This is the first in a 3-part series on the author’s writing life in Paris
On October 14, 2012, I stepped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport to embark on the most preposterous and cliched goal a writer could have: to spend my days roaming the streets of Paris in order to reawaken my muse.
Let me back track a bit. There are some things you need to know about me. One, I’m a scaredy cat. Two, I’m a scaredy cat. And three, everything scares me shitless. The dark, basements, insects, spiders, spiders, planes, germs, strange people, familiar people, family, my shadow, my shadow’s shadow, and hugs from strange friends, family and my shadow. So when I decided that I was going to get on a plane and travel all the way to beautiful Paris, where I knew not a single soul and, get this, didn’t speak a lick of French, well, it should have simply been a moment of crazy thinking.
There is something about being a mother that makes me abandon fear for the cape of courage. My children have always served as a source of inspiration and motivation. So when my daughter announces she’ll be spending her junior year of college at Oxford University though desperately trying to hide her anxiety of being so far away, I push aside my fear of planes, and germs, and strange people and book a flight to Paris, just in case she needs to travel two hours for a hug. Arriving at my Parisian flat, I walk a dark and musty corridor (it took me two weeks to finally locate that light switch), climb a rickety set of spiraled stairs three flights, enter a 325 square-foot space where, thanks to airbnb, countless others have slept, ate and crapped, to spend the next 30 days completely alone. It is there I turn to face Fear, letting him know it was time he took a long vacation.
Now, the other thing you should know about me is that fear has turned me into the paranoid, get off of my lawn- government conspiracy-peeping through drawn curtains-type of looney. Therefore, before arriving to Paris, I clicked open Google Maps, located my soon-to-be Parisian flat and took that yellow little man on a stalk throughout the neighborhood. At first, I simply stalked the surrounding blocks, checking out the famous Berthillion, whose salted caramel I’d soon learn is simply sinful, and Diwali, where the sales clerks eventually gave me frequent lessons on different ways in which to wear scarves; next the Creperie, whose window provided late night snacks of banana and Nutella crepes; and finally L’Ilot Vache, one of many restaurants on a three-blocks wide, floating oasis, where I would discover the best Beef Bourguignon in the world.
After taking these virtual, but very real, streets to heart, mind and soul, I began venturing a little further out. My Google man set strides for the left bank, where the Marais indeed became my hangout spot on Sundays when most of Paris shut down. He ventured to the right bank, where the Pantheon held my inspirational muse, Alexandre Dumas, and to Les Invalides, where another little man soon guided me on a continuous exploration of French military history. I studied the map, and streets, and locations, hoping intense preparation would keep paranoia at bay.
Leaving my flat that first day, my feet took to familiar routes. While the sounds and smells were foreign and strange, the pictures that had formed in my mind’s eye immediately leapt to life. Now, most people will tell you about the magic, beauty and romance of Paris. Okay, we get that. But by the end of the second week, that magical perfume wears off, and what stands before you is Paris in all her nakedness. Those who’ve lived most their lives in NYC will understand that feeling of over-inflated hype. I’ve never been big on nostalgia. I’m Brooklyn born and bred. Cynicism is part of my DNA.
However, I spent 30 amazing days getting lost in the streets of Paris; struggling to communicate my needs, wants and desires; sitting alone in restaurants and cafes where, at first, words failed to spill forth, but as the days wore on and the loneliness grew familiar, I began to write, write, write.
Now, the other thing you should know about me is that I’m black. Some might say, “And?” While others might ask, “Girl, a month?! What about your hair?” I knew of those famous black artists who’d found a home in Paris. A place where they felt welcomed and, maybe even, nurtured. However, I wouldn’t dare compare myself to those Greats. I didn’t go to Paris to find a home. I went as a challenge, a way to conquer my fears and step outside of my comfort zone. And during this writer’s journey, I made the most important rediscovery — my voice.
Tracy M. King-Sanchez is a writer and filmmaker. Follow her on Twitter at @tkingsanchez.