This is the second of a 3-part series on author Tracy M. King-Sanchez’s writing life in Paris. Read Part 1 here.
I was 42 years old the first time I traveled outside the US. In addition to my fear of everything that exists, money and time kept me anchored. Travel is not cheap, and idling along the streets of a foreign land calls for a number of resources.
This past December marked twenty years I’ve been married to my college sweetheart. Just before
graduation, we discovered I was pregnant. In the Fall, he was to begin medical school, and I was to start my Master’s in Teaching. Our main sources of income those first two years were Public Assistance and WIC. I owe part of my creativity to crafting meals from Kix cereal, cans of Juicy Juice, and a never-ending supply of peanut butter. After finishing my Masters, I struggled to pay bills through various jobs. We dodged eviction notices, creditors, roaches at our first apartment, mice at the second. Two years – and another baby – later, I finally landed a teaching position, which I supplemented with side gigs, while the hubby completed medical school and, then, residency. So after years of sacrificing, and preparing, and, of course, many luck-tainted, wise choices, I found myself in a position that afforded me the time and money to travel.
Paris is expensive, but, thankfully, I knew how to stretch a Euro. A croissant – 1 to 2 Euros. Those sandwiches so many teeny tiny Parisian women walk down the street eating – 5 to 7 Euros. And there is nothing more satisfying than Boucherie roasted chicken with potatoes – a 7 to 10 Euro meal that could span three days with a little creativity and curry powder. I learned which supermarkets had the best prices, how to order just one piece of meat from the butcher, and which restaurants offered daily specials. Paris took me back to my days of budgeting on a dream.
While the itinerary for most tourists are the coveted landmarks, I didn’t see the inside of the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, or walk the famed Champs-Elysees until day 31, when the hubby arrived and I led him on a cyclonic, two-day tour of Paris. Instead, I spent 30 solitary days roaming, getting lost, and pushing aside Fear, who had no interest in taking a vacation. Crossing the bridge at Pont de la Tournelle on the Ile St. Louis. Bracing my muscles for the uphill walk along Rue du Cardinal Lemonie, with its odd pairing of classic residential and modern commercial. Being cosseted by the fortressed walls of learning on Rue Clovis. Zig zagging in and out of streets whose names I struggle to pronounce, much less remember, only to be besieged by the overwhelming elegance of Galerie Colbert. Hopscotching in and out of Passages: Des Panaromas, Choiseul, Verdeau, Vivienne and Jouffroy. Books, tea rooms, vintage clothing, artisan jewelry and a wax museum to assault my fears.
Take Rue de Four to Rue Sevres, you arrive at Le Bon Marche, the playground for escutcheoned
aristocracy. Rue de Rivoli to Rue de Sevigne brings you to the Musee Carnavalet, within whose mansions unfold the history of the city. Rue de Turenne to Place de Vosages, a geometrical and architectural thing of beauty, where the ghost of Victor Hugo still stands watch. The long stretch on Boulevard de Henri IV ends at the Bastille, an epicenter of a Revolution. Thirty-four days spent exploring the city by foot, minus the three times I broke down and took the Metro.
While I’ve lived in New York my entire life, I couldn’t find my way out of a Manhattan paper bag, whereas the center of Paris contains my embedded footprints – for eternity. I have a connection with Paris, born out of confusion and isolation. I fell in love with the impenetrable conversations overheard on my daily walks. I fell in love with the isolation of the crowded streets and markets. I fell in love with the woman from my favorite Boulangerie, who refused to smile as she sternly corrected my horrific French. I fell in love with the similarities I discovered between Parisians and New Yorkers. The misunderstood rudeness. The dismissive nature. The hustle and bustle. The overpriced merchandise and apartments. The segregated, but not really, neighborhoods. The issues of immigration, and gentrification, and poverty, and race, and religion, and gender, veiled in the sheer beauty of a nostalgic city because people are people no matter how far you travel. But the thing I fell in love with the most was my American Privilege. Say what?
To quote Kendrick Lamar, “Loving you is complicated”. In a place purporting not to see or officially recognize race, I could selectively choose to toss aside my blackness. Or could I? How does one erase an identity permanently affixed to an ever-evolving history of social injustice? Where the color of your skin affords or denies you access? Could I have wrapped myself in the cloak of white male privilege and basked in this new form of invisibility? Ignorance? Denial? Fear? “Loving you is complicated.”
For years, black artists have sought refuge in Paris. A city that celebrates creativity and intellectual thought. Paris gave me back my voice. It gave me the freedom to create without demanding anything more than my full cooperation. But it also gave me a firsthand glimpse into privilege. A privilege fully equipped with rights, advantages, exemptions and blinders. However, I’ve always preferred to dream whilst fully awake.
Tracy M. King-Sanchez is a writer and filmmaker. Follow her on Twitter at @tkingsanchez.