I have a confession. I didn't love you at first. And I'm not really sure why.
Maybe it's because I associated you with loneliness, as I spent my first three Parisian summers wandering the cobblestone streets by myself. Or maybe it's because I thought you were cold and uptight, that your citizens were too effortlessly perfect. Maybe it's because everyone else seems to love you, and I didn't want to form a part of the swooning, Eiffel Tower-adoring masses.
But now, I know that I love you. We've been through a lot together, Paris. I've watched you move through each season. I've seen you without your make-up on, so to speak.
I arrived in the fall, when the markets proudly displayed whole mallard ducks and chestnuts fresh from the tree. I was there during the grey, drizzly days of winter, when I tucked into a plate of Japanese curry with kimchi on the Rue Saint-Anne. I was there when snow dusted the roofs of Montmartre, when spring came seemingly overnight and the pollarded trees budded green. I was there in summer when I downed cheap cider on the banks of the Seine until three in the morning, the glass bottle cold against my fingers. I was there on the 90-degree days, when I laid on the grass at Parc Buttes Chaumont with friends, munching on chips and squinting under the summer sun.
I was there when the bakers put crowned cakes in the windows. I was there for Labor Day when lily of the valley was sold on every corner, the flowers like delicate, white bells. I was there for Gay Pride, when young people draped in rainbow flags celebrated in the streets, when the banners proclaimed “LA REPUBLIQUE A DIT OUI”, when pink balloons drifted in the air, bright against the robin-egg blue sky.
And the people who say you're dead, that the artists and writers are gone and you're just a monument to the past?
They don't see the Senegalese women on the metro, walking tall in Kente cloth, squabbling in their singsong French. They don't know where to find the best challah in Le Marais, golden and braided in the window. They don't know how to make quiche lorraine by scratch, or how you should leave in the pits for the best apricot jam. They don't know how many meanings “sympa” can have, or what the inside of a studio apartment in La Goutte d'Or look like or what the best route is from Montmartre to the river. They don't know you like I do.
You're alive, they just don't know where to look.
Dear Paris, thank you for the beautiful memories.
Thank you for the night I sang Jacques Brel in the street with two French boys under the moonlight.
Thank you for the moment I watched candles light a friend's face on her 24th birthday.
Thank you for the dim sum breakfasts when I was hungover, all the way out in the 14th.
Thank you for red wine pre-drinking sessions on the RER, for the smile on my little sister's face when she tasted her first tarte au citron.
Thank you for leafy, refreshing salade verte, thank you for salted butter caramel crepes, thank you for blue-tinged logs of chevre with the piece of straw inside.
Thank you for teaching me your language and showing me your streets and giving me a home.