I am going backwards. My seat on the Eurostar is facing Paris, not London. I hate sitting backwards on a train. Aside from the fact that it makes me a bit queasy, there’s something metaphorically unsettling about it, too. It’s like I can’t move forward. And I need to be able to move forward.
It actually makes sense that I’m sitting this way today, though. Leaving Paris is hard. I’m feeling a bit like Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood: Someone’s taken a bite outta me, left a mark and now I’m conflicted about where to go and what to do next. Luckily, it wasn’t a bloodthirsty vampire (though, there was a lovely French man…) but rather Paris itself.
I travel a lot, but only a few cities have left such marks: There was Ubud in Bali, a small city in Indonesia surrounded by rice paddies and wide, dewy Banyan trees; Antigua, Guatemala, a colonial town with cobblestone streets and crayon-colored stucco buildings; and finally, Buenos Aires, a large cosmopolis steeped in history, yet gentrified in chic-ness by way of its Palermo parillas and milongas.
So what about these cities make them qualify to leave such a mark?
I recently professed my love for Paris in detail, but there is a more general reason, too: See, each of these cities provoked a sense of bewilderment upon first arriving; a Where-Do-I-Go?/How-Does-This-Work?/Oh-Look-At-That! sense of newness and innocence. Everything was just so… extraordinary: The way the alarms sounded on an ambulance roaring through the unfamiliar streets; the way the crosswalk signs lit up, the way the water ran from the faucet, the way the windows opened. But then, within days, each of these things suddenly became… ordinary. They lost the “extra.” Not in a bad way or else the mark wouldn’t be left. But rather in a way that was settling; that was comfortable. It’s because I had learned them. I now knew where to go, how to work things and have “looked at that” already. Suddenly it was no longer a fleeting place, but a place stopped in time. A place I could stay and call home. A place other people call home and think is no more “extra” than you think wherever you come from is.
Surely, any city can do this, and often does the longer one stays. But whether it leaves a mark is unique to the individual and what they experience, I suppose. Paris and Ubud and Antigua and BsAs. They’ve marked me. I suspect there will be others.
Remember a few weeks ago when I declared my I Am-ness? I said, I Am a Writer. That’s still true (and, in fact, even more so then when I first put it out there). But I am also a Wanderer. Sometimes I think I’m just not meant to stay in any one place. Yes, my “home” will always be New York because that’s what it says on my passport; that’s where my family lives and all my handbags and shoes and books are shmushed into a studio apartment in the West Village (and a storage space in Chelsea).
But I love showing up somewhere, delighting in its differences and foreign frivolity, then “fitting in” so easily that tourists start asking me for directions in their language and I sheepishly have to admit Je ne parle pas Francais. But oh, how good that feels!
Like Sookie who can’t choose between daylight and humans and night time and vamps, these cities present a conflict and beg the question that The Clash once asked: “Should I stay or should I go?”
If I stay, I can find a local wine bar like Gottino on Greenwich Avenue in NYC or a coffee shop like White Mulberries at St. Catherine Dock in London where they’ll know my name and drink of choice. I can find a Happy Place to sit and read my book like Jefferson Market Garden in NYC or Jardin Villemin in the 10th. I can allow myself to go on a bender and sleep the whole next day without feeling The FOMO like in, er, all of the above.
If I go, I get to roll around in the novelty of wherever I am again and again and again.
As I’m writing this, I’m looking outside the window at fields upon fields of bright yellow flowers. There’s so many of them. It’s like the field of poppies in Oz, but in my favorite bright, joyful color. I can’t help but think somewhere there’s a wizard waiting for me to arrive so he can declare, ‘Oh, you already have a brain and heart and courage!’
I want to tap the person next to me and say, ‘Look how pretty!’ But there is no one next to me. That’s why I choose freedom and I choose to Go, rather than to Stay. There is no one to share that gasp of air with.
I know what you’re thinking: If I Stay (anywhere; somewhere), I’ll have a better chance of meeting someone to Go with. You could be right.
But then I’m waiting and hoping and wondering as I’ve been doing in NYC for so many years (ahem, still single), rather than looking and meeting and wandering along the way. To where, I do not know. It changes daily. But between the start of this blog post and the end, I switched seats to face forward. And that’s about all I can count on for sure.