My Great Escape: Forging a New Path in Paris
I recently came across an article titled “Staying is Settling: Why You Need to Move At Least 5 Times In Your Life.” The article began like this:
Turn around, look at your life and decide right now if this moment, this place makes your pulse race and your heart bend. If there’s not a fluttering feeling in the deepest part of your soul, questioning and absorbing everything around you, get out right now. If you feel comfortable, content and unchallenged… stand up and walk away. Make plans or don’t make plans, but whatever you do, leave this place and find somewhere new.
Despite likely being targeted at privileged 20-somethings experiencing a delayed sense of teenage angst, it intrigued me. It spoke to what I believe is the human need to escape, a psychological and emotional need that many of us face at some point in our lives.
Why do we feel the need to escape?
Escapism is a concept that has been prevalent for centuries, present in literature dating back to biblical times. With modern innovations in travel and transportation, the possibility of escape to ever-distant places becomes increasingly feasible for a growing number of people.
In his chapter “Searching for Escape, Authenticity and Identity: Experiences of ‘Lifestyle Travellers’,” Scott Cohen argues that “individuals escape to authentic experiences,” and that “escapism has been described as a push factor” for many to travel or leave home. Cohen asserts that travellers “desire to ‘escape from a perceived mundane environment’, or in other words, the tedium of routine.”
Paris, one way, please.
While I didn’t recognize it at the time, I made one big escape in my life—to Paris. I had just completed four years of study, and found myself at odds with predictable career paths and “settling down”. I bought a one-way ticket and arrived with little more than a working holiday visa and the hope that I would find whatever it was I was looking for. I came ready to embrace the city—its language, history, culture, food and art—with no holds barred. I was ready to throw myself 100% into something different.
For me, Paris was a new sort of challenge. I took a job at The Moose, a Canadian bar in the heart of the city between Odéon and Saint-Germain-des-Près. At the time I wouldn’t have admitted it had anything to do with being a little home sick. I purchased a subscription for the local bike share program, and slowly found my way around the city streets, at each turn a different bakery, another historic edifice, and more undiscovered paths.
I soon identified the best boulangerie in my neighbourhood: Dominique Saibron (though I learned that best is all a matter of individual taste). I tried nearly every crusty loaf and flaky pastry on offer. I found all the right places for picnicking (Jardin du Luxembourg), reading (Pont Neuf), running (Parc Montsouris), and enjoying “Happy Hour” (Le Bouquet d’Alesia). I visited every art gallery, museum, and historical site I could. I was intent on discovering as much of the City of Light as humanly possible.
Becoming a local
Eventually, I began correctly identifying neighbourhoods as I passed through them. With lessons and practice, my French improved. Though most who visit Paris visit the Louvre, I soon learned that I preferred the much smaller, more intimate l’Orangerie, where I could spend an afternoon sitting with Monet’s Water Lilies. After trying as many restaurants as my meagre budget could afford, I began to revisit favourites like Chez Gladines, a no-nonsense bistro with communal seating and traditional Basque cuisine. I made friends, both fellow expats and locals, who helped me to discover their own special spots. Paris had snuck up on me, patted me on the shoulder, and introduced itself as my new home.
There is one thing I will say of my life in Paris. While eventually it became familiar to me, there was not a day that passed that I did not discover something new. I spent almost a year in Paris, yet each day was different. It’s often the smallest things that stick out in my mind: that the French really call a cookie “un cookie”, that wine is known not by its grape variety but by the region and terroir in which it was grown, or that Butte Aux Cailles was its own town before it became a Parisian neighbourhood. I found Paris to be a city of many mysteries, each one revealed slowly, earned with time.
My rendez-vous with “escape” was a wonderful one, a choice that forced me from the mundane to new challenges, to overcome new obstacles. While I don’t feel I have the authority to recommend you move “at least five times in your life,” I can attest to the life-changing nature of escape. Whether you decide to get lost in Nairobi, Machu Picchu, Bangkok or Paris, when you’ve left all that is familiar behind, you have the chance to reconnect with yourself again.
Originally published on Anew Traveller on December 9th 2014.