Growing up, my birthday tradition differed from that of most American boys.
For many of my friends, birthdays meant a chocolate cake and a trip to Chuck-E-Cheese or a laser tag game. For me, it was a tarte aux framboises with DIY birthday candles and a visit to the Paris taxidermy shop, Deyrolle.
Paris entered my life at an early age. I came here for the first time when I was four years old, my first ever flight being an international one. My mom, a literature professor, and my dad, an artist, taught a study abroad course—which they would do almost every summer until I entered high school—and my brother and I found ourselves along for the ride.
Those early souvenirs of Paris are some of my most vivid childhood memories. Learning to rollerblade under the elevated metro at Motte-Picquet Grenelle. Attending puppet shows in the Square Saint-Lambert. Riding the carousel on the Champs du Mars.
Paris, for me, was the smell of fresh bread wafting out of boulangeries in the morning; ping-pong matches with a view of the Eiffel Tower at dusk; the dull hum of motorcycles keeping me up well into the night.
I grew into Paris, gradually. My mom tells me that my first French word was “Monoprix,” the food and clothing chain, which I still contest doesn’t count as a real word. When I was older, I attended a bilingual summer camp, where I was once asked (to my absolute horror as a shy pre-teen) to play the lead role in a rendition of the play “Grease.” In high school, I came back to Paris for not one, but two exchange programs. And last year, at the age of twenty-five, I decided to move here full-time to pursue a graduate degree in journalism.
The draw is different now. The Paris of my childhood—that of seemingly endless, warm summer days—has been replaced with the worries of schoolwork, paying taxes in two countries and securing an internship. But in its place have sprung new pleasures. Finding the perfect, sunny terrasse to enjoy a croissant and a café crème and read Libération. Watching the sun slip below the horizon from atop the belvedere at the Parc Belleville. Drinking mulled wine with friends under a heat lamp in the winter. Blowing through green lights on a late night Vélib’ ride home.
As a journalist, I’ve seen the city through different eyes, too. I’ve seen the beauty, but also the struggle: the weekly protests, the migrant camps springing up on the periphery, the burning of a sacred structure. I’ve seen Paris in all its complexity, which has only made me love it more.
I still get a feeling of immense joy, and gratitude, for my adoptive city every time the plane touches ground at Charles De Gaulle airport, or when I step out of an intercités train into Gare de L’Est.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in “A Moveable Feast.”
In the meantime, though, I’m not planning on going anywhere.