After a lovely (short) weekend spent at the beach with a long-time dear friend and a new dear friend (not to mention 3 lovely doglets), I have returned home to find a most touching email from one of my Paris friends. (You know who you are!)
Now, I tend to think of myself as a very pragmatic, honest and open, down-to-Earth person, but I forget about all the tears that I shed, whatever the emotion behind them. Today, they're entirely sentimental, as they generally tend to be, and they are the true representation of my two lives.
Part of the beauty of my world, I think, is and always has been the duality of it. There's certainly the "grass is greener" trap, always making me wish I were in the other country, and I put a lot of weight on that when it comes to my emotions and my immediate responses. But there is also the fact that I am French-American, by birth and, therefore, by nature, my whole is made up of two very distinct parts. I have been struggling, over the years to decide who or what I really am. Half of me wants to nest, have a family, build something solid, grow roots, and the other half doesn't ever want to settle. The other half wants the best of both worlds, quite literally.
I'm not an expat. I'm not American at heart, laughing at the silly French in a removed kind of way, or charmed by their sneers. Nor am I French, automatically falling into the assumption that all Americans are uneducated, loud and brash. Growing up in the US, I always felt French, imagining it as a little flair that added something special to who I was. When I spent my summers or a year in France, I felt at home and, in more recent years, kept my accent so that I would never sink in to complete anonymity.
My mother has always struggled, as a French woman in America. Today, she is, in some ways, almost more American than French. Since she moved to the US, over 34 years ago, she has always been an expat, with very few true ties to her old life. She has always wanted to go back to France, but both she and the country (not to mention the people) have changed. She has always had to choose, leaving parts of her behind, little bits that I imagine as a disappearing Hansel and Gretel trail strewn across Virginia and the Atlantic, leading to the apartment in Paris that she lived in before having me and that I recently occupied for seven years.
I feel lucky that I haven't had to choose and I realize more and more that I don't want to. I now miss the life in France that I had grown tired of. I can't believe that I could be tired of walking in Paris. I would sometimes walk for hours alone, drinking in the details, the people, the atmosphere. I even remember fondly the horrible strike week, when I was walking three hours a day to get to and from the job I had no desire to go to. Those walks are actually one of my fondest memories, even though at the time, it was the most onerous of duties, exhausting and physically painfully. I miss my tiny apartment with no closet space and my miniscule kitchen, in which I made the tastiest food, that I fear I shall never equal.
Of course what I miss the most about it is the friends, the people, the shared stories and the true closeness we had. I miss all the moments, sober and drunk, day or night, in Paris or elsewhere. I miss daily phone calls to discuss what we've eaten and I miss knowing that at least one of them will be there for me at any given time. I miss taking over the pub, making it ours and, by doing so, making every client's night more fun. I miss the dancing, the little choreographies, imitating a train's movement, I miss crying on a friend's shoulder in the corner of the same bar after a delayed reaction to my separation from my first husband.
I just found out that the pub, the epicenter of my friendships, loves and life for several years, has changed hands and the owners (who I also consider to be friends) have moved on. Suddenly, after so many friends have left Paris over the past year or so, heading back to their various countries and dreams, the pub's changing hands seems like the final straw. I'm sure we can still go there, if we have a reunion. We can still take it over, we can still dance. There will most likely be laughter, tears and undoubtedly too much booze, but my life of the last seven years seems that bit farther away. The changes are now permanent and, much as I'd like to get back the exact feel, I think it might be gone forever. It's not a tragedy, I suppose, just life moving on. But I miss it, I miss them and I dream about them every single night.