Yesterday I officially closed the door on my old life, and eight hours later opened the door to my new one.
I spent the last seven years living in what the New York Times described as “A Studio Sized Box of Tricks;” a 500 sq foot loft filled with antiques, straight jackets, one-thousand magic books, and no trace of me.
The apartment never felt like my home, but the initial fallout of my divorce left me no option but to continue squatting in the family-owned apartment of my no-longer family.
Though I have felt my marriage was over for months now, I was still tied to this haunting piece of it. I was eating alone at the table we used to share meals at, sleeping alone in the bed we slept in, and living out my days among the collectibles my husband ultimately treasured more than me.
It was like a load was lifting off me as I wheeled my last suitcase to the hall for the last time. I stopped at the lightswitch, flicked it, and stood there watching the lights go out one by one until the apartment was completely dark. Then I shut that door for the very last time.
I popped a mini Pommery for the drive to the airport as my bags were loaded into the trunk of a taxi. A bougey roadie was in order.
At Charles de Gaulle, my Uber driver’s expression upon seeing my five suitcases was priceless.
“Are you just one,” he asked?
” I never in my life pick up one person with five cases. Oh my Goooood – hahahahaha”
He was a middle-aged man, thin as a rail and impeccably dressed. I explained the heavy load.
“I’m living here for a while, my whole life is in these big bags.”
This intrigued him, and he began to question me on our ride into Paris.
“You move here for boyfriend?”
“You have friends here?”
“Oh, my Goooood, hahahahaha! This is terrible! You are a single girl and have no friends or family. How sad!”
A lesser person might have taken that moment to hurl an insult, or at least pull out their phone and give him a very poor Uber rating.
A smarter person might have just lied, feigned an engagement or ill relative. But I know sometimes people just like to tell it as it is. And to be fair, everything he was saying was both true and precisely why I came here.
I lived my whole life for my relationships. I planned my days around my husband’s schedule and desires to maximize our time together, often at the expense of my own growth and success. When he left, I found myself subbing him with my parents, my siblings, my friends. I realized the only thing bringing me fulfillment was the relationships in my life, and as long as they were accessible, I would prioritize them. Serving them brought me joy, and purpose.
When I realized that, I knew I had to leave. With no one to bring me purpose, I would have to find it in myself.
My new home is in the Marais, the bit of Paris I used to live in when I studied abroad here what feels like a lifetime ago. Just the facade brought a smile to my face – a grand, stone carving bordered the wrought-iron door. A scripty No. 8 is perched at the top, and an old -fashioned metro sign is just opposite. After winding two flights up, I turned the handle and stepped into my new world.
Sunlight flooded in the room, illuminating the blonde highlights of the parquet, wooden floors. Three french windows looked out on the street below, framed by thick, cream, curtains. One had a window seat, covered with a sheepskin rug and an oversized pillow. I promised myself I’d sit there every morning and write. Where our place in New York had been dark, with clay-colored walls and no natural light, the walls here were whip-cream colored with intricate molding. I wanted to devour them.
A gold, antiqued mirror rested on the floor of the opposite wall making the room appear double its size. A soft pink velvet couch just big enough for me to stretch out on for a nap sat on a diagonal in a corner. It perfectly complimented the pink and black floral rug. A rusted, crystal chandelier sparkled in the middle of the ceiling like a beautiful necklace.
Two pocket doors hid a little bedroom made for a modern-day Marie Antionette. It was entirely wallpapered with grey and white damask with matching curtains and a crystal sconce on each side. A white-washed wardrobe rested against the wall, so full of character I felt it might spring to life like in Beauty & The Beast. On the left was the kitchen, with marine-blue cabinets, white marble, and a Morrocan-tiled floor.
But my favorite detail is the ovular, antique painting of the Virgin Mary, her hands in prayer with two angels on each side. It hangs above a little, wooden bureau that has a vase of wilting yellow tulips and a half-burned candle in a brass holder – dried wax poetically dripping down the right side. I literally have angels watching over me.
I took it all in, the beauty, the simplicity, the Frenchiness. If I could have dreamed a home into existence, it would be this. I sat down at the wooden table and let the tears fall. I finally had a home.
The rain in Paris has never bothered me; instead, I find it makes the city a whole new kind of beautiful. Puddles on the cobblestones reflect the streetlights and give everything a warm, golden glow. Fog hangs in the air, and little bins inside cafes fill with a collection of soggy umbrellas. Rain does not stop the Parisians from sitting outside, smoking outside, and kissing outside. No one runs or tries to dodge it by only walking under awnings – it’s simply raining, and they are not bothered.
I navigated the street until I reached Repetto, a French institution for dance supplies. I needed to pick up my uniform for the ballet class I was starting the next day, and was determined to have the entire conversation in French.
We began with shoes – de cuir ou de toile? Leather or canvas?
I slid my toes into the soft, pink canvas and felt like Cinderella realizing her little slippers were about to change her life.
Since I decided to enroll in ballet, I was thrilled at the prospect of what to wear to class. There was no dress code listed on the website. I was used to taking ballet as a child; each level came with a mandatory leotard color and a few optional accessories. But it seemed like as an adult; you could do as you please.
I probably should do a classic black leotard, my head reasoned.
But then my heart weighed in – what if I went full Degas-dancer and showed up day one in a tutu? It’s probably not the norm, but if I just do it from day one – I’ll be the strange American who wears tutus to class like an idiot, and I’m okay with that….
I eyed the wall of tulle as I asked the shop keeper.
She pointed to the wall of black leotards and said, “you must wear something like zis. Wiz a skirt for ze floor”
She showed me to the red-velvet lined dressing room, closed the curtain, and said, “bon essayage!”
“Good trying on!” I committed that phrase to memory, unsure of the situation in which I’d ever use it, but now desperate to find one.
I surveyed myself in the mirror, did a quick ronde de jambe and grinned at my reflection like a love-sick fool. I have been saying I wanted to take dance classes again for fifteen years, and now I was doing it – in Paris.
Swinging my new Repetto bag as I walked the streets, I couldn’t help but throw in a chasse or two, a little pirouette at the corner. I needed to practice after all. I became aware I hadn’t eaten since dinner the night before as I passed by Chez Janou.
It’s quite a touristy place, known for its classic decor, bad house wine, and enormous sized chocolate mousse that is a volonte – the French equivalent of all you can eat. It’s touristy but charming, and it’s twinkle lights beckoned in the rain.
“Pour deux,” the waiter asked? For two?
“Non, je suis seule.”
My Uber driver’s words played in my head. “When I see person at dinner alone – I think so sooooo sad!”
We weaved through the restaurant until we came to a little two-top in the back along the banquet where another woman was at a table, alone.
“Why is it that the two most beautiful women in the restaurant are dining alone,” the waiter asked us?
He put down the menus and pretended to join me, taking my hand to kiss it. As I laughed, I realized one of the reasons I loved France most: every interaction revolves around flirting.
The whole city is so consumed by passion they can’t help it. Waiters flirt, shopkeepers flirt, vendors at the market shamelessly flirt. Strangers on the street will lock eyes with you and hold them just a moment too long, and anything exchanged by hand, be it money, or bread, or even just a waive, somehow feels intimate. He wasn’t interested in me, the waiter, nor I him – but he is a French man, and I am woman. In his mind, I deserve to be told I’m beautiful. I deserve to have my wit tested. And I definitely deserve a dinner companion.
But I moved here alone. I have no boyfriend, no friends, and no family.
So I’m dining alone. At least for tonight.
With no one to talk to, I instead began an internal conversation with myself; noting the details of Chez Janou on a rainy, January, Tuesday so that I never would forget my first night as a Parisienne. I committed to memory the color of the worn, red leather booths, the chipped, tile floor, and the grain of the wooden tables that have likely been there for centuries. I admired the round, over-sized bulbs hanging from the ceiling that illuminate the colorful vintage posters on the walls and reflect in the antiqued mirrors. I noted the song softly playing so I could play it again one day and think of this night. When my food arrived, I stuffed myself with salty olives from a tiny dish and warm baguette slices from the basket. Then slurped chestnut veloute, and twisted forkfuls of tagliatelle aux escargots into my mouth until I couldn’t possibly manage another bite.
And in that moment, I honestly couldn’t think of a single person that I wished was sitting across from me. Paris was the only companion I needed.