“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
Paris, who doesn’t dream about living in Paris? Yet in those ‘lost-in-my thoughts’ moments of our transition to Paris I found myself thinking that the decision to move from Asia, our home for twenty-two years, to another continent was either the biggest mistake I’ve ever made or the greatest adventure of my lifetime. It took a considerable amount of effort, loss, and sacrifice to become ‘un habitant‘ of the most visited city on earth. For weeks I wondered if the prize of being Parisian was worth the pursuit.
To prepare ourselves for this eventual move, my wife, Patricia, and I visited Paris twice and each time I was resistant to the proverbial “I love Paris” virus. It wasn’t happening for me. I moped. Having enough of my negative outlook Patricia spoke with frustration in her voice, “Why can’t you be exited about this adventure with me?” Maybe it was the long hard goodbye to Thailand, the challenge of working with teenaged boys for a year in Germany and the continuous transition that soured me. I craved familiarity not more adventure. I wanted to have control of my destiny. What I didn’t realize then was that in a strange way I needed Paris more than Paris needed me.
Finding peace in Paris came distressingly slowly. I am not even sure if I found it or if by God’s grace it simply fell on me! Our first month was lived in the Goutte D’Or quarters, the most chaotic neighbourhood of Paris. The ad had said near Montmartre; ah perfect,
a future artist’s dream place. We rented the flat on-line for one month because of the artist in Patricia and the description said it had a view of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. We unwittingly found ourselves in the middle of little Africa!
I chuckle now when I think back about the first time we walked through our neighborhood. An elderly French lady warned us to be extra cautious in this quarter as we surfaced from ‘ligne 4’ out through the Chateau Rouge metro station. She said, “Il y’a beaucoup de voleurs ici!” There are lots of robbers here!
How the memory of walking at that midnight hour through littered streets laced with smells of urine and rotten vegetables will stay with me forever. I was visibly upset and I lagged behind, not so much to protect my little family from those voleurs, but more-or-less in silent protest of my new surroundings. It added fuel to my negative state of mind confirming that we were making a huge mistake moving to Paris! My daughter, Alycia-Rae, turned back, saw me and said, “Dad, are you okay?” Intuitive for a fifteen year old girl. I would ask myself the same question often.
That first month we squeezed through the crowded streets used for black marketed goods. Fake jewellery, pirated movies, sun glasses, purses and stolen phones were being pushed in our faces. Daily we could hear from our rented flat a crazy black lady yelling every day at passersby in some African dialect. One time we were relieved when she decided to sing poorly using her empty water bottle as a microphone!
Our nearest metro station, Chateau Rouge, was one of the busiest in Paris. It shocked us to see dozens of people shamelessly jump over the metro turnstiles daily without paying. At times we saw blood splattered on the walls of the metro entrance! The there was the time at three in the morning, unable to sleep, my wife witnessed a break-in from our balcony and called the police who arrived in three minutes and roughed up the wrong people. All this chaos, crime, street arguments, yelling lady and even violent protests against the Jews in our neighborhood was throwing me off balance.
“Dad are you okay?” That question again! Would I ever love Paris, this City of Light?
Finding a permanent peaceful place in Paris became our obsession. We looked at many different types of apartments and neighbourhoods. I couldn’t believe how small these places were. I finally got excited about one beautifully renovated Haussmann apartment near the presidential palace, but it had no vibe or community. Another smaller place was open and though it did have a ‘Parisian village’ feel, I didn’t like the tiny size. Patricia asked me pointedly, “You want an apartment or a community to live in?” Reluctantly I settled on ‘the community’, in the 12th district with a neighbourhood that felt truly Parisian.
From that newly rented tiny Paris apartment on 44 Rue Crozatier, we discovered the markets, art studios, bakeries, bicycle shops, and even a converted railway track turned promenade lined with flowers and trees. Every walk became a time of discovery. I didn’t ‘love’ my apartment, always comparing it to the spacious four floors I left in Bangkok, but I loved to walk this most walkable Paris.
One day I landed on an ancient Catholic Church where I would often come during the day to sit, read, write and pray, (including this blog). There, I think, I trembled with joy mixed with peace for the first time. Like I said, it just happened. It fell into my lap like a gift. For the first time since we moved there I became at ease living into this Paris possibility. My attitude changed overnight, I had peace that the Lord would teach me much about myself, about life and why he had placed us in Paris.