On Remembering, and La Rentrée, and Five Years

Posted on Monday, September 4, 2017

This summer has been both the most exhilarating and the calmest, all at once. Somehow, it felt both like time wasn't moving and like time was speeding by. There are so many moments from this summer, and in particular from my month back home in the States, that I want to hold on to forever, to always remember the sights smells sounds feelings exactly as they happened.
Some of the happiest and those that feel most important include signing my permanent contract at work at the very end of May, and the feeling that a very long and winding road had finally led somewhere that feels right. Watching my once-kitten Molly grow into a little cat right here in our apartment, and feeling a silly sense of pride like a five-year-old with a carnival goldfish. Returning for a weekend to Villanova, a place that still feels very much like home, five years later, and feeling absolutely content despite Bud Light headaches and a lost voice and too little sleep and a non-insured visit to the doctor the following week. Splashing in the wading pool in the back garden with my cousin, Meron, and realizing thanks to her that sometimes the simplest things might be best as we embarked on Wild Adventure after Wild Adventure, and roasted marshmallows, and danced to the Trolls soundtrack. Giggling long into the night, trying to write the perfect wedding speech with the little sister for the big one, drinking craft beers in her bed. The realisation that this 'little' sister isn't so little anymore, as she proudly shows me her plant collection in the backyard of her beautiful Philadelphia apartment, and I feeling proud of and happy for her but like I could cry all at the same time. My big sister looking the most beautiful she ever had and almost-shyly looking at herself in the mirror as she adjusts her veil and wedding dress, my parents' expressions as they both walked her down the aisle, my brother-in-law's face as she reached him. Dancing with family and friends that feel like family as the rain poured down outside. Running with my sisters through our neighborhood and down the main street of our little town, and thinking for the millionth time that Paris France is nice but that Yardley Pennsylvania isn't so bad either. Drinking rosé on the patio with my parents and sisters and aunts and uncle and feeling grateful for our family and its closeness despite the thousands of miles and too many time zones. Walking around New York on my own, happily, and imagining what a life there might feel like for me. Wading into the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island and eating a corn dog for the very first time and letting ice cream drip everywhere and spending a really good day with a really good friend getting a really bad sunburn. Having lunch with people I wish I could see more often, and trying to catch a year's worth of catching up into a New York City-length lunch break. Drinking wine with my best friend in the park with a view of the Financial District skyline, followed by pizza in our favorite spot in Brooklyn, and savoring how it still feels like no time has passed. Having a few unexpected late night conversations over unexpected Negronis that I will replay for a very long time in my mind. Dipping Shake Shack fries into a milkshake and wondering what's so great about French cuisine, anyway. Hosting a dinner in Brooklyn and looking around the table at people I love very much and wishing it could happen more often. Eating breakfast on the deck and passing around the paper with my parents and driving to Target and doing a million other things that sound unexciting but still carry that special little bit of magic that is home.

And then, of course, kissing my mother goodbye at the line for security at JFK and feeling like a baby for crying, again, even though I'll see her soon, and then boarding the plane and, inevitably, fighting back the tears that always follow such an almost-perfect time at home.

I think that after a month of such spectacular highs, it's not unusual that things felt a little quiet back over here. It felt like I needed the whole month of July to decompress, to think about everything that I got to see and do in those four weeks at home, and find a way for these little moments to stay intact and glimmering and easy to access on any given rainy Parisian afternoon.

And then, all of a sudden after all that remembering, July had passed in a heartbeat and the month of August arrived once again. Right when I felt ready to stop sitting still and start moving, the city began to shutter its doors and close its blinds. The annual signs appeared in windows around my neighborhood, closed for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks. The quiet that I'd been feeling for all of July arrived to the rest of Paris as the sidewalks emptied. Work was quiet, home was quiet, and everything in between was quiet, too. August in Paris feels like the city itself takes a break from being, for a while, and everyone that lives here has no choice but to take a break, too. I spent my August weekends waking up slowly with my little tiger-striped cat curled and purring, as close as can be, drinking coffee before heading out on my own across the city - sometimes with a destination in mind, sometimes without. My group of girlfriends and I talked a lot about picnics, but the weather never seemed to agree, so we did our best without enough sun. One weekend, we drove through the night across three countries to Amsterdam for a weekend and a change of scene and to stroll the canals and drink some really really good coffee. We stopped in Brussels on the way home just because (or because you don't drive past Brussels without stopping for some fries). The days felt deliciously lazy and the weeks melted into each other, but I was glad when August ended.

In my professional life, there are a few French words and expressions that I dread coming across, because they lend themselves so poorly to English: "I'm suddenly feeling really tired" doesn't sound quite as nice as "j'ai un coup de barre," one of my favorites. This time of year, I find myself frequently having to translate another one: "la rentrée." I guess "back to school" comes close enough, most of the time, but it doesn't quite cover it. Over here, la rentrée is that transitional time in between the last long rosé-soaked afternoons in the sun and the pick-up of the daily grind, the week or two that everyone comes back to the city from their country escapes or from beyond the border, rested and revitalized and ready to begin a new year. But if you ask me, it's more than just a word for the time itself. I think it covers a whole feeling, one of those tough to pin down feelings that we've all felt, without knowing what to call it.

Remember when we were in school, first grade or tenth grade or senior year of college? Remember how the beginning of the school year felt full of promise and potential? Remember when we swore that this year would be the year we'd change that thing we'd been meaning to change? Remember when the first chilly breeze felt like it might be bringing something new? La rentrée feels like that, for everyone.

This year, I am embracing la rentrée and its quiet optimism more than ever. On Tuesday, I'll celebrate the fifth anniversary of leaving home for Paris. Though time has flown, five years still somehow feels like a very long time all the same. This "Parisversary" feels momentous in a new way. It's longer than I lived in the UK or in Ireland, longer than I spent at Villa Victoria for high school, longer than four years at Villanova, longer than I ever thought I'd be here. Five years feels important.

These past five years have felt, at times, like wandering along a winding road without a map. I think about the person that I was when I boarded that plane in 2012, and I admit that sometimes she feels like a lifetime away. Lots has happened since then - mostly good things, with a few bad things too - and this place has changed me profoundly. I think about everything that I've done and seen, the places I've traveled and the people I've met, the food and wine I've enjoyed. I think about how Paris looks on a sunny day, and how it looks in the rain. I remember a day in 2010, during my college semester abroad, walking around the fifth arrondissement in the rain, treading on soggy fallen leaves and listening to Erik Satie and feeling filled with wonder at how a place could be so beautiful and melancholy all at once. I think about how hard it can be to live here sometimes, how fist-clenchingly frustrating this country can be at times. About the impossibility of explaining certain things, or understanding others. About the stubbornness and the slowness to change and the "ce n'est pas possible, Madame"s. But I also think about the rhythm of life that made me fall in love with this place, the charm of it all, the people I've grown to love, the traditions that I've embraced. I think about the smell of bakeries in the morning, the cosy sounds of bistros in the evening, the expert flick of an aproned waiter's wrist as he sets down a coffee, the way the light catches the trees in Parc Monceau in the morning or slides across the Seine at night, as the Eiffel Tower twinkles in the distance.

When I think about the past five years in Paris, though, I don't just think about this place - I think about myself too. I think about the person I was when I arrived, so young though I thought I was so old. I think about the places I've lived, the tiniest studio and the beautiful Haussmanian apartment, and now here in my own place. I think about the hundreds of miles I've run on these streets in the pitch black early morning, the races I've trained for, the tears I've shed crossing finish lines. I think about the heartbreaks I've healed, the hard realizations I've come to, the falls I've taken, the mistakes I've made, the family and friends that kept loving made it possible to get up and keep trying and trying again. I think about the late nights en terrasse and the one-too-many drinks and the salty taste of a hot ham and cheese crêpe on the early morning walk home. I think about the people that I have met that have changed me for the better, the things that I have learned about myself from others, the friendships I have made that I'll always be grateful for. I think a lot, too, about being alone. If I've learned anything at all over the past five years, it's how to be alone. Somewhere along the way, somewhere in the past five years, from all the uncertainty and the foreignness and the heart-aching loneliness, I've managed to make myself a life that feels just right.

I recently came across a journal hidden away on my bookshelf, not even half filled out but with entries from when I was seventeen and twenty and twenty-two. I laughed at myself, reading it, and thought for the millionth time that I can be so dramatic - and that my handwriting really IS terrible. But then I found a page, written on March 15, 2008. It's not a long entry, just five lines written quickly: "I just want a simple life: a French apartment, a cat that's friendly and welcomes me home. I want to meet interesting people and drink black coffee and try to solve some world problems."

I don't know about the world problems (especially not in 2017), but I know about the rest. I've got an apartment that's tiny but filled with light in a neighborhood that feels like home. I've got little Molly, who greets me every day when I get home, and tucks herself into bed when she gets tired at night. I have met interesting people, here and in other cities and at home and everywhere in between. And the black coffee - well, I've never been great at remembering to buy milk.
The past few months have been incredible, but now that la rentrée is upon us I'm ready for the next part. I'm ready for this new year in Paris, because each year  has been better than the last. Tomorrow I'll buy myself a glass of wine and sit at a café and people watch and write down - maybe in the same decade-old journal - a few things that I'd like to start doing, to change, to try. I don't know if I'll be any good at them, I don't know if the resolutions will stick, but after the past few months and the past five years over here, I know that I'm excited to see what comes next. xx


On Last Tuesday

Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yesterday, I wasn't feeling well.

I wasn't sure if it was the (physical, emotional, moral, political) fatigue of the week before, finally catching up to me, or if it was the late-night beers and early-morning frites from a Saturday night spent in Brussels, but I knew I wasn't feeling right.

I had slept poorly back in my own bed on Sunday night, tossing and turning and lying awake, my mind reeling and my heart thudding, keeping my tired bones awake longer than they wanted. I couldn't feel calm, I couldn't drop off to sleep despite how desperately I wanted to.

On my way home from work last night, I switched from the RER to the métro, as I always do, at the eastern edge of Paris. I stood, like I always do, in front of where I knew the door would open when the train arrived. As the train pulled into the station and emptied, I stood to the side to allow people to hurry past. When they were gone, I ducked quickly into the carriage and tucked myself into the corner seat, closest to where I'd entered.

Except, somehow, someone arrived in the seat before me. A man, standing at the next door down, darted in and across the space between us and beneath me, sliding past all the other open spots and into the seat I almost had. I was surprised, but mostly annoyed, as he'd walked past four empty and closer seats, before stealing the one that was most logical for me to take. Without really thinking I clicked my tongue loudly and hissed "ce n'est pas POSSIBLE, monsieur," under my breath, before folding into the seat opposite him. Where I'd spoken quietly, almost to myself, he responded loudly. "Ah bon ? Comment ça ce n'est pas possible ?" (Oh yeah? What do you mean, it's not possible?"). He was jeering, no worse than a playground bully though he was well into his fifties, and when he saw me avoiding his gaze (and regretting that I'd spoken), he laughed, loudly. It was a cruel laugh, a laugh that meant "you stupid girl."He shook his head as he laughed, as if to say "Who do you think you are?" With his eight words and his condescending laughter, he made me feel so small, completely invisible, like the tiniest and most insignificant thing.

And all for taking a seat that was closest to me.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried not to let it happen, but before I knew it there were big tears escaping. I couldn't catch my breath, my nose ran into my rosy pink scarf, my mascara stained my cheeks. Do you remember how it felt to cry when you were a child? When your whole body shuddered, and one fat tear was followed by another, fatter one? I couldn't help it, I was crying like that. Avoiding his gaze, everyone's gaze, keeping very quiet, but I was inconsolable.

Was I overreacting? Definitely.
Was I crying about more than a man stealing my seat on the métro? Definitely.

In our one-minute interaction, I was made to feel invisible, and when I tried to stick up for myself, I was made to feel laughable, silly, insignificant. Sound familiar?

I won't pretend to speak for those less fortunate than me. I recognize that I could never begin to understand how someone else is feeling today, and in the past week. I recognize that I am a privileged white woman, that I have lived a charmed life, that my struggles are so minor. And yet.

I want to write about the election, because it feels important not to forget this moment. I know we are tired of talking about it, hearing about it, reading about it, thinking about it. But we mustn't let ourselves be complacent, we mustn't let our weariness lead us to inaction. I have never written about this kind of thing, politics, on this blog before.

This site is full of personal reflections, but then, this defeat feels so deeply personal.

To start at the beginning, I didn't like Hillary at first. I liked Bernie. I liked his messy white hair and his ill-fitting suits, I liked his way of speaking, his brusque manner. I liked his socialist-leaning ideals. As time went on, though, and as it became clear  that Hillary would become the Democratic candidate, I made the decision to support her. I watched her speeches, her facial movements, her body language, and I warmed to her. I spoke with people who know more about politics than me, I spoke with other converted former-Bernie-supporters,  did enough research to feel comfortable with my decision. (And here I feel I have to say that I recognized, too, on some level, that this election was too important to vote for anyone but her. The alternative, the unthinkable, was enough to be sure I never considered a third-party vote or abstention. But mine was ultimately a vote of conviction, regardless of the stakes.)

And then, as the date approached, I got excited. A mother, a wife, a daughter, our next president. A woman who has spent her whole life fighting, given her all to what she believes in, never given up. In the days leading up to the election, I imagined Hillary giving her first speeches as President, shaking hands with world leaders, addressing the nation, leading us. I felt so proud, in anticipation of the moment she would win. As a woman, I felt the historical importance of what was about to happen. Every part of me was buzzing. We'd show him! We'd beat him, and we'd beat him with a woman. A woman would show him that his racist fear-mongering behavior had no place in the United States. A woman would grab his rhetoric by the you-know-what, and throw it out of our headlines, our discussions, our country. That kind of talk has no place in a nation like the United States, and I was sure she would prove this once and for all, and put this orange nightmare to rest.

Imagine the little girls that would realize how far they could go! Imagine the noise that glass ceiling would make as it shattered!

Around 2 a.m. in Paris on that Wednesday morning, that ceiling suddenly felt a little bit farther than we'd thought. Our night had started with happily sharing cocktails, excitedly discussing how and when we'd voted, joyfully claiming our part of this historic occasion. As the hours dragged past, the joyfulness disappeared. We felt desperate. Some people I talked with returned to the bar again and again, trying to drown it out. I was dumb with disbelief, I felt shocked. I couldn't believe it.

At 4 a.m., I went home, but stayed glued to my screen. 5, then 5:30, and I finally turned off my computer, feeling sick to my stomach. In the fetal position, as the sun came up in Paris, I closed my eyes and let my tears dry and felt comforted that I could forget for a while that this was happening. Two hours later, I woke to a rainy morning. Mustering together the last shreds of hope I was clinging to, I opened my computer. When I saw the result, just confirmed moments before, I stood in my tiny kitchen and sobbed. I watched him climb the stage to give his "victory speech" and let big noisy messy waves from the deepest parts of me drown him out.

How had this happened? Where was the America I knew? Where was the country that I'd thought was welcoming - that had, in fact, welcomed me and my family years before? Where were the values I'd learned about in school, the pillars we promised to stick to the day we wore sworn in as citizens? Where was our America, last Tuesday?

It has been six days and I don't think it's getting easier. Watching Hillary speak last Wednesday, full of strength and grace and composure, I cried once more as I mourned the President she would have been. She was the embodiment of what a President should be: careful, measured, yet honest. A far cry from what we've ended up with.

"This is painful, and it will be for a long time."

In one way, it feels silly to still feel what I'm feeling (sad, disappointed, hurt, grieving, shocked, incredulous, heartbroken). The world keeps turning, and for the time being I'm as good as unaffected, as my fairly happy life chugs along in the land of socialism  (and cheese), far away from the madness. But in another, this loss feels like the kind of weight that I'll have to remember for a long time. Like an old friend or boyfriend, or a time in my life, or a place. Something I'll keep missing, whose absence will sting every time it's remembered.

For me, it's a dark indication of the state of things back home. A storm has been brewing over the months that preceded this vote, and I'm disappointed to see that the storm has gathered strength instead of passing. I'm disappointed in my country, the country that adopted us.

The incident on the métro yesterday was so minor. It was nothing. But to me, in my tired and run down state, it felt like a reminder that today is a very dark day. Whether on the national stage or in a carriage of the line 2, there are people today that want to make us feel small, invisible, and stupid. They want to laugh at us when we try to speak up.

Where do we go from here? I don't know. I don't know what will happen to America, I don't know how she will weather this storm. I take comfort in knowing, though, that she is scrappy. She is a fighter. If my American education has taught me anything, it's that America is determined, unrelentless, tough to keep down.

I just hope that she will rise up on the right side of history, and not follow this absurd pied piper to her demise.

For now, I think the answer is to start small. In the face of the hateful decision that my country has made, I'm determined to show love in every corner of my little life.

Self love, picking up a bouquet of lilies just because, taking myself out to see the Christmas lights, getting to bed early and eating delicious things that my own two hands have made.
Love for my family and friends, sending cards and making phonecalls and giving compliments and listening, excitedly making plans for a long-awaited trip home next month, imagining how good it will feel to see them all again.
Love for my country — my countries — by minimizing the damage this time around, and then making sure that this will never happen again.

Let's be kind to each other, and listen to each other, and be intelligent and measured.
Let's remember that the brightest days often follow the darkest.
Let's keep going. xx


On Exhaling, or, On August in Paris

Posted on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I blinked, and it was August. 

The end of spring and the first half of summer were dedicated to meeting a nasty deadline hanging over my head: the day my master's thesis was due. Distracted only by a too-quick but wonderful visit from a college friend at the end of May, time passed too quickly. There was no relaxing after work, because it was time to do school work; weekends were over before I'd noticed they started. Towards the end of the last few weeks before the deadline, one day melted into another with no sleep in between, my diet devolved into whatever was quick and filling and, most of the time, unhealthy. I felt that I'd never get the cramps out of my hands from hours of typing - and backspacing - and typing. My back was aching from crouching in my barstool-height kitchen chairs, from too few hours of tense sleep, from the special brand of nervous energy that only comes from days on end shut in a tiny studio working on a seemingly never-ending dissertation.

But then one afternoon, an afternoon that came after a morning that came after an all-nighter, it was over.  I compressed the files, and e-mailed them, and uploaded, and then sat. And, unexpectedly, cried. I was exhausted, and needed a shower, and had been wearing the same nightdress for a very long time, and my apartment was a mess, and I was sure there were typos, but it was over, and one of my favorite humans in the whole world had just arrived in France and I could go and see her and there would be nothing dreadful hanging over my head. I called my mother, I let out the breath I'd been holding in for months, I showered, I hopped on the train, and I met my cousin and aunt and uncle at Disneyland.

Disneyland is part of my daily grind, as I spend my days translating ~the magic~ from French to English, but this time my train journey had something much more rewarding at the other end. Meron was waiting outside their hotel when I arrived, and she jumped up and down and into my arms and clasped her little hands around my neck and I very quickly felt the awful weight of the previous couple of weeks lift. Over a glass of wine in the hotel lounge, I chatted with my aunt and uncle and felt the particular comfort that only family can bring. Later that night, we stood in front of the château and watched the fireworks, and I held Meron on my hip as she danced to the music, her eyes as round as could be as she watched familiar characters appear and sang the wrong words to her favorite songs. The few days we spent at Disneyland, including one featuring a special appearance by my mother, were just the tonic I needed to the preceding months. We skipped around, wearing Minnie ears, dancing in the main square long after the parade had ended. We ate dinner together each night, and after eating I took Meron's hand and led her outside to run around and count Elsa dresses and giggle. The days passed too quickly, but it must be said that seeing Disneyland through the eyes of a three-and-a-half year old was really and truly a magical experience, and I'll carry the image of her wide eyes with me for a very long time.

They came to Paris for a few days, and I even got to have Meron to my little apartment for a one-night slumber party that began with a snotty meltdown in the taxi, but finished with Maltesers (BEFORE dinner) and Tangled, spaghetti bolognese and a 9 o'clock bedtime for both of us. The next morning she munched happily on a croissant in the métro and sat quietly on my lap taking it all in, cuter than any little parisienne I've ever seen!

When they'd gone I welcomed a friend from college who stopped by Paris during a business trip to Europe, and we spent long nights laughing and singing to music we'd forgotten about and dancing around my apartment after too much rosé.  Seeing two friends from Villanova in the space of a couple of months made my heart so glad and so sad simultaneously - the familiar struggle of completely wanting to be in two places at once. I hardly had time to feel sad, luckily, as the day that Lauren left, my sister arrived at Charles de Gaulle for a week.
I took the week off from work and we toasted our reunion, and Vélibed our way around the city's watering holes and restaurants, we drove out to Giverny and found a Haribo outlet and even welcomed our Dublin-resident sister for a couple of nights. If I hadn't fully recovered from the trauma of drowning in my master's degree before, being with my two sisters brought me back to the surface. We laughed until we couldn't breathe, we remembered old jokes and made new ones, we ate fromage and drank bubbly and picnicked and slept badly, side-by-side-by-side, in my two-person bed.

Being far away from those two can be really hard - even with the WhatsApp chats and video chats and Snapchats and phone chats. There is no technology in the world - and I don't think there ever will be - that can come close to the feeling of sitting around a table with my sisters, teasing each other or talking seriously or not talking at all. We went to a wedding dress shopping appointment for the bride-to-be, and even then it felt like we were six and nine and twelve, or twelve and fifteen and eighteen, even as we watched Sinéad looking at her reflection in the beautiful white dresses it felt as though no time had passed at all, that we were still at home with each other. I felt so lucky during their visit that we have made it all work, over the years. It's a whole lot of distance, three sisters in three countries, but no matter where we all find each other it's always just as great as the time before, as great as any of the times before.
As I waved goodbye to my big sister a few weeks ago, I'll admit that a couple of tears slid down my cheeks. Like all good things, having them here went by too quickly. Despite our lists and planning and trying to do it all, there's never enough time to spend with your favorite people. I walked back upstairs, and sat in my suddenly-quiet apartment, and slowly exhaled.

The month of August is notoriously quiet in Paris. I wasn't here last August, and I'd forgotten how dramatic the mass exodus really is. Storefronts are shuttered with hardly-apologetic notes mentioning distant return dates. The bakeries are dark, their cases empty. Very few apartments light up at night, their residents far away in the south drinking pastis or across the border eating tapas in Spain or exploring even farther away. The parks are quiet, the usual weekend revellers picnicking on greener grass. At night I don't hear as many cars zooming down the Avenue de Clichy, and the métro is so empty that it's... almost pleasant? Parisians are taking a break from Paris, and I'm right in the middle of their absence, enjoying the calm. With all the busyness of the past couple of months, the work and the visitors and the go-go-go, I don't mind. I like the sleepy streets, I like the quiet. I'm taking a break, too, even if I'm still here. I'm breathing and thinking and reading and writing, taking my own quiet survey of the state of things. It's the end of a really crazy year, a really busy time that I'm not sure I'd want to do again. I'm going to bed early, most of the time, and enjoying being on my own and doing things that I feel like doing - and getting a few things done that I really don't feel like doing, but must. I'm making lists for the year to come, and setting goals, and feeling really excited.
I know that in a short week or two, the sleepy streets will begin to wake up. The bakeries will fill their window displays with flaky pastries and crunchy baguettes, the florist downstairs will be back in business and I'll be able to buy my weekly stem of lilies. The parks will be full again, Parisians eager to catch the last of the good weather before the greyness sits in. And for me, too, things will take off again. As my fourth year in Paris draws to a close, the fifth will begin in a couple of weeks. It's difficult to believe it's been so long, in a lot of ways, but at the same time it feels like the most natural thing in the world. There are a lot of good things coming this year, I think, but let's leave that for another day.

For now I'm going to enjoy the quiet, the abandoned streets, the available seats at sunny sidewalk cafés. Here's to two more weeks of breathing in this empty city. xx


On Villanova (Basketball).

Posted on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Over the past few days, my social media has become a bluish blur of avid Villanova support. I've been posting on Facebook, Instagramming the only Villanova shirts that made it to France with me, retweeting sports articles from the NYTimes and Sports Illustrated and 6ABC and beyond. Last weekend I spent more than a few minutes Googling places to watch the Final Four matchup while in Heidelberg for the weekend, disappointedly accepting defeat when nothing came up. I've been 'liking' more Villanova posts than I can count over these past few days, reading more about sports than I've ever read in my life, thinking about and supporting a team whose members I could not even name. Why?

I've been turning the question over in my mind today, trying to explain the attachment I feel to Villanova basketball, the pride I'm experiencing today for a group of guys I've never met, the extra spring in my step all day, the butterflies that keep coming back. I'm not the first one to ask myself the question - I've had more than one person comment surprisedly in passing recently that they didn't know I was so into sports.

I think to answer the question, I've got to go back to the beginning, because before Villanova basketball comes Villanova.

When I was deciding where to go to college, I applied to Villanova as a fairly safe bet. My sister was in her junior year as I was applying, and she was very happy. I had visited her, I knew the campus, and I liked it. I knew I could be happy there, but didn't really consider it a top choice, preferring other schools that I thought would be a better fit. In spring 2008, though, I attended an accepted students' day with my mom, and I decided on Nova there and then. Sitting next to my mother, in a room filled with other nervous students and even more nervous parents, I got ~the feeling~ and knew beyond doubt that Villanova was the place for me. I remember the moment vividly, and the whole sunny day - the balloon arches and the blue t-shirts, the light streaming into the Villanova Room.

My feeling of certainty grew over the time I spent as a student at Villanova. After the initial hiccups of the college transition, I grew to love the campus, the students, the black bean burgers at Connelly, the small classes and helpful teachers. I met my closest friends at Villanova, people that started out as total strangers in 2008 that today are among the most important people in my life.

Amidst the blur of freshman year, between the "awkward luau" and the Fiji Mansion parties and the time spent figuring out the fastest route from Tolentine to Bartley, one thing became very clear: at Villanova, basketball was more than a sport. Upon arrival we were given Nova Nation t-shirts, and invited to the Pavilion where Jay Wright preached to bleachers full of believers. We were new to it all, but we eagerly shouted back NATION every time he said NOVA, giddy to feel a part of the excitement. We learned the chants, the whoosh-go, the fight song. With time, we learned how to be proper Nova fans. We wore and re-wore our Nova Nation t-shirts, to the games, to the Spit, to class, to the gym (or not). As the season got into full swing, we learned the players' names: Scottie, Reggie, Dante, Peña. We eagerly awaited the text messages that we'd gotten game tickets, or that we didn't, or that we were wait listed. When we didn't get tickets, we crowded into dorm rooms on South campus to watch the games, all season long. We traveled to the Wachovia Center, sneaking beer into stolen cups from campus, tailgating in the frigid parking lot.

We were baptised by fire that first year, when the 2008-2009 team led Villanova to the Final Four (it was also the year that I got written up by the Dean for trying to bring beers into Stanford for the game...). I remember when we won the Elite Eight game, when Scottie scored that last basket, the campus went wild. We jumped up and down, hugging and laughing, before running down from the fifth floor of Stanford into South campus, cheering and whooping and sprinting up Ithan to Lancaster, singing and throwing our V's up and celebrating. The energy was everywhere, coming from everyone, it felt like that moment was everything.

(Incidentally, that year, we shared disappointment too.)

Here's the thing, though. It wasn't really about basketball, in 2009, nor in the years that came after. After freshman year the team didn't get as far in the tournament, but the energy continued. The basketball wasn't as great, but the energy didn't change. We kept cheering, and whoosh-go-ing, and gasping, and stomping. We kept filling the bleachers, kept looking for tickets, kept wearing our Nova Nation t-shirts. Even when the game wasn't exciting, we were excited. At Villanova, basketball was a tangible energy that drove the students forward, brought us together, united in our celebrations and in our disappointments. It was the rhythm that we moved to: Hoops Mania was the start of the fun and we hoped March Madness would be the end. We watched on South, on West, off campus, at Kelly's. We held our breaths together, time after time, and heard the collective cheers or groans echo around campus. Over four years, Villanova basketball was a constant for us, a common point of interest, a shared passion. We "browsed" the store at Kennedy, just in case the sale section might have a shirt that wasn't XL. We posted our sizes on Facebook group proposing student-created t-shirts: from the ever-classic "Jay Wright for President" to the ever-regrettable "Nova Girls Are Wild - UConn Girls Are Husky."

I chose to study in Paris in the Fall of 2010 because I didn't want to miss the 2011 basketball season. I considered staying enrolled in Spring 2012 so I could go to student games, even though I'd finished my credits. At graduation, we posed with our "V's up," the campus-wide sign of Villanova support. We threw our arms in the air, holding champagne bottles in one hand and making V's with the other. Sunburned and with Miller Lite headaches, we moved out of our apartments in Villanova Seniors 2012 t-shirts, moving on from Villanova to New York or Boston or California, or... Paris.

The first year after graduation was hard. I missed Villanova. I missed the proximity of friends, the dollar drinks at Kelly's, lazy breakfasts at Bagel Factory, iced coffee and people-watching in the quad. I missed my seminar classes, the author readings at Connelly, chatting about French literature. I missed the way campus looks on a sunny day, on a snowy day. I missed Father Cregan's free yoga classes, pizzas from Second Storey, late nights in the library spent giggling instead of working.  I missed complaining about Tolentine, about early classes, about the bookstore prices. I missed the life I'd built at Villanova, the relationship my classmates and I had built together over four years with that place. When I've been asked in the years since graduation if I liked my college experience, I've made people regret their question more than once with the length and enthusiasm of my answer. Villanova is where I met my closest friends, where I became an almost-adult, where I loved and lost and laughed and cried.

I haven't been back to Villanova since 2012. I've followed the academic news (A new Center for Irish Studies! A new Creative Writing minor!) and felt proud of my alma mater more than once. I've followed along when my friends returned for Homecomings, for basketball games. Living abroad, I'm no stranger to FOMO (fear of missing out, for the unfamiliar), but the Villanova events always felt a little bit harder to miss. I would have jumped at the chance to go back to campus, back to Kelly's, to the renamed-since-freshman-year Wells Fargo Center. Still, though, FOMO is par for the course, and generally I manage to comparmentalize it and accept a certain disconnect.

This year, though, was different. As the momentum increased in this year's March Madness tournament, so did my attachment. I saw that Villanova made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and felt glad... And gladder still when they entered the Elite Eight. Once they reached the Final Four, though, is when I really started to feel it. It wasn't FOMO, necessarily, but a different kind of energy. I wasn't afraid of missing out, because I didn't feel that I was missing out. Actually, I felt like a real a part of it. I felt like I was part of the Nova Nation that Jay Wright kept thanking. In my studio in Paris, I donned my worn-in Villanova t-shirt and followed along with the team happily. As the excitement mounted, I felt closer than ever to the action, despite being so far. Waking up to the news last weekend that we'd made it to the final, I felt as joyful as I'd felt during the 2009 run to the Final Four. Though I'm long graduated and thousands of miles away, I felt like MY team was making it, MY school was making it. I felt a part of the roaring crowd, even at a great distance.

When I saw the final was on at 3 a.m. Parisian time, on a school night, I knew I wouldn't be watching it. And yet, even without an alarm I found myself wide awake at 5 that morning, texting my sister to know the score. She told me it was almost over but worth seeing, so I tried to tune in. When the streaming website wouldn't work from Europe, my sister and I video chatted and she propped me up in front of their TV in Park Slope for the last five minutes of the game. I joined in on the chatter on my friends' group chat chain, from Seattle to Houston to Boston to New York to Florida to Paris we all watched together. With bedhead and bleary eyes in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, I watched the five most exciting minutes of basketball I've ever seen, and watched as Kris Jenkins scored the shot of a lifetime. While my sister and her fiancé jumped around their living room in Brooklyn I jumped up and down, too. Every social media outlet I use went haywire; triumphant tweets and Facebook posts and photos and Snapchats and texts, soundbytes and photos and emojis and videos. We were ecstatic, we were walking on air. As the team held up their well-deserved trophy, I teared up and my insides felt like they'd melt from happiness. That day at work, in my corporate office outside Paris, I wore a Villanova Wildcats t-shirt proudly (perhaps to the confusion of my co-workers).

Why, though? Why did I care so much?

I'm not athletic, I don't care for sports in general. I'm happy to watch rugby with my family, but not much else. Why was this win so important to me?

I can't speak for the rest of my classmates, for current students or other graduates, but for me, the importance is linked to the first night all those years ago that we learned the Villanova cheers with Jay in the Pavilion. It's also linked to the chilly March night in 2009 that we ran in the streets from South campus, propelled by adrenaline and an unnameable joy. It's linked to that same energy that continued throughout our four years on campus, and I think that this year's championship game was a return to that years-old feeling.

I'm so proud to call Villanova my alma mater. I will keep watching the replays of the final seconds of the game, to watch reaction videos. I'll continue to find gifs of Jay Wright's cool and collected reaction to the result (BANG.). I'm sure I'll keep getting a thrill out of seeing Villanova headlining articles on The New York TimesThe GuardianThe Washington Post, a swell of pride in my chest when I see the photos from Monday night.

For me, supporting Villanova whole-heartedly and completely this year was a reminder of the common ground that I still share with my fellow Wildcats; that no matter where we are or what we're doing, we still care. To me, supporting Villanova basketball is supporting Villanova. It brings me back to the best years of my life, to a place I love intensely and to memories that I cherish. When I cheer for Villanova, I'm cheering for more than the players on the court. I'm cheering for a place i truly believe in, cheering in solidarity with others that have been affected by the same place. In the past few days I've talked about Villanova basketball to anyone that will listen, but I find that the most interested are other graduates. The energy we feel can only be understood by each other. Though general opinion is that Villanova played a great season, that the title is well-deserved, that it was a hard-won championship. More than an athletic achievement, though, for Villanova basketball fans all over the world the victory was personal. They won the championship, but so did we. Current students, recent graduates, alumni of all ages... This year, we all got to remember what it felt like to be a part of Villanova, to share the energy that Villanova was and continues to be.

This past couple of weeks has been such an exhilarating ride, in large part because we're enjoying the glory together - wherever we are, whatever we're doing. Watching a video of current students in the Pavilion, I felt just as excited as they did at the final basket, as if I were there. I hope I can hold on to this feeling for a long while yet. Whoooooosh.... Go!


On the Year Everything Changed.

Posted on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

On this day, one year ago, the world was about to change. Or, maybe more fairly, my world was about to change. Last January 6th, Parisians came home from work or school - like I just did - and made dinner, or went out to dinner, or ordered sushi (why is takeout always sushi here!?). They went to the movies, perhaps, or gathered to celebrate the Epiphany with a galette des rois, and afterwards they fell asleep alone or together, happy or sad, but mostly sure that the next day would be the same as the one they'd just ended.
Last January 7th, though, was not the same. It was the day that Paris would be shaken to its core, the day the world would collectively gasp. Just before midday, the world shifted as armed gunmen murdered a policeman on the sidewalk, then stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo in the name of a god that, they claimed, wanted blood. Eleven artists dead along with the policeman, on a quiet street in a trendy neighborhood in the city we thought was the most romantic in the world.
I wasn't here last January 6th or 7th, but I'll never forget those days. Even from halfway across the world, I watched dumbfounded as the color drained from Parisian streets. The muted wintertime colors became grayscale, the lights of la ville lumière dimmed. I returned home to a different city, a city shaken by a hatred it hadn't encountered since the last world war - if even then. It was a city that didn't know how to recover.
But recover, it did. Millions marched in the street, proclaiming liberté égalité fraternité, chanting je suis charlie, singing the Marseillaise, laughing and hugging and determined in their strength. Charlie Hebdo had never been more popular, as subscriptions skyrocketed. Its now-famous cover from the issue following the attacks was the season's must-have item, Parisians (including myself) queuing up day after day only to be told it was sold out. The next edition of Charlie Hebdo came out, then the next, then the next. Slowly, the city exhaled. When spring came, our fear had thawed. Parisians took to their parks, to their streets, to their terrasses. We didn't forget, but we let ourselves move on. We were all still Charlie, but we were also ourselves. Rosé season came and went, the long summer evenings melted into one another, until the sun set earlier and earlier, and autumn came suddenly. Still, it stayed mild, and we clung to our streets and to our last chance to sit en terrasse in the streets we loved. Until.
Until November 13th, when terror came back to Paris, so close to where it had struck before. The horrors of last January 7th were multiplied, expanded, deepened. There was more blood, more victims, more tears, less explanation. If the city had been shaken before, it seemed to collapse now. We thought in January that we'd seen the worst of it, and had congratulated ourselves for what a wonderful recovery we'd made, and it came back a hundred times stronger.
After last January, I wasn't scared falling asleep at night or walking in the street or enjoying the weekend or... living. After November, I was paralyzed with fear. We couldn't have guessed after January that less than a year later our mourning would be more profound, more personal, more widespread than before - but it was all those things, and more. The city felt drowned in grief.
The year 2015 was not an easy one in Paris. It was the year that saw, by my count, 142 innocent people murdered in its streets in the name of religion. It was the year we realized, between January and November, that our prayers had been futile, that the threat had not disappeared, that we were not safe. 2015 was the year that my mother urged me, "Just come home any time if you don't feel safe, okay?" in a quiet, rushed voice, betraying her worry. It was the year we submitted to pat-downs and bag checks, opening our coats to prove we weren't wearing suicide vests at the door to the supermarket. 2015 was the year that saw Paris brought to her knees, her light so close to being snuffed out that it shocked the world.
And yet, amid the darkness, 2015 was many other things. For me, it was a year that began with teary goodbyes, snotty hugs and kisses and a feeling of deep uncertainty about my future, later replaced with an exciting sureness. It was the year I turned 25, a quarter of a century, and celebrated with champagne and dancing and flowers and Gatsby-style dresses, and felt so happy I thought I might burst. It was the year I spent a weekend with my dad in Italy, savoring the pure joy of a perfectly-made five euro pizza in a tiny corner joint in Florence, taking in the view of the valleyed city from a neighboring hilltop, and appreciating my relationship with my dad more than ever. It was the year I experienced Dubai in all its bizarre glitz and glam, and the year I finally visited Istanbul, falling even more head-over-heels than I knew I would. It was the year I got to spend time getting to know my toddler cousin Meron, the year I welcomed her jumping on my bed despite my wine-induced headaches, the year I gave her piggy-backs and kisses and listened to Let It Go over and over and over again.
This was the year my parents and I pulled off a huge surprise, when I flew home for four days to surprise my little sister at her college graduation. A quick trip but so filled with happiness and laughter (besides the part where we had to move Megan out of her college dorm...) that I'm smiling thinking about it now. It was the year I was unceremoniously kicked out of the apartment I'd grown to love so much - which, happily, led to my little slice of heaven that feels, for the first time, fully my own. It was the year my family came to France for holidays, and we spent long days relaxing by the pool and drinking rosé and playing pétanque and traipsing around châteaux with the promise of wine tastings at the end. It was the year I started working at Euro Disney, a job I never thought I'd want but which is more than I ever could have asked for. It's the year I spent a whole month at home, getting to know New York more than ever before and living on my sister's couch, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and marveling at how different New York is from Paris, loving each difference more than the last.  It was the year that my sister called me in Paris from the middle of the night in Brooklyn to tell me that she was getting married, and from the happiness in her voice I knew she could not have chosen a better man. This was the year that my family celebrated Christmas in Dublin for the first time since we were small, and the year that my travel-suprise-extraordinaire mother was travel-surprised by the sister and niece she'd been longing to see. It was the year that Place de la République became a symbol of strength, and French flags appeared all over the city.
This was the year that so many good things happened, despite the bad. In some of the darkest days after the attacks, when fear was around every corner and we were surrounded by questions of Who and How and, most frequently, Why, it is thinking of these moments that kept me afloat. In November, a cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo posted a drawing on his Instagram that resonated with me enormously: 
Despite all the horror between this day last year, and today, we've kept playing music, kissing, living, drinking champagne, feeling joy. When Paris wakes up tomorrow, our hearts will be heavy thinking of last January 7th. We'll pause throughout our day, remembering one year ago, the day everything changed. We'll remember the wasted lives, the bloodshed, the terror, the tears, the lost innocence. But let's also remember the good. I'll be remembering the love I felt this year, the people I kissed and the jokes I shared and the laughter that threatened to split my sides. I'll be remembering that this year, like every year, the love was stronger than the hate. I don't know what 2016 will be like. Maybe it will be the year I finally run that marathon I keep thinking about, or the year I move back to the States, or the year I decide to stay in France. Or maybe not.

No matter what 2016 brings, as long as we have music and kisses and life, champagne and joy, I think it will be alright. Happy happy new year. Here's to living. xx


On This Year's Thanks

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

As many of us do this time of year, I've been spending the past few days feeling thankful.

On Saturday night, after much deliberation and many back-and-forths, I threw the housewarming party that I'd planned to host before terrorist attacks rocked our city. Though many parts of me felt conflicted about merry making in the face of tragedy, many other parts of me feel it's important to continue living, and loving, and laughing. I did my shopping on Friday and Saturday, and as the rain intensified on Saturday evening I started worrying that no one would show - Parisians, and Parisian expats, are real babies when it comes to rain.
But show up they did, with bottles and baguettes, chips and cheese, even a house plant and some serving dishes for my new space.  As these four walls filled with familiar faces, and as the wine flowed and the conversations got louder and wilder, I felt - for the first time since Friday the 13th - normal. I was surrounded by people that trudged through the rain to spend the evening together, people enjoying themselves in my new home, making memories that we'd laugh about the days after. I felt so glad, just then, that I didn't cancel. I'd spent the week quietly, spent time with myself making sense of the new world I found myself in, spent too much time in bed and shed too many tears. As our cheeks flushed and our laughter rang out, though, on Saturday night, I felt like I could breathe again, for a little while.
Things aren't back to normal, they won't ever be back to normal, but I feel that people are finding their new footing, shifting into their new lives, seeing the city in its darker light and accepting it. There are moments of small panic: last week when I had a drink with a friend on a sidewalk café terrasse, a shrill car alarm ran out and silenced the lively street instantly. We panic, we tense up, we look at each other, we laugh nervously. We sip our wine, we light our cigarettes, we ask for the menu, we relax. But still, first, we panic.
Tomorrow is the fourth Thanksgiving that I've been away from home, the fourth Thursday where I'll wake up missing the smell of turkey and the afternoon cocktails en famille, the after-dinner movie and the happy turkey-belly sleep. You get used to it, the distance, but it still feels a little bit hard at times like this. This year I'm not the only Cloughley girl far from home, though, as my little sister is studying at Trinity College (smartypants!) and so will spend her day tomorrow turkeyless too.
Reading my post from last year, I feel so different in so many ways. The post might read as upbeat, happy-go-lucky, confident, but I remember things differently. This time last year I felt so unsure, wanting to move home but wanting to stay here. Torn in a thousand directions but not even knowing which way I wanted to move. Starting out my master's degree but unsure where it would lead; wanting to arrive before I knew where I wanted to go. Now, this year, I feel more in control, and that's a really nice way to feel and I'm grateful to feel like I'm finally, and actually!, figuring things (aka "my life") out.
This year, just like last year, and the year before that, and before that, I've got so many things to be thankful for, big and small. I'm thankful for the Happy Thanksgiving card from my mother that I fished out of my mailbox when I stepped in out of the rain this evening; for the smoked gouda and sea-salted butter I'm eating on baguette as I type this; for a landlord that called me out of nowhere last week to announce he's replacing my windows so my apartment will be warmer and quieter; for a job that I'm proud to own and to have finally found (or gotten much closer to finding...) what I really want to do; for a family that, spread across three continents and seven thousand miles, manages to feel as close as ever; for friends that continue to remain close. I'm thankful for long bike rides along the Seine that numb my hands and make my nose drip; for how many things I continue to learn in school and elsewhere; for the trips I've taken this year; for the people I've loved and still love and will always love; for the things I've read that made me think long and hard.
I'm so happy that I have all these things in my life, and I'm so glad that I get to be grateful for them. More than all these things, though, more than all the wonderful people that brighten my life, all the things I've read and the places I've seen and the foods I've enjoyed and the memories I've made, on this cold and rainy Wednesday night I am just thankful to be alive. I am so, so, thankful to be alive. Nothing more, nothing less.

After class today, I rode my bike from school across the city, from the edge of the thirteenth to the Eiffel Tower in the seventh. It was rainy and cold, and true to form my nose ran and my eyes stung and my hands chapped, while inside my coat the temperature surpassed 1000 degrees (Celsius and Fahrenheit added together). Passing the Tuileries Gardens I saw the Ferris Wheel that's up for Christmas, usually white and shimmering but this year in bleu blanc rouge, like the French flag. Riding by the Assemblé Nationale, I saw its façade lit up in the same three colors, its French flags whipping in the wet wind.
I came to the Eiffel Tower, and felt, suddenly, a whole lot of emotion well up from some hidden place deep down. It was impressive, certainly; patriotic, inspirational, but some part of it felt so profoundly sad. It's lit up in blue white and red, too, another testament to the French spirit and to Parisian resilience, an image that's been projected all over the world and shared on thousands of screens - and I think it's a touching memorial. It's light and bright, it makes me think of watching fireworks on the 14th of July and of the Marseillaise and of so many things that I love about France. But, yet, there's something so terribly dark. I can't help but wish that it didn't even exist, that it didn't NEED to exist. As beautiful as it is, as patriotic or inspiring, it's still a memorial to all the people that should have been in Paris tonight, but aren't. It's a memorial to the people that would have been celebrating the end of the year with their loved ones soon, but won't be.

So, with all those people in mind, carrying them with me somewhere in my heart, this year I'm just thankful to be alive. I'm thankful that I get to have the good and the bad, the love and the anger, the pleasure and the pain of being alive. I'm thankful that I get continue to watch Paris rebuild itself, that I'll be part of the love that we'll need to go on. Even if tomorrow night I'll be at home by myself, nary a gravy boat in sight, at least I'll be here.

Squeeze your loved ones a little closer this year, my friends, and let's be very thankful that we all get to be here, together. xx


On Paris, Today

Posted on Monday, November 16, 2015

On Friday morning, I arrived at school on time feeling very proud of myself. I'd left my apartment spotless: swept the floors, watered the plants, wiped the bathtub, made the bed. I had bought a single branch of lilies last week whose scent I'd been enjoying all week, and I changed their water. They're kept in an empty wine botle, a bottle of bubbly from the Loire Valley, and I remember turning the bottle just so, so that the label faced outward before I closed the door behind me on Friday morning.
Suitcase in hand, I stepped into the car of the métro train, getting very intimate very quickly with the passengers already aboard. I closed my eyes and repeated "only four stops, only four stops, only four stops" as the sweat trickled down my neck and my feet got stepped on.
Arriving at school, I made a coffee in the stained Starbucks mug I keep in our classroom, and sat down for class. When it was over, I rushed to the train station, jumped on two trains, a plane, and a bus, and arrived in my aunt's town just outside of Dublin at around seven thirty that night.
I walked into the bar where my family was having a before-dinner drink, and they shrieked. They thought I was arriving at midnight, and here I was much earlier. My cousin Meron, the one I'd really come to see, in town from Dubai for a few days only, threw her arms around my legs and grinned up at me, leaving spitty kisses on my knees.
I had a pint of Guinness, marveled at how cool and smooth it tasted, held Meron on my knee and thought my heart would burst. I was so happy to see them, my three aunts, my two uncles, my two cousins, my sister.
We went home, we had more wine, we had snacks, we had more wine, we sat to the table. I don't remember where I saw it first.
I started getting messages that I couldn't understand, people asking me if I was alright. "Never been better!", I thought to myself, having another sip of wine. What was happening?
One of my closest friends, my neighbor growing up, messaged me. I read quickly, I saw "explosion" and "shooting" and "crazy" and I left the room, my sister seeing my face and following me. I sat on my aunt's stairs, tried to search the news. Six dead, it said. Six dead.
I got a message, "the shooting was in our restaurant," it said. A close girlfriend and I had gone to dinner at Le Petit Cambodge several months ago, sitting on the metal stools and burning our mouths on spring rolls and spicy broth. I remember that night so well, sitting in the glass-fronted restaurant, trendy lightbulbs hanging over our heads in the new très Brooklyn style. Gunmen, AK-47s, a bloodbath. Where I'd sat.
I went back to my aunt's table and ate with my family, replied to messages that I was fine, turned on the news, realized how bad it was. Six dead, around twenty, more than fifty, over one hundred dead. The Bataclan, so close to my weekend haunts. Streets I've walked down so many times, laughing and drinking, kissing, holding hands. Sidewalk terrasses where I've lingered with friends, crosswalks I've crossed a hundred times, people I've seen in the street, people who are like me, people my age.
As it all began to sank in, I began making phonecalls, replying to texts, sending texts. I "checked in" as alive on Facebook: the wonders of technology.
The next morning, the figures came out, the images appeared, the smartphone-shot videos. A man limping down the street, stepping over bodies. 
I turned off the news.
Saturday and Sunday were a blur, trying to make the most of our time together, dodging "how do you feel?" questions, trying to hold a squirming three-year-old as close as she'd let me. I knew I needed to be with my family, to let them love me, to push the images from my mind and focus on my own right-now reality, otherwise I'd fall apart. And so I did. I laughed, I gave piggy-backs, I drank champagne, I went for walks, I chatted. I tried to fill myself with positive things and good moments, to fight the horrors.
Last night I climbed into the AerLingus plane, heading back to Paris. As we landed, I cried. I watched the lights below, and felt my heart break again and again and again.
Everything is so quiet, here. The streets are quiet, people are quiet. My commute this morning took twice as long, because of an abandoned bag at a métro station. In the bus and in the train, people looked at each other, but everyone's eyes seem a little emptier. The heaviness is palpable.
I work at Disneyland. Our motto is "Faire rêver, c'est un métier!", making dreams come true is our job. Today and tomorrow, the park is closed. I can see Sleeping Beauty's castle from the meeting room, but I know it's deserted. Usually, I spend my days translating light-hearted articles about goings-on at the Park, about employees that have gone beyond their call of duty, about new princess events and chances for children to meet Mickey Mouse. Today, I typed "Horrific attacks... Senseless violence... National mourning...". 
The coworker who sits across from me usually flirts all day, wastes no opportunity to crack a joke because he loves to see us smile, he says. He's a broad-shouldered guy whose ringtone is Muse and who calls his wife several times a day. This morning, he hasn't smiled once. We had a minute of silence at noon, we gathered quietly in the meeting room. While the VP acknowledged that several people had lost close friends or families, we all studied the ground. During the minute of silence, I prayed I wouldn't cry - I cried afterwards, in the bathroom, instead.
As much as solidarity abounds today, and will in the days to come, grief is so personal. We stand together, but at the end of the day we go home, and reality hits. Last night I tossed and turned, my dreams woke me, I lay in cold sweats jumping at every sound from the street below.
For me, living in Paris is a lifelong dream. I remember when I began falling in love with the city, as a teenager, with its sights and smells, its people and its culture. Now, in my fourth year as a resident in this city, the dreams of my younger years are shifting. We can't afford to be romantic all the time, these days. The strangers in the street aren't all flâneurs and bohemians. Today, everything is tinged with fear.
The murderers that infiltrated the city of my dreams on Friday night were attacking our joy, our love, our youth. They went to areas where young people mill around, smoking cigarettes on street corners outside bars, meeting outside métro stations and greeting each other with kisses. Deranged men with machine guns went into the Bataclan, shooting blindly into a crowd of people brought together by the love of music. They killed so many people, letting their blood seep into the ground that had seen wonderful memories.
I'm scared, today. I was scared last night falling asleep, alone. When my neighbors moved in the stairwell I felt myself tense, wondering if it really was my neighbors. What's stopping someone from sneaking into my building? What's stopping someone from opening fire in the train I take every day? What's stopping someone bringing a bomb to the place that I work? People always say that letting yourself feel fear is letting the terrorists win, but I can't help it.
How can we reconcile these thoughts, these terrors, with the fact that everyday life must go on? I don't know the answer. I don't know how to remember the reality of last week, the happy coworkers and the wide-eyed crowds visiting Paris, in light of today's silent office and empty streets. The greyness of the Parisian winter is setting in, but this year it's heavier than ever. We thought we were scared in January, when Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were murdered in cold blood. I don't think I knew what fear was back then, though. Today, the attack is broader. The attack is on the ideals that this country is founded on, on freedom and equality and brotherhood. I don't know how to sort out these senseless murders. I don't know how to keep going on like nothing has happened.
I moved to Paris because I loved the way life is lived over here. Paris is my city, the place I feel most alive. My heart swells when I walk its streets, ride its buses, run in its parks. I don't have the words to describe how much I love this place - all my attempts are here on this blog, years' worth of entries all trying to find the right way to write my love letter to this city. My relationship with Paris is so personal, so intimate. I have learned so much about myself over the years I've spent here, I've fallen in love and healed broken hearts, I've made new friends and welcomed old ones. Today, though, all I can feel is the city's grief, as real as though it were a close friend's. I can see around every corner, in the face of every passer-by, I can see that I'm not the only one mourning the loss of something.
When I left my apartment on Friday morning, the world was in order. I was happy and free, looking forward to my carefree weekend. Over one hundred people were looking forward to their weekends, too. They didn't get to see the end of theirs.
When I came home last night, everything had shifted. I opened the door, smelled the lilies, but saw they had drooped over the weekend. My belongings hadn't moved, nothing concrete had happened to me personally, my friends are all safe, but something had shifted. I think the only thing to do now is try to get my feet back on the shifted ground. Try to love, and to laugh, try to live. I just don't think it's going to be very easy, for a long time. I'm thankful to have wonderful people in my life, but this is my own mourning. This is my own grief, that I have to carry myself. I have to work through what this attack has meant to me, and I have to see how I can begin to rebuild the tiny corner of my universe that has crumbled. I am so happy to be alive, I feel so lucky that I will see my friends again, I'll fall in love again, I'll live to see another Friday night. I can't forget how many people won't, though.

I'm sure that one day, things will seem normal again. Today, though, is not that day.   xx

/ edit: I picked up some roses on my way home and stopped by the Place de la République to pay my respects. The mood was heavy but the candles and flowers and pictures were beautiful. The crowd started singing the national anthem at one point... a song that's usually so triumphant and joyful, this rendition sounded so disheartened and downtrodden. Click here for video.