Loving Paris isn’t special. Almost everybody loves this city because Jesus, look at it. It’s dreamy and goddamn delicious, a perfect mix of elegance and informality. When you're here, luxury feels accessible even if all you do is stare through window displays. Time moves as fast as the next metro and as slow as your morning cappuccino. There is no guilt, only goûter. As the street signs guide you through the arrondissements, you just know that wherever you go, you’re right where you should be. Paris makes you feel like it exists only for you. That it loves you not only back but more, more than the others. And that unlike your other loves, this love is special.
While some find the uniform architecture boring, I find it familiar and calming. As someone who grew up with little consistency, I crave it whenever I can and bask in in this gift that Paris has unknowingly offered me. I shudder at how unreliable San Francisco felt—antique Victorian houses clashing with phallic tech office buildings, buses broken down (or one time, literally on fire). In San Francisco I was always stressed, but I am never stressed in Paris.
I love that Paris this effect on people. The city means different things to different folks, yet it means the exact same thing to all of us. That thing, I think, is a gaping, weeping realisation that it's okay to feel your feelings. Just exist here and feel.
Paris has given me so much, and unlike my old haunt in San Francisco and my new haunt in London, it hasn't really taken anything away. In Paris, I am an outsider but also at home, like that uncle in Encanto who hid in the walls of his family house but in a less creepy way.
Or maybe Paris is a shark and I'm a remora, harmlessly feeding off of it without hurting it. Like the shark, it pays me no mind, and after enough days go by, I go completely unnoticed, which is exactly what I want.
The first time I visited Paris, in 2014, I thought I would collapse from grief over my first big Breakup. Several times over the course of the week, I nearly did, although that could also have been because I decided to take the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It had been a capital R Relationship that was supposed to be everything and amounted nothing. After it ended (kindly but painfully), I needed to figure out who I was after and in spite of him, and the only thing I knew better than anything was pastries. After years of working in some of the best restaurants and making some of the best desserts, there was only one place left to go—Paris.
I've visited several times since then, each time digging up a past version of me to reflect and reminisce on. When I leave, I deposit the newest version of me there like a less evil and more butter-filled horcrux. Unlike Voldemort, I'm not trying to fragment my soul so I can take over the world. Rather, I'm trying to preserve my soul so that I may understand it, and Paris allows me to do that. As I shed these outdated selves, Paris nourishes the new me with unending croissants and a barrage of vowel-laden words that I only half-understand. But more importantly, it never judges as I squirm and grow and learn to recognise myself in my own reflection.
My biggest fear is that I'll outgrow Paris, or that it will outgrow me. I already harbour a superstition that if I consume too much of something, I'll start to hate it, which is why I only eat cheesecake like three times a year. What if Paris is a phase like Hot Topic or Xanga or Neopets or bandanas or Taking Back Sunday? What if there comes a point where there's nothing left to discover about the city—or worse, about myself?
The scariest thing about outgrowing something is that you don't realise it's happening until it's passed, and by then, it's too late. It's never coming back, and in the twisted way that nostalgia works, you don't want it to. I don't know the exact moment when I stopped wearing all-black clothing or fed my Neopet for the last time. It was never an active decision nor was it forced on me by anyone else. It simply ceased to be a part of my life, a slow fade (or a fast fade? I don't know!) from one version of me to the next. It's the same process that transformed apes into humans or wolves into dogs—we know it happened, but we don't precisely know how or when or why. It just did. Maybe outgrowing is the same thing is as evolution, and Pokemon was lying to us the whole time by making us think that we could control it.
I am grateful and LUCKY that I can call this city familiar. On my most recent trip, I got to share that love with my mother and brother, for whom Paris is new. I envied that they got to experience Paris for the first time and also worried incessantly that they would hate it, or worse, be indifferent to it. I wanted them to see what I saw, to feel what I feel, before remembering that Paris is both a collective and very individual place. Emotions are everywhere, but you can't feel others feelings, only your own. My goal can't be for them to experience exactly what I do. Instead, I should just let them take it in for themselves while guiding them to my favorite boulangeries, bistros, and wine bars. There, we can discuss, compare, and accept. That's what Paris lets you do.
I can't wait to see what the next version of me looks like. And when I visit Paris again, I know it'll be there for me even if I've outgrown it. Evolution isn't forgetting the past, it's honoring it as you move into the future–and I'll always have deep love for this city.