On Saturday January 13th, around 4:30pm, I was sat in a cafe in Paris’ 6th arrondissement. I had spent the day wandering the city with my dad, starting with some shopping along the Champs Elysées, then walking down to the Grand Palais, up and into the Musée de l’Armée, and then along the cobblestone streets that led us to said cafe.
The long walk felt surreal, in that everything we saw was so new to us, but knowingly so old to the city and its people. We embraced it all; from the beautiful apartments, to the small patisseries, and the colourful flower shops. My dad and I would peer into the windows of our favourite buildings, and comment on the beautiful chandeliers that hung from the ceilings.
“If I were younger, I would move to this part of Paris”.
I contemplated what this statement meant for my dad, and considered our difference in age. He is 70 and I have just turned 21. I too thought to myself “I could move here”, and the thought lingered.
There was something appealing about living in a small Parisian apartment, working any job I could find so that I would be able to pay for the overpriced rent that my tiny, minimal, but cozy apartment would require. I imagined myself sitting at my window, attempting to read what ever book I thought would help me get accustomed to my new life, and distract me from the inevitable loneliness that moving to a new city would bring (‘The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck‘?)
We found ourselves at Au Vieux Colombier, seated in a corner at the mint-coloured French doors that lined the cafe and peered out to the street; eating and people watching. My god, French women dress well. While realising that perhaps a faux fur coat is something worth investing in, movement from the top floor of the building opposite us had caught my eye.
A woman, grey-haired and petite, wearing the classic, chic, staple combination of a white shirt and navy knit, opened the shutters of her apartment balcony, leaned on the ledge, and pulled a packet of cigarettes from her pocket. It happened in a way that you assume only happens in foreign films; it was almost dreamlike.
There was something about this woman; be it her confidence, her posture, maybe even the fact that I had assumed that the apartment was hers, that made me come to a realisation about the type of life that I want to live.
Looking at this woman, I imagined the independent, nonchalant, frank person that she could be. I pictured her waving away her annoying neighbour who complained that her music was too loud the night before. I imagined her sitting with two impeccably dressed children, telling them “c’est la vie” when they begin to complain that they lost their balloons in the cold winds that blew through the Jardins de Tuilleries, or that their favourite toy broke. I pictured a woman who could have been through hell but has always managed to bring herself back up to Earth. I pictured traits of compassion, realism, and logic, with an overload of ambition. She was resilient, adventurous, and willing to take risks. In saying that, she wasn’t, by any means, perfect. She had flaws and made mistakes and at times could be selfish, stubborn, and for gods sake she needed her 5pm cigarette break in the silence of her top floor balcony, before cooking for her family and listening to her kids whine until bedtime.
This woman, who I actually knew nothing about other than that she resided on the top floor of a 6th arr. apartment, put into perspective everything that I want from my life, albeit in the most picturesque, perhaps even unrealistic way possible.
In the past two years, I have changed and grown in ways that I hadn’t foreseen. In some circumstances, these particular changes to my personality and priorities aren’t something that I’m necessarily proud of. I neglected things that I usually held dear to me, like my family, or my job, my studies, and even this blog. On one hand, I tried new things, met new people, and experienced a different sort of lifestyle, and it wasn’t necessarily negative, either.
In 2017, barely six months from what I think was the period of my noticeable change, I decided to take more care. Not much changed but the lifestyle that I adopted of going out every weekend suddenly became tiring. I had some seriously great times, don’t get me wrong, and am honestly hanging out for the next night out (because technically I haven’t had a night out in a long time). More than that, I began to miss the people that I neglected, and the determination that I once had. I missed caring about things and people, and I really missed caring about myself.
It’s interesting, the journey that your mind takes you on when you wake up one day and think “why do I bother?” or the opposite “I am priceless”. Thinking about it, reaching that point in thought is a thorough process. It is a gradual thing that happens over time, and is mostly dictated by your experiences and interactions.
Sometimes we forget who we are, what is important to us, and why it is important. It sounds like a bad thing, but I actually think that maybe it’s one of the best ways to come to a realisation of what you actually value, and what you don’t.
This revolutionary moment of thought, that was sparked by a random Parisian woman smoking on her balcony, seems almost too good to be true. It is in these moments when you question “is this it? Have I cracked the code? Have I really got my life in perspective now?” and the reality of it is no, you don’t. From this realisation comes another journey, which no doubt will also have it’s ups and downs, but the finality of it is this: you’re at peace. You understand where you are, how you came to be here, and where to go from there.
The funny thing is that this woman could have been at her balcony thinking “if I were younger, I would move to…”