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Breaking up with the world’s most beautiful city
Why I'm making a French exit
Of all the unexpected ways to start a newsletter, I’m beginning with an ending: I’m leaving Paris.
“WHAT?” you might be thinking, wondering if the 549 croissants that I’ve devoured (true story) have clogged my arteries and my thought process. “But the wine! The cheese! It’s all so beautiful.”
And you’re right – it is beautiful. But are looks enough?
I arrived in Paris on 29 December 2020, 48 hours before Brexit guillotined off my motherland, with the belief that I could live anywhere. Moving places on a whim was my thing. I picked a university 430 miles from home that I never visited until I arrived with a bottle of peach schnapps on the first day of term. A decade after graduating, I quit my job at Glamour magazine to live in Sydney – a city I’d only ever seen on TV. A year after returning to London, I left for Barcelona.
In my head, I was as close to being nomadic as someone with a sizeable ceramics collection could be. My husband’s new job in Paris would simply add another country to our repertoire.
What I didn’t appreciate, until I found myself wincing back tears during the 10-hour drive between Barcelona and Paris, was that my heart, silently but pervasively, had rooted. There was a place in the world that felt like home. It was the place I’d just left behind.
If the remedy for a painful break-up is to Get Back Out There, the pandemic in Paris was one hell of a third wheel. For five months, getting out there meant exploring the narrow lanes and curious corners of the supermarket. New social encounters came when a packet of coriander sent the self-service checkout into meltdown and a masked human eye-rolled me. Instead of marvelling at artistic wonders in the Louvre or Musée Rodin, I pondered how a dog poo had ended up on the windowsill of a shop.
By the time Paris and I got to know one another properly, when curfews and closures finally ended in May 2021, we’d skipped the honeymoon period and gone straight to marriage counselling.
Meanwhile, friends and followers enthused about how lucky I was – the way we all gush when something beautiful is involved. As I wandered further from the confines of the canned goods aisle, I tried to make chemistry kick in; to feel wine-at-lunchtime giddy about my new home.
I went on big-hitter dates – champagne and oysters, a sunset cruise on the Seine, meanders around Montmartre – and low-key ones, namely crêpes. I found shops I liked. I bought an enormous antique mirror that reeks of overcompensating. I made friends. I went to Sézane. I wore a blouse. I tried everything, from delighting my eyes to risking diabetes, and all I got was a familiar throwback feeling from dating in my twenties, when someone is perfect on paper but you pray that they don’t try to kiss you.
Like any incompatible relationship, as time went on, the wedge became personal. I realised that my personality – sensitive, conflict averse, agreeable, and not prone to dramas beyond Netflix – was not very Parisian.
The city’s temperament plus my temperament was like two repellent magnet ends trying to slow dance. We didn’t move to the same rhythm.
One of us wanted to chain-smoke and frequently peed in the street. I felt stared at and judged, yet also invisible. After a year, my joie de vivre had evaporated like spilt water on a hot day.
I’ve always said that you know it’s time to move on from a role or a relationship when you realise that someone else could step into your shoes and get more out of it. I’m certain it’s true for locations, too.
By the time we move back to Barcelona, at the end of October, we will have spent almost two years in Paris. My husband will continue to work for a French company and divide his weeks between the two cities. Diego, my dog, will mourn the dropped baguettes.
I know that I’m extremely fortunate to have a choice over where I live. I know what an almost ungrateful privilege it is to admit that me and Paris – the city of so many people’s dreams – couldn’t make it work. But I’m not giving up. I’m going home.
Are you surprised? Tell me your thoughts! Do you have a ‘soul place’ where you feel more at home than anywhere else?
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