‘Paris is always a good idea.’
In September of 1992, I landed in Douai, France, a teenage adventurer off to spend a year of high school as a foreign exchange student–a year that profoundly influenced my character, my perspective, and my ability to stay put for any length of time.
In the two decades since that pivotal experience, I’ve visited some 16 countries on 5 continents, as close as Mexico and as far away as Australia, with so much more yet to discover. Traveling the world has been the utmost highlight of my life, though France has always held a special place in my heart: my first love, my only high school sweetheart.
I’d nearly forgotten how much I loved France–especially Paris–until I went back to Europe last summer for the first time in over a decade. One week in Paris reawakened all that fascination, but a week wasn’t nearly enough to relish the magic.
So, I’m going back.
Whenever I tell people I’m headed to Paris to live for three months (the longest you can stay on a tourist visa), they ask me why I’m going. Is it for work? Missions? A sabbatical? No, not really any of those things, though I’ll work while I’m there. (As a freelance writer, I can work anywhere there’s an Internet connection.)
I’m going largely because I can. And because I desperately want to, and have longed to, since I was there last June.
One of the most important aspects of creativity is having a sense of wonder–the ability to see and be awed by even small things most people just pass by in the course of a day. In the past several years, a lot of my enthusiasm and vitality has been exchanged for cynicism and disillusionment. Very little wows me anymore.
When I was in Paris last year, that long-dormant, presumed dead sense of awe was revived. And it happened not at the Eiffel Tower sparkling at midnight, not standing in the middle of the Champs-Elysees staring down the imposing Arc de Triomphe. It wasn’t while gazing up at the Winged Victory of Samothrace or smiling back at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.
The moment of deepest delight happened while standing in the sanctuary of the Sacre Coeur. This white-domed cathedral was my favorite monument when I visited Paris as a teenager, still barely old enough to drive. As much as I loved the place back then, its cold stony interior stirred no great spiritual feeling. Last summer, however, I was overcome with a sense of the glory of God in a structure that had never before seemed so full of life and spirit. And that awe–that sense of glory–was like sweet water to a soul I never realized was quite so parched.
I sat on the steps to the side of the church entrance and sobbed to one of my travel companions out of the joy of such an encounter, but I also grieved the years such a joy has been so foreign. As we circled the church’s exterior, my mind started spinning, hatching a plan.
My return to Paris was inevitable.
The deepest reason I’m going back to Paris is to live out this hope I’ve been carrying, that a sojourn abroad–in one of the most magical cities in the world, a place that captured my heart during one of my most formative years–might nurture my calloused soul and refuel my imagination.
Travel of any kind has been the best jolt of energy and fresh perspective. So now, my belongings are in storage, my plane ticket is booked, apartments have been rented, and bags are being packed.
In the movie Sabrina, Audrey Hepburn says, “Paris is always a good idea.” And Paris just may be my best idea yet.