I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but I haven’t known quite how to start. Somehow, it seems easier to break the news in French, so here it is, plain and unvarnished: Je quitte Paris.
As I sit in my office, with the rosy scent of peonies drifting across my desk, it seems impossible to believe that our lovely apartment — with its marble fireplaces, and flutters of crown molding, and parquet floors laid out in a elegant pattern of point de hongrie — will no longer be our home. That I’ll no longer climb the gently spiral staircase to our front door, or embed the kitchen walls with the smells of sizzling turmeric and cumin, or shake my fist out the living room window at the line of cars honking as they impatiently wait to turn onto the rue de Rennes. It seems impossible that in less than three weeks, movers will come to sweep most of our belongings into boxes and send them across an ocean. But it is true. My husband’s work as a diplomat means we move often, every three or four years. It was his career that brought us here, and now, it is taking us away.
Time passes more quickly in Paris than anywhere else in the world. The four years I’ve spent here have felt like the shortest of my life (except for one, the year my husband spent in Iraq, which was the longest). In the blink of an eye — a gold-tipped, market stall-striped, gleaming cobblestone blink — it is time for us to pack our things and discover a new city, in this case, Washington, D.C.
And yet… and yet, Paris, I just can’t quit you, not like that. And so, after years of saving, we took the plunge and bought an apartment here. It’s just a tiny shoebox, but it’s airy and bright, with its own crown moldings, and point de hongrie floors, and a new Ikea kitchen whose remodel may have shaved several years off my life. And then there’s the view…
I’ll spend the summer in Paris feathering our new nest, and arrive in Washington, D.C. in September. The coming months hold much fear, and uncertainty, and emotion — and anticipation at seeing old friends, and publishing a new book — and also lots and lots and lots of questions. In fact, 99% of the practical details about our life in Washington are still completely up in the air. But there is excitement, too, excitement at finally having a home, a place to nurture, and decorate, and visit every summer on vacation (or, in my case, several times throughout the year on research trips) — a haven to dream about on smog-choked Beijing afternoons, or during blowhard bureaucrat dinner parties, or other unlovely moments, wherever life takes us.
There’s no experience quite as wonderful — and I mean, quite literally, full of wonder — as being an American in Paris. But part of the romance is heartache. Vacations end, visas expire, and, in the end, most of us are obliged to return home. We can only try to hang on to a piece of a city we love so very deeply, via our daydreams — or mortgage payments — to yearn for it until we can return, and embrace it with all our strength when we do. Goodbye, Paris, and hello, and hello, and hello.