July 2015


On Home, and having to leave it.

Posted on Friday, July 24, 2015

Home is such a hard thing to pin down, don’t you think? It seems that the way we think about it changes, as we get older, as we travel. When we're little, Home is just... Home. But the more experiences we gather, the more people we meet and the more parts of ourselves we scatter around, the more attached we get to things beyond our childhood... It gets tricky to define Home.

For the past two years, Home was on the second floor of a Haussmannian building in the eighth arrondissement, in a big room with a Juliette balcony and heavy red curtains, a mantelpiece and a defunct fireplace, a gilded mirror and ceiling moldings. When I found the room on Craigslist (which is nowhere near as popular in France as it is in the States), I thought I must've hit the jackpot. For a good price, I had a beautiful bedroom, a salon with a balcony big enough for the table and chairs that took up half the space in my first Parisian home, a blue kitchen with a red tiled floor and a full-sized fridge, a bathroom with a bathtub and, inexplicably, a functioning disco-ball hanging over the toilet. (Yes, I regret not taking a photo. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.)

For 21 months, I loved that apartment. I loved almost everything about it. The musty smell of the red-carpeted stairwell, the quirky gardienne that loved to spray water all over the entryway and never be present when packages were delivered. I loved the velvet-upholstered chairs surrounding the grand table in the salon, I loved how strange it was to live in a place with furniture older than the United States of America. I loved my four-poster bed, which I'd never have picked out for myself but grew to adore nonetheless. I even loved cleaning my room, wiping down marble countertops that must have held such wonderful things for so many people, vacuuming the parquet and imagining all the characters that had walked those floors through the years.

In the winter, I woke up before the sun came up and through the cold dark night-morning ran to the Tuileries. I warmed my towels on creaky radiators and kept my heavy red drapes drawn tight, and at the end of the short days I cooked meals that steamed the windows of the little kitchen and then wrapped myself in blankets and thought, happily, how cosy it was to be there. In the summer, I woke to the sun beating on my balcony windows and flung them wide, letting the light stretch to the tippy-top of the molded ceiling. I shared cocktails with friends on the balcony, went across the street for one more beer because the security guard kept Hoegaarden in the fridge just for me, and then watched the street’s familiar inhabitants bustle about until after the sun went down well past ten o'clock.

Some of my favorite memories took place in that apartment. There were late nights spent doing homework at the heavy cherrywood table, cuppa after cuppa of Barry’s Tea carried carefully back from Dublin. There were naps on the world’s most uncomfortable couch, sleepless nights where the arguing neighbors kept me awake and gray mornings where the ever-present trash collection echoed into my bedroom. Coming home after my half-marathon and collapsing into bed, staying up all night talking and talking and talking and talking across pillows, having champagne and chocolate and costumes for my 25th birthday with some of the most wonderful friends, dancing until the sun rose over the city. There were hard mornings-after, picking cigarette butts from every crevice of the salon and wiping red wine from the walls (really...) while sizzling bacon from Marks and Spencer promised a second attempt at life. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep, nights when I laughed so hard it hurt, nights where I felt very alone and others when I woke up next to visitors that I love.

So much life happened in that space.

But life, as it often does, surprised me.

Unexpectedly, I found myself on the hunt for a new apartment at the beginning of June. I spent weeks visiting around Paris, peeking into dingy dark studios with exorbitant price tags, falling in love with beautiful possibilities only to be disappointed, meeting with potential roommates and making uncomfortable smalltalk, sending e-mails to strangers trying to convince them I was real and good and The One. Like in most major cities, I imagine, the Paris apartment hunt is an absolute nightmare. The market moves faster than you can send e-mails, apartments disappear before you've set foot inside them.

I packed my room into suitcases and bags, boxes and totes and anything that could hold anything, I peeled my photos from the walls, and I waited. And then, after weeks of searching, after many tears and lots of unsavory language and maybe even a prayer or two, I finally found it. On a sticky hot day earlier this month, I signed the lease on a bright little fourth-floor studio tucked into a corner of the seventeenth arrondissement. There is no balcony, there is no salon, and there is certainly no disco ball in the bathroom, but there are twenty-two square meters of my own space.

The light here comes in easily and all day long; it wakes me in the morning through gauzy curtains and welcomes me warmly when I come home from work. At the moment, there’s an uncomfortable air mattress and not much else for furniture, but this place already feels good. Tonight I bought a demie baguette from the bakery on the corner, gathered dinner ingredients at the local supermarket, unceremoniously pried open a bottle of Bordeaux with a pair of scissors, and have spent the evening getting to know my new apartment. The street noises are unfamiliar, but I’ll learn to recognize them, to know them. The street’s characters are still strangers, and the security guard at the supermarket doesn’t recognize me. I haven’t memorized the creaks in the floorboards and I haven’t quite worked out how the shower works without leaving water on the floor. But then, chaque chose dans son temps. I'll learn to know this place.

I’ll miss my old apartment and my old life there – I miss it already. Leaving Home, though something I’ve had a fair amount of practice at, doesn’t get easier. Leaving behind the familiar corners of a space, the places where your story was told, doesn’t get easier. It feels like leaving a  tiny piece of yourself behind.

And yet, I can already feel that this place will be Home, I can already tell that it promises good things. It’s in the familiar photos now plastered on the back of my front door, it’s in the feeling I get making myself dinner while I sing along to my favorite song. It’s in the excitement I feel about welcoming new friends here, a certainty that these four walls will hold so many important moments in the future. I can’t wait to see what they’ll be. xx