It’s been a year this New Year since I last saw you. It makes me feel an odd mix of things each time I realise that, as though it is some kind of epiphany that is only just occurring to me each time. But the reality is that, since I left, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you… The way you’re stillest in the morning when all the late night tourists from yesterday are still in bed and the ice is tiptoeing along the Seine, attempting to re-decorate. Or how midday I’d always learn something new from an overheard conversation in the D’Orsay or the Louvre. I love how you shine brightest through those you inspire – your very name is merely a label for those dreamers who, in need of inspiration, flock to your streets.
I’ve changed a lot since we last met, but maybe you’d disagree. My hair is longer and I’m a bit more well read though, to be honest, I don’t think Shakespeare and Co. would agree with that statement. Every bookshop has paled in comparison upon returning home, and the baguettes that accompany a good read never taste quite as pleasant when they’re not bakery fresh at opening time. I’m not as hopeful perhaps as I was when I said goodbye, though I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps I am pretending to be wiser because of what I have seen of the world since, or maybe it is simply my stubbornness; I don’t want to be frozen in my awe of the city of lights, waiting until we meet again to appreciate my surroundings.
We study the passion of your history in class, pages upon pages of revolutionary poetry and poignant prose. I spend so many moments pining for Notre Dame through Hugo, wishing I could shake the man’s hand for saving a cathedral in which I found solace. Or rather, the small garden behind where the sunset can be observed the best through the shadowy silhouettes it paints. How can it have been so long since you tried to steal my gloves that rainy day or since you introduced me to how good coffee can actually taste?
I miss the freedom you represent to me. The liberte, egalite, fraternite. But whilst I know that my photographs are aging and my maps remain folded away, you opened for me a year of hope. Things are difficult, more so than they were last winter and perhaps ever, but they are going to be ok. Whenever things get hard, I want nothing more than to run to you and take solace in art and the vibrancy of another language on my tongue. But in learning that you are not always able to be my rescuer Paris, I have learned that it is ok to be my own savior. You are not the bearer of all answers, nor do you have all the things I need to find, but this time next year I hope to be wandering the river somewhere knowing as I do now that (my own hero or not) you will always be just a train ride away.