September was a rush, Ben and I were back and forth from Paris to celebrate the publication of my first book, My Paris Market Cookbook, which was released on September 15th. With the help of our friends Mardi and Nichole of the Parisites, we organized a party to celebrate the book's entry into the world and the people that made My Paris Market Cookbook possible. Ben prepared the food, helping me adapt recipes from the book to feed a crowd. Thierry from the Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or donated a keg of beer and our winemaker friends Noëlla and Laurent gave us magnums of wine. We were ready for a good time.
Ben was a champ and took care of all the pre-party prep so I could go back to my apartment and get ready an hour before the guests were supposed to arrive. It must've been raining, or maybe I had a lot of things to carry, because instead of riding a bike back to the bar, I took the metro to La Chambre Noire, which hosting the party. I remember frantically devouring Rona Jaffe's book The Best of Everything during the metro ride back. I only had a page or two left when I got to my stop, so I found a corner of the République metro station and finished the this story of determined women making lives for themselves in the city.
I left the metro station and made my way to the bar to celebrate the life I had made for myself in the city. The evening was perfect, I was surrounded by friends and people who supported me and the book. It made it hard to realize I would be leaving the city behind- my official move-out date was now looming as I prepared to leave My Paris Apartment. The October 4th date to hand over the keys would come quickly and with it the end of my Parisian life.
I think we've all had an apartment like My Paris Apartment. An apartment that's not just the place we live but something much more important than that. These apartments are even more precious to women, for whom a space of their own secures independence, safety, and freedom from comprise. These apartments represent a victory and a rite of passage in a lady's life in a big city. They represent perseverance, courage, and victory after a long list of horrible accommodations survived and left behind. Especially when you live far away from your family, when having a space of your own means even more because you aren't from here.
In her book All the Single Ladies Rebecca Traister writes about the first apartment she had to herself in New York. “My flat was small and not fancy, but I loved every inch of it. I used to have nightmares about having accidentally given up that apartment; in the dreams, I'd be looking into it through its big windows, desperate to get back in.”
I loved every square meter of My Paris Apartment. The big bathtub where my showers sometimes turned into impulsive baths. The wall I painted a shade of green called “So British”. The hardwood floors. The tiny bedroom with a view of Paris rooftops. My photos and prints and memories on the wall.
I loved that everything was there because I put it there. My fridge filled with fresh herbs and veggies from my farmer at my local market. I even loved cleaning my apartment because it was mine and I was proud of it and wanted to take care of it. It made me happy to know that my apartment was waiting for me at the end of each day, the leaves on the tree outside my Bd. de Barbès facing window may have changed with the seasons, but my apartment always felt the same. It felt like home.
For at least 40 years, my mom has had a red velvet fainting couch in storage because of what it means to her- it was the first piece of furniture she bought, it was in the home she lived in on her own, it's hers. My older sister excitedly sends me photos of her apartment, most recently of her guest bedroom, freshly painted blue. That house is hers. One of my best friends will still on occasion talk about her “cherry apartment” that she had over a decade ago in Los Angeles, with a red formica table and bright red cherry tones in the kitchen. That was Her Los Angeles Apartment.
I identify with that pride and love for these possessions and places. Whenever I'm watching a show with female protagonists I always stress during break up scenes- will she get to keep her apartment??? You can't imagine how difficult it is for me to get through a season of Girls.
Before living in My Paris Apartment I lived in: a two month sublet in the 11th with French people I struggled to communicate with in French, a disastrous loft sublet in the 4th in which the crazy owner unexpectedly came back to live with my roommates and I, a tiny studio in the 9th where the neighbor slipped marijuana cigarettes under my door (that apartment was pretty great, actually), an all around horrible stint in an apartment in the 15th arrondissement with a bad boyfriend, an illegal sublet managed by a sketchy dude in the 9th, and a dingy apartment on the outskirts of the 18th on the worst metro line ever- the dreaded line 13.
Then I got my apartment, in the heart of the 18th arrondissement. The dinner party apartment, the party party apartment, the sing-Céline-Dion-at-the-top-of-your-lungs apartment, the sleepover apartment, the movie night apartment. It was a home that made people feel at home and it's where I got to fall asleep every night and wake up every morning.
It's hard to give up something you've worked hard for. Even if you know it's time to move on. I knew moving was the right step forward- my relationship with Ben was a source of happiness and revelations. Through him I was learning what a healthy relationship felt like. Instead of feeling left out when I saw my friends being supported by their partners- something I didn't get in my marriage- now I was being supported and consoled and doted on and loved. I had found the person that I wish everyone would find- someone capable of love, understanding, and passion. Someone who was excited to make plans with me, someone who I was excited to make plans with.
I packed up my boxes and got ready to move. My move felt different from Ben's. Ben was ready to leave Nantes behind. I was ready, too- but not with the same leave-it-all-behind mentality. I think our two moves could be summed up by our moving boxes. Ben packed up his worldly possessions in boxes that read “démanager seul” (move alone) while my moving boxes promised “des bras de plus” (an extra set of arms). Ben was leaving behind 17 years and his best friend in Nantes, but also a few burnt bridges and a slightly bad taste in his mouth. I was leaving behind my dream city and a large network of friends. I would miss all those extra sets of arms.
We moved into our house just in time for walnut season. We could leave baskets underneath the branches of the walnut tree in our backyard and come back to find them filled. I started to understand the meaning of the word “bountiful”. We had more walnuts than we knew what to do with. I included them in every recipe I could think of and we shared them with our friends. It felt like the walnuts would never end, but we were new at living in the countryside- where everything has its season and things disappear as soon as you get used to them.
Learning to say good-bye isn't a lesson learned exclusively in the countryside, but the more I live here, the more I realize that nature is great at helping us understand how to transition.
I still think about My Paris Apartment sometimes. It's been six months since I let it go and it's slowly started to slip my mind, but I do sometimes have dreams similar to Traister's- in them I don't accidentally give up my apartment, in my dreams I discover that I still have my apartment, for just one more day.