I’m going to Paris tomorrow.
Typing the sentence above, reading the sentence above, and embracing the reality of the sentence above are nothing short of astonishing. Like many accomplishments before it, traveling overseas seemed wholly inaccessible… before I found a way to access it. And, like many accomplishments before it, traveling overseas this first time makes me entirely confident that this experience won’t be isolated. It’s a good thing; travel and I have a longstanding affinity.
Even when I was little, my skin prickled at the prospect of living in (not just visiting, mind you) foreign nations. I remember, for instance, being singularly enthralled with Samoa for a while during middle school. I was convinced I’d move there after college graduation, live in a solar-paneled house and marry some hulking brown, curly-haired “brother.” I also dreamed of England where, I was certain, I’d inhabit a castle, and Italy where, I was certain, everything would seem unyieldingly cerulean (the sky, the water, the architecture). For a while, I thought of Switzerland, until I read James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village.” Heh.
Ironically, Paris wasn’t really on my radar. I thought it was too touristy for the type of girl I wanted to be–far more expatriate than visiting outsider. Whenever I considered France, I thought of Cannes and Nice (not yet realizing that these, too, were not exactly the “hidden homelands” of the country).
By the time I finished college, though, with tens of thousands of college loan debt nipping at my heels (debt that made studying abroad impossible), no job prospects to speak of, and a looming family-home eviction, the wind and whimsy were knocked right out of my sails. Like most adults, I got really caught up in earning and spending. Like slightly fewer adults, I also pretty much wrecked my credit by not establishing enough of it and knotting up what little I had.
My dreams of intercontinental jaunts dwindled during the first half of my twenties. There were whole years when I couldn’t seem to imagine a life beyond the borders of Baltimore anymore. And I cried more during those years than I ever have.
Then, the spell broke and I moved to New York, the first of the aforementioned unlikely accomplishments. I got a grad degree–another dream deferred, then regenerated.
I started to think, as I saved a nice lump of money living with roommates, that this leaving the country thing might just be doable, after all.
But I was a little more concerned with getting a job that constituted the tens of thousands more in college loan debt I was acquiring in tandem with that extra degree.
Strangely, I wound up here. In Grand Rapids. Working part-time, sleeping on relatives’ spare-room convertible couch. Of all my life’s circumstances, this is the one within which leaving the country would seem least feasible.
Seriously, even if a seven-foot angel had materialized in a cloud of shimmering dust and told me that I wouldn’t get to leave the country until I didn’t have a place of my own to live and I earned what amounts to above-average part-time wages with no health benefits, I wouldn’t have believed it. I just… wouldn’t’ve.
But here we are.
This Sunday, I’ll be taking two walking tours* of “Black Paris.” I will see where Baldwin spent the final years of his life, where Josephine Baker was buried, where Richard Wright and Chester Himes wrote some of the most popular works.
On Monday or Tuesday? I’ll go to Pere Lachaise cemetery and spend hours searching for the graves of dozens of famed authors.
I’m going to see all that kitschy, must-see stuff like the Eiffel and the Louvre.
I am so doing a happy dance right now. I should upload it (on the little videocamera thing I bought for the journey), just to prove it. A virtual pinch, if you will.
… said all this to say: if you find that your dreams–any of them are deferred, make sure they don’t stay that way.
I’ll see you soon.
* Please. Click the embedded link. I’ve had the loveliest experience with this company and I haven’t even left yet! I highly recommend them, tourist site unseen.
(Click the Baldwin link, too. “Stranger in the Village” is a really great essay.)