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O Fim duma Viagem

Giving Up

FRANCE | Wednesday, 13 January 2016 | Views [288]

There are a lot of reasons that I stopped keeping the blog up to date after Austria. The most general summary of all of them is that I didn't have the energy to write.

I can say that it was similar to the last four weeks of SUMSRI. Studying for finals was continued to be very math-related, and I didn't want to go on to talk about it. That's a lie. The people who I do talk about math with can attest that I've continued doing so. Besides, I didn't study for my exams as much as I should have. This overlaps with the reasons below, but is also related to the fact that all of my classes were about continuity and opens (makes sense in French) and functions and calculus and my brain was starting to melt. I miss algebra.

I can say that it takes a lot of energy to write something that people will hopefully enjoy reading about something they would never want to do. This is true enough, and a lot of my life in Paris continued to be things that, quite frankly, most people would find boring. However, this ignores the things I've done that most people would want to do, like eat at a Michelin 2-star restaurant. Writing about those things in an interesting manner is relatively easy.

I could say I didn't have the time if I felt like flat-out lying.

I could say that the thing that really marked my last few weeks in Paris were the feelings of belonging and comfort, and those aren't as exciting as Foie Gras farms or missing my train. A lot of study abroad literature will talk about leaving your comfort zone as if comfort zones are a thing that should be avoided at all costs. I think that's a mistake.

I'm writing this on a plane from Paris to Osaka* and I'm very aware that I'm leaving my comfort zone. I'm leaving my first apartment and my bakery that I'd buy something at 5 days a week and where they would occasionally throw in a freebie. I'm leaving the university I've taken classes in all semester and the office I've visited a few times every month and the bakery near there that had the best mille feuille. I'm leaving the restaurant with amazing Oreo tirimasu that I'd eat at nearly every Friday in the hopes they would actually have it (they didn't always) and the internet cafe where they thought my name was Stephanie for weeks, but grew to recognize me as a regular. I was in my comfort zone in Paris, and that's not a bad thing. It means that my study abroad experience was a success.

I could have easily expanded those paragraphs into a blog post.

The truth is that Place de la République was the first real sight of Paris I had this trip. My confused taxi driver brought me there instead of my hotel, and I remember looking at the statue and thinking “cool, Paris.” I think I may have also looked at whatever small-scale protest or demonstration was going on and thought back to Morocco and to what I'd read to wonder why study abroad programs kept students near where locals liked protesting. That was all.

The last time I visited Place de la République was after leaving Coworkshop two days before I left. They had just put up a new plaque by a tree lit purple commemorating the French victims of terrorism in January and November. There were people and news anchors, just like there had been two months prior. And, as I walked around and around, I remembered so much more.

I remembered the taxi ride. I remembered walking to the bank with Ben and Jaclyn the day we registered for classes at Paris 6. Then I don't think I visited Place de la République for another two months, because chronologically the next thing I remembered was coming here on 16 November and seeing the news and the chalk and the people. And coming back again and again. Because Place de la République was no longer just a convenient reference point. Every time I took the metro to it to get somewhere- Coworkshop, the hotel a friend had stayed last time he was here, a restaurant to meet my parents- I had to walk around. See how Paris was coping with the change. See how I was.

And I'm describing those events chronologically, but, when I'm standing in Place de la République, that's not how I remember them. I can hear Ben and Jaclyn talking about Wall Street English and Darty as I'm reading the words written in chalk the rain has long since washed away. I can see the statue overflowing with lit candles and signs of “Je suis Paris” and “nous sommes unis,” even though there are right now a well-maintained number of burnt-out candles and hommages to the Charlie Hebdo attacks of exactly a year ago are at least as present as hommages to exremism’s more recent Parisian victims. I can hear Jaclyn pointing out a “Je suis Charlie” sign and feel the heat of a stranger's candle another stranger has just lit using my lighter and can hear, in Nikhil’s voice, his 13 December Facebook status that he had gone to Place de la République for the first time since the attacks, and was touched by the courage and compassion of all of Paris. The first time after the attacks I went there, there was a pianist. That was the only time he was there, but every time I've gone back since I can hear it in my head.

The truth is that this is a very small part of what living in Paris the past two months has been like. But it's all that comes out when I try to write about it. Because, being as close in time and in location as I was, it's still a part.

There are a lot of personal reasons that I keep a blog when I travel. Obviously, it gives me something to share with friends and family. It helps me remember the good things that happened. It helps me reframe the disappointments in a different, and generally more positive, light. It gives me an incentive to go out and find something interesting to write about each day. And above all, I enjoy it.

Even before 13 November, some of those reasons weren't enough. It was hard to work up the energy to do things after a day of classes. Paris was the first time I'd ever lived alone, and that took some getting used to. I wanted to find comfortable routines more than I wanted to do something new and exciting. So I was compressing whole weeks into single blog posts and still falling behind. I would have caught up, or maybe skipped a bit, but there would have been a fuller account of my last semester if it hadn't been for the last factor. There's always been a lot of work involved, and I may have grumbled or procrastinated, but writing blog posts had always been something I'd like doing. Then words became excruciatingly difficult to find.

They were supposed to come back after Austria. They didn't, at least not completely. I could write again, just not about my life. Not about Paris. So I stopped trying. I gave up.

My story of this semester isn't a checklist of things to do in Paris or the wacky hijinks of being an American in Paris who takes the “study” in “study abroad” seriously. It's a story of the traditional study abroad adjustment I was having before mid-November rocked by something completely unimagined. It's a story of being alone and scared, and the strength that Paris gave me. And it's a story I'm not ready to tell.

Here's hoping for a cheerier story next semester.

* Actually Amsterdam to Osaka, but that makes my point less well

Tags: endings, writing

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