I didn’t want to go back to Paris. For weeks after I left Mexico last fall, I thought: it can’t be. It can not. Cannot be. When everything has changed in us, when in a country of color, warmth and space we have become these very things: color, warmth and space – when we have found our freedom from old perspectives, from entire chapters and stories – how is it possible that after so much change we suddenly end up right there again: in the old story. I couldn’t wrap my head around it: How can I be someone else and everything around me exactly the same as before?
I have rarely experienced Paris as a romantic city, rather as a place where it’s cold, even in summer. You get used to everything, including the not-belonging. That’s how Paris is: exclusive. Les étrangers never speak French perfectly enough. Nobody speaks English here. And even no Frenchman is ever perfect, rich, special or talented enough – what for? Not even Parisians can tell.
I have rarely experienced Paris as a romantic city, rather as a place where it’s cold, even in summer.
It’s probably the secret of this city – its way of being somehow inapproachable, even to its offspring (that, and the croissants bien sûr). But one thing I know for sure. If Paris was a person, she would be lonely, despite her constant company. Praised, celebrated, fabled, and yet not known and loved beyond her gleaming facade. People take pictures with her, look at themselves in her reflection, like in an antique, expensive, highly valued mirror; but nobody really feels comfortable in her presence, nobody is really at home.
Mexico is less expensive than France, not always highly praised. But it received me warmly, with abundance and generosity, and with what I had never encountered in Paris over the years: with ‘enough’. Enough friendliness, enough color, enough beauty, enough time. More than enough Spanish for a smile, for understanding, for an está bien.
On the other side of the ocean I soon stopped wondering where I belong or who I am. Mexicans sometimes find it difficult to answer these questions themselves, and it also doesn‘t seem to be so urgent. In general, nothing is so urgent. One has learned to wait. Mexico allowed me to simply be, in this everlasting summer of Guadalajara, in its colors, shapes, aromas and sounds, in its wonderful light; everything changed slowly and powerfully within me, vanities brought from Europe slowly but surely faded.
IN MEXICO HAVING NO WORDS ISN’T SO BAD, QUITE THE OPPOSITE. YOU CAN SAY NOTHING, AND NO ONE GETS EMBARRASSED OR SNAPPISH.
When you learn a new language in a foreign country, there is always the moment when you want to say something, but you don’t have the words quite yet. This moment is a problem in Paris and always leads to something with a bad prefix: to unpleasant feelings, insecurity, impatience and discomfort.
In Mexico having no words isn’t so bad, quite the opposite. You can say nothing, and no one gets embarrassed or snappish; you can just see or feel them together, the things, beings, conditions, the sea, the wind, the hummingbirds; and let them be as if they had no name at all. Even if nobody knows what the other means: está bien. It’s ok. And in this gap without words we actually couldn’t be any closer to the sea, the wind, the hummingbirds, we’re closer to them than any name or story could ever take us.
“It can’t be” had been my mantra for weeks when suddenly the moment came – I was surrounded by moving boxes that had finally been shipped from Mexico to our Paris apartment – when I thought: Maybe that’s what happens when we have changed. We go back again. Not although we have changed, but precisely because we have. We return to the places, constellations, circumstances that want us to look at them as if we’d learn a new language and had no words for them quite yet, as if we didn’t know their name. As if they didn’t have the story we’ve told ourselves about them so far, as if all of the previous assumptions and statements were worth reviewing.
Maybe that’s exactly what happens when we have changed. We go back again.
I thought I was done with Paris, I had checked it off. The Parisian callousness, the constriction, the bad weather, the traffic, the endless caring about status and facade. And I asked myself so often what I had done wrong to end up here again. But maybe I ended up here again because I’ve done everything right. If there is one thing I‘ve learned in Mexico, it’s that life wants nothing else than provide for us abundantly, with the good and the beautiful, with color, joy and opportunities. If it brings us back into the old, it can only be because good things are waiting for us, things we’ve left undiscovered last time we’ve visited.
Perhaps life is not a straight line at all, where one thing follows another and where a return equals a step backwards; maybe life is more like a circle, within which we encounter the same over and over again, each time from a new perspective and a bit wiser, each time with more compassion, more sovereignty, each time gifted with new choices and brand new opportunities. What if, for a moment, we acted as if we didn’t know anything about the places, things and people we thought we already know; what if we met them anew – not as the one we used to be, but as the one we have become.
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Image: Paul Dufour // Unsplash