In 2010, I realized I needed to get away from New York City.
I had just ended a relationship, and every inch of my apartment was a reminder of it, as were the streets in my neighborhood, the subway, the pizza shops, the sounds of the Lower East Side—everything. I knew if I was going to survive the heartache, I had to head out of town and recoup in a place completely foreign to me. I chose Paris.
I had never gone to Europe alone. Actually, up until that point I had never traveled anywhere by myself. On a whim one afternoon, I pulled up apartment swaps on Craigslist. When I saw that a woman was looking to exchange her flat in the Parisian district of le Marais for an apartment in the East Village, I emailed her. Within the hour, I had cashed in my frequent flier miles and agreed to do the swap for the month of January and part of February.
Looking back, it wasn’t the most rational decision to make. I really didn’t think it through; I just wanted out of New York City and I wanted it sooner than later. However, in the words of Edith Piaf, “Non, je ne regrette rien.”
There’s Only One Paris
The first time I arrived in Paris I felt like I was in a dream. I couldn’t believe that I had come to the city all alone with nothing but an email agreement with a stranger whom I found on Craigslist. It wasn’t until I got to the flat that reality set in. I had never cried so hard from happiness in my entire life.
The woman had warned me that she had just bought the place, and outside of Wi-Fi and a mattress on the floor, there wasn’t much else. It was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a more romantic situation, and I fell asleep to the piano playing of the composer next door, waking to the bells of Notre Dame. I was in my element.
I immediately took to the streets without a map. I longed to get lost in this city that I would eventually consider my second home. I walked everywhere, and when I did lose my direction—as Paris is not a grid like the New York streets that I’m used to—I asked locals how to get back on my way again. I had taken French for years and didn’t realize how much I was capable of recalling until I was forced to use it—in a very broken dialect, of course.
I sat in coffee shops, ate too many croissants, drank red wine with strangers who embraced my New York status, and smoked French cigarettes in the window of my flat above a trendy art gallery. I was home; I was certain I could stay there forever.