It is, as you know by now, the last day of my 20s. I’m sitting at one of the blue tables outside of Carroll Street Café, where I come almost every day. I’m thinking about Paris.
I’ve been thinking about Paris lately.
I was 28 when I went to Paris for the first time. We lived there for two months: me, Talia, and Marston, our one-year old.
This café especially reminds me of Paris. It’s old and the tables outside are packed together and many of the people who come here are tourists staying at the little guest houses nearby but locals like it too.
I normally sit here and write about whatever, and today I write about Paris.
I remember how tired I was there.
I drank a bottle of wine almost every night and we would stay up too late illegally streaming TV shows, hoping our one year old wouldn’t wake up in the next room.
We slept in the living room, on a pull out couch, and put our son in the crib in the one bedroom of the apartment.
We never slept on the actual bed because if our son saw or heard or smelled us he would cry and then if we put him on the bed he would toss and turn and crawl on our faces. So we were in the living room and he was in the bedroom and every day we would fold out the bed at night, cutting off most of our floor space, and then fold it back up in the morning.
We bumped our shins so many times on that stupid fold out bed.
At night, we couldn’t leave the apartment.
For two reasons:
- The baby. We didn’t have a sitter and leaving your baby alone in an empty apartment is bad. I read A Moveable Feast while we were living in Paris though and Hemingway wrote about how he and Hadley would leave their son in the care of a watchful cat (was it called Mr. Bumby?). Apparently things were different in Paris back in the roaring 20s.
- We had no money. Does this really need explanation?
During the day Talia was bored an resentful.
And me? I was mostly blocked. Every day I would go to my cafés and try to write, wanting to write, sitting in the most perfect places imaginable to write, but everything I wrote felt horrible, boring, without life.
I hated myself in Paris.
And then I would come back to our tiny apartment to my pissed off wife and my disaster-causing child and drink as much as I dared and then watch television until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
When people ask about what it was like living in Paris, it’s hard to describe this part.
Yes, there were great times: sipping chocolate while strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens, going to Spring, still one of the best meals of my life, walking—just walking—through the city and realizing how many other great men and women have been inspired by that city. It was amazing and it changed me and I’m grateful.
But mostly, I was in mild depression when I was in Paris, and when I think about going back (because you can’t help thinking about going back to Paris) I do so with trepidation.
Have you been to Paris? What was it like for you? Did it make you a better or worse person? Let me know in the comments.
The last time I was in Paris, it was the least enjoyable of all my experiences because I was with my pregnant wife and our 2 small children. When I was a student in Paris, I never realized that it just wasn’t a fun city to be with small children… or an uncomfortable wife. For years, I dreamed of taking my wife back to Paris with me. I thought about romantic late-night strolls, going to cafés and concerts, just the 2 of us. And then when we were actually there together, we didn’t get to do any of that stuff. We were both tired and grouchy from constantly chasing and/or carrying our children across city. I still want to go back with her some day, just maybe without children.
For the record, we had a much better French experience as a family during our 2-stay in a condo on the Norman coast. And that wasn’t even perfect for a list of other reasons… country villages and summer beaches are just much more child-friendly than Paris, wonderful city though it is.
Thanks for sharing this dark side of your experience. I love when I read something real on the Internet.
There are words missing randomly from my comment. I have no explanation for this because I know I typed them.
Maybe it’s revisionist history, but I remember strolls along the Seine, markets full or radishes and mushrooms, and night walks back from the tower. And I could have sworn I was only pissed off once—when your meeting ran late and you came home at TWO AM just as I was bundling up Marston to wander the streets of Paris looking for your body.
You and I have very different memories. But yes, the walks along the Seine were wonderful.
Just got back from Paris yesterday. The airport, to be specific. It was the third level of hell. The plane disgorged us onto a bus that emptied us into a hall that led to this roiling mass of people – hundreds of them – trying to get thru immigration so they could catch their next flight.
I was so going to miss my flight, so I cut in line and felt shameful for doing so, but what can you do? You have been reduced to a “kill or be killed” status by the mindset that thought the Maginot line would be an adequate defense against the Nazi war machine.
I was glad to leave Paris, a city that I have always loved.
I can’t stand the Paris airport either. It does feel like “kill or be killed”.
it was 2013 and I had just gotten off the race, had my big backpack on my back trying to catch a flight running around the airport, and for the first time in 11 months, no one that saw me struggle with the heavy pack stopped to help. #firstworldproblems #parisienne
Paris felt like a dream to me. I was reading Hemingway then. I felt like a Jacqueline for the first time in Paris, I wore ankle-length skirts and twirled on the streets. I meandered the endless corridors of Museo d’orsay. The air smelt like perfume and cigarettes and I was utterly and perfectly happy.
Never been there but thanks for coming raw and real.
I’d probably hate myself if I went there in my twenties, too. I was rock solid at finding ways to ruin most days during that decade of my life.
I love your honesty in this post, Joe. Thank you for sharing.
It’s my dream is to go to Paris. One question. Well two actually.
1.) why not move the crib in the living room?
2.) what prompted the move to Paris?
Alcohol is a depressant. Better luck next time.
You should go. Don’t read this as a criticism of Paris. I hated myself but loved being in Paris and have no regrets about going. It’s just that Paris and I have a complicated relationship.
1. Because he went to bed at 7 pm and slept light for those months and if he was in the living room we would be locked out of the rest of the house (and kitchen, which was part of the living room, and bathroom, which adjoined it)
2. See http://goodbyeparisbook.com/getting-married/
3. I think the idea that alcohol is a depressant is old science/a myth (see this for short: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/09/20/drink-up-because-booze-wont-make-you-depressed/ and this for long: http://gladwell.com/drinking-games/). But yes, not saying it was a good thing.
Don’t know if luck has anything to do with it, but thanks!