Fear and Loathing…in Paris?

lamour et mort

Here I am, living the dream. I left my job in New York and came to Paris to stay in my little apartment for two months at least. I’m lucky, right? Amazing, yes?

So why am I depressed?

Well, okay, I arrived to find my apartment deeply damaged from a leak in the building that has been carrying on for months while the upstairs neighbor and the managing agent—le syndic—debate over who is responsible to fix it. And I was unable to stay in my own home because toxic mold has grown inside the walls and under the parquet. Maybe this has been secretly eating away at my joy. But a friend did arrange a gorgeous apartment for me—on Ile de la Cité, no less—to stay for a month. That should make a girl feel pretty blessed, angels on her side and all that. And I did, I do. I think.

leak

A detail of the leak damage chez moi

Still, I can’t shake this feeling of unease, of gloom. Of fear and loathing. What’s wrong with me? Do I not know how to be happy?

“You’ve had tons of huge change in your life,” a friend and fellow writer, Lisa Taylor Huff, reminded me over dinner near Hôtel de Ville. “Leaving your job. Moving to a foreign country. That’s a lot to handle.”

She’s right. Why did I think I could coast through this?

In my mind, I now had everything I’d ever wanted: a book deal, the ability to go wherever, whenever—Paris, New York. I owed it to dreamers everywhere to be elated every day, didn’t I? But when they teach you to dream big, they don’t tell you how it will feel when the dream becomes real, when fantasy falls away and you realize you’re still you, lugging your same bag of crap around. They skirt the issue of how hard it can be to blaze that trail, how alone you’ll feel at times. How lost. Did I actually think my life in Paris would be more charmed than my life in New York?

I guess I did. Every time I came to Paris, I returned to New York, renewed and inspired. Paris was the one place where whatever I needed would manifest itself immediately. Magically. But that was when I was on vacation. What about now, with real life leaking all over my apartment? Was Paris pissing on my dream?

“Paris feels strange,” I confessed to my friend. This was a huge—and deeply sad—revelation about a city that I had heretofore called my other home. People are strange when you’re a stranger. “I can’t get past my fear.”

Lisa responded, as she often does, with something profound, in this case a quote from Ambrose Redmoon.

Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.

So I wasn’t a failure for wanting to curl up in a ball and cry? For experiencing fight or flight pangs just because I don’t understand what the train conductor is telling me? For feeling like Dorothy in the beautiful and magical Oz, who just wants to go home to good ol’ Kansas? 

Dream Paris vs. Real Paris

Real-life Paris is very different from the Paris I thought I knew. I understand a bit of what my Parisian friends have been complaining about these many years: life here can be hard. Everyday things are often harder than in New York, even doing laundry takes all day. And getting a simple leak fixed is apparently impossible. But is that what’s really bringing me down? What’s the biggest difference between vacation Paris and real-life Paris?

The difference is me.

In my former life, I’d come to Paris for just a few days at a time, and have a packed schedule. My visit was an event, for which all my friends would be on hand. I was never alone too long, and even when I was, my Blackberry would tether me to my job and things familiar back home. But that life is gone. My days aren’t filled with friends anymore, not when you’re here for months. They all have day jobs, like I used to; they’re busy with their lives. I’m a writer who sits in cafes all day, alone with my thoughts. All day long. I know I need this time to search my soul, to write my memoir, but I’m starting to get a little sick of myself. I wake up heavy from too much me.

Oh God, did I do the wrong thing?

This journey has been propelled by something outside myself—or deep within—something that drove me to buy the apartment, and pushed me to leave a steady job and move here. A compulsion to walk away from everything safe and familiar.

Now I’m out there. Way out there, farther than I’ve ever been. This is a life completely uncharted—scary for someone who makes lists and plans months ahead. And there’s a little voice inside screaming, “Turn back!”

I wonder if Columbus questioned if he’d done the wrong thing, when he was halfway across the ocean, and perhaps the Santa Maria started leaking. Did he think about turning back? They talk about the Explorers’ daring and success but never of their doubts and fears. While we know what they discovered on the other side of the world, we can only imagine what they discovered about themselves as they watched their familiar shoreline disappear from sight.

Courage is not the absence of fear….

Fear not, dear friends, I will push on. Sure, nothing is certain; there are no guarantees I’ll make a go of this new life. But one thing I know, it will make a helluva book—fear, loathing and all. It worked for Hunter Thompson, am I right?

29 responses to “Fear and Loathing…in Paris?

  1. oh LIsa…how honest and heartfelt…I can feel your anxiety all the way to my desk here in TO…we’ve all read the blogs from expats who moved there and found that it wasn’t the bed of roses it seems to be when we are there for a week of bliss at a time. Thank goodness you have the level headed other Lisa there as a sounding board..she’s been through it all over there.

    I wonder if you didn’t have the leak if you’d feel as bleak (ha ..I’m a poet)…that obviously needs fixing pronto…and I know it’s not that easy but the squeaky wheel gets the grease so keep after them…it’s not healthy to live with that mold…and it’s sending you round the bend girl.

    Visions of Carrie Bradshaw wandering the streets in the rain missing her old life spring to mind. It must be very hard to go from full throttle, working in manhanttan to full stop in a completely different culture no matter how beautiful the buildings are.

    Concentrate on the book, get outside and out of the mold as much as possible…maybe sign up for some expat meet ups to bring new folks into your world..new folks with names of good plumbers.

    Hang in there…the laundry thing would likely send me straight to the looney bin but you can get used to anything and really it’s just your smalls that need constant washing anyway..:))

    take care Lisa…we are out here pulling for you.:))

  2. Thank you for being so frank. I have vacationed in Paris several times. Love it. I will never live there full-time. However, what I have read about expats living in Paris, you will get use to the rythyms of living there. It will take a while. I have met Carol Gillott. Contact her. She has only been there permanently for the last year and a half. I have been on the street where you are living right now. Enjoy it. My friend is still upset with me we have not eaten at the restaurant across the street. I love the flower market on the island. Enjoy.

    I just remembered the first time I took my 11 year old daughter to England alone. No tour group. I cried myself yo sleep the first night. What was I doing? Got up the next morning knew I had to go on for the next 3 weeks to see and enjoy what I had planned. I had to put the fear away. Did not mean to go on and on. Good luck.

  3. P.S. Still trying to see your show on international house hunters. They must have shown it early in August. It will be on again

  4. Though these changes are getting you down now, you’re taking great steps — get out, talk to people, breath fresh air, roll with it, Lisa. You’ll come through stronger and happier, I promise. I spoke to an expat a couple of years ago who said the one thing he found the most annoying about living in Paris is he could only ever get three things done per day — walk the dog, light meal in a cafe and one — one real life errand. Everyday! Anything close to major, could take months! But, as a previous poster said, “the squeaky wheel…” I love the title of your post!

  5. Hi Lisa: Your blog today is so honest and raw. Bravo, I’d say that’s courage right there. What you describe is my own big worry about a move to France – when the fantasy becomes reality – and what was formerly reality becomes the fantasy. But there is a transition period for everything and you are still in a state of passage, so hang in. (am not clear if you kept your apt in New York). I just returned from Burgundy myself. Funny, but I imagined giving it all up to live in an old farmhouse in a tiny hamlet – Could I really do it? I still don’t know. But I do know that you will find yourself wherever you go – you are the one constant in your life, and because of that, everything will be just fine. Bon vent.

    • I loved Burgundy and after the stress here in Paris, it really spoke to me. I started looking at houses for sale (from the outside!). But we stayed with the parents of my best friend, so it was the best of both worlds (dreamy and safe!). Still, if it might make your life worthwhile, go for it. Real estate was cheap where we were! Other people do it; why not you?

  6. Hello, dear friend. I’m sorry to hear that you’re a bit down. But I’ve known you a very long time, and I know that indomitable Lisa spirit will triumph over anything Paree has to throw at it. You’ll come out a victor in the end! Miss you!

  7. We have a place in Languedoc which we often visit during vacation times. I felt rejuvenated every time we visited and returned to the US. But I moved to France with my daughters (for their language immersion) for 18 months beginning Jan 2013. Quit the job, packed our stuff, completed endless paperwork for school, carte sejour, etc and immersed ourselves in village life. And yes, it took some getting used to and I often felt the same you did (especially in the winter). But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Come visit Languedoc.. I will be there from Sept 27 to Oct 5 (to check on the repairs of the kitchen which also sprung a leak and had to be totally renovated). It’s cheaper than Burgundy and much warmer!

    • Hey, thanks for the invite! Sounds wonderful. I”ll be back in NYC by the time you’re there. But it’s on my list. Good luck with your leak, too!
      Thanks also, for your words of encouragement.

  8. Lisa, a bump in the long road of life. Sometimes I have to yell at myself…think long term!!!!! And I can’t wait to read your book. Keep experiencing both the ups and the downs…it’ll make it a more interesting read for sure.

  9. Maybe you are feeling lonely, and having to take care of everything on your own in an essentially foreign land not easy.
    I have lived in Belgium and Israel, where the first word they teach you in Hebrew when you arrive, is the word ‘Patience’ you basically know what you need a whole load of, that is the way it is ,in Europe too, so Lisa just have some patience it will come together.

  10. Changing one’s life is never easy, so add expatriation to that : it’s the harder choice ! but the reward can be beyond anything you expect, so just keep going your way, overcoming obstacles one at a time, and you’ll enjoy the journey in the end 🙂

  11. As mentioned you have gone through a lot of life changes, and your move to Paris is significant and your focus is different. It will work out you have the tenacity and desire to be successful.

  12. Given that you are returning to New York very soon, no wonder you feel unsettled. How long will you be there? It will be interesting to see if you feel unsettled in New York, given your change in career and life pattern. Best wishes!

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  14. Hi Lisa. I’ve finally made my way over here from the No Love Locks site. I know exactly what you’re saying about the initial well-targeted visits to France and the long stay to get work done. For many years I’d come to Dijon for part of the time my husband was there working. I’d wander and shop and take photos and cook in our rented apartments. Then we bought an apartment because we were there so much. It’s an entirely different thing. I had visions of sitting at a desk by my open French doors over the historic neighborhood and working on my writing. However, all last summer we were trying to get plumbers in to fix appliances, so little writing. Last year I spent one month trying to buy a convertible sofa that would meet my American standards (i.e., no futons from IKEA) AND that would make it up the winding stairs of our building. One of my favorite people in town recently move a tad bit beyond the bus line, so it’s a chore to visit. I’ve made some friends, but they work during the day. And so on. I’ll be back in Dijon in October until late November to check on our radiators and write. France — it’s glamour all the way!

    If you still have mold and need a new place to write, let me know. That fold-out couch is really comfortable and I have an American-sized bathtub. Dijon and Burgundy are lovely in the fall. I’m serious.

    • Thank you! This is so validating! I’m glad I’m not alone. And your invitation to come there and write? What can I say? I’m bowled over! I’ll be giving that some serious thought!

  15. Lisa, thanks for sharing so honestly! It’s openness like this that make others feeling the same thing, feel less like something is wrong with THEM. I am living ‘the dream’ too. I moved to Paris, my favorite city in the world but somehow, I wasn’t flooded with happiness… I was so very depressed AND lonely. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t done it because it doesn’t make any sense – it’s your DREAM. It’s been a year and a half and things are certainly better (finally made a french friend), but it still helps me to know that I’m not alone. I hope you are doing much better too! ps) we had a leak in our apt. hallway that took 1.5 yrs for the architects to make 3 visits and still nothing has been done. Hang in there! pss) we actually moved to avoid the gray winters and are in Cannes. The sunshine helps 🙂

    • Thanks for this! And yikes about your leak story. Everyone seems to have one in Paris! Mine still carries on and my place is totally unlivable now. I’m back in NYC. Just got my visa for France so I will be returning but not sure where I’ll stay! France is fun! 😉

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