This week, while I am on my Tufts-in-Paris spring break, I have found myself with five whole free days to spend in Paris, ones which I am trying to use to soak up the remaining time I have left in this incredible city.
As the end of my program nears — there are only about three weeks remaining — I’ve already started to get that nostalgic and wistful feeling that leaves you constantly thinking of the imminent ending instead of the time remaining. While sometimes that mindset is motivating (think: finals season), I’ve found it just makes the time you have left pass even quicker. So, I’ve thought of how to slow down that time and allow some of my free days in Paris to unfold without as much of a planned schedule. This might be the antidote to the feeling that my time here is slipping quickly through my fingers (*cue that ABBA song*).
I recently read two books that inspired me to use the rest of my time here to more closely observe the everyday happenings around me, to wander more and to let my surroundings shape my experience rather than trying to control it myself. Both books — “La vie extérieure” by Annie Ernaux and “No. 91/92: A Diary of a Year on the Bus” by Lauren Elkin — feature their respective authors riding the Paris metros and buses and recording their encounters with everyday Parisian life as it unfolds. So for the past couple of days, I have been trying to do something similar — to slow down and take in the moments happening around me with a more discerning eye.
A key part in this has been my being alone. It was a somewhat daunting fact, at first, to think of spending an extended period of time with just myself. Without the reliability of someone to strike up a conversation with, our chatter partially blurring out what is happening around us, I’ve been left exposed to the city. But, it’s made me listen in on conversations happening in French at the table next to me, ones about the French election and the likelihood of a Marine Le Pen presidency, about whether this museum or that museum would be less crowded on a Saturday afternoon or about translating a very specific type of crepe from Italian to French.
Walking around Montmartre and the Marais, I’ve stopped myself from putting headphones in my ears as I might normally do and made the effort to catalog the colors, sights and sounds swirling about each street. I’ve noticed more closely the precision with which scooters and bikes swerve through crowded intersections, often leaving drivers and pedestrians alike disgruntled and on edge, or the slight price differences between croissants at different bakeries, taking it upon myself to weigh their various merits and determine if one is truly worth more than the other (it’s usually not).
What has been most striking is how clearly I’ve been able to see how comfortable I have become in this city. Three months ago, a day spent alone here would have seemed daunting; now, I would consider five days entirely to myself a luxury. That’s one of the things I’m sure I’ll miss the most: the way that exploration, independence, solitude and fun can become simultaneous.