the future to look. Paris will always be that for me.
But this time, the life that I paused to come to Paris is different. Despite all the uncertainty with James being far away, it is a life that is consistent, full, stretching forward with some promise of where it is going. It is a life in which I am joyfully anchored, happily rooted. This means that while I will always want to go back to Paris, to explore its streets, to be with my Parisian friends, to revel in the French culture I love, I feel freed from that painful need to stay there, that longing for it to be my home. I have a home that I don’t want to give up, not even for Paris. It feels just a little sad to say that, but it’s true.
I’m back in DC now, unpacking and pushing through the gross feeling of jet-lag combined with a month of eating almost exclusively pastries and cheese. It was sad to leave Paris and my friends, but the knowledge that I was leaving to come home, to come back to a life that I don’t want to give up to be elsewhere, that mediates the sadness.
And on the other side of the ocean, Paris will remain constant, will always be Paris.
*A friend loaned me this little book while I was there and I loved it. Total and ridiculous exaggeration written while Hugo was in exile, but wonderful nevertheless. There might have been a moment where Hugo declared that the “cry of golgotha found its fruition in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.” Hugo, you are out of control and I love you for it.