3 DEGREES CELSIUS
It was 3 degrees Celsius as I found a place to sit on a small brick wall just under a street lamp about a half a mile away from my friends’ flat in a quiet part of Camden.
I opted out of finding a warm coffee shop where I could write in my journal. Rather I found content in secluding myself away from the crowds on this brick wall instead. An attempt to take the cap off of my ballpoint pen was an epic challenge while wearing my warm cotton gloves so I accepted defeat and took off my protective covering in order to write down what I needed to tell myself. Age 24, I had just moved to London to be with my friend and to escape what felt like, at the time, the perils of America. What I knew then was that I didn’t want to rely on a relationship with a man, I didn’t want to work aimlessly for a paycheck and I didn’t want let my life pass by without asking questions. What I wanted was to stand on my own carving out a new path for myself that couldn’t have been guided by any one or any text book. That night what I told myself was that I am the only one in which I can rely. I am truly on my own.
I didn’t have a plan when I moved to England. I didn’t have a visa and I had hardly any money.
Looking back at my younger self this was probably the most irresponsible thing I’ve done in my life yet. Looking back at myself this has been one of the best ventures I’ve experienced. I’ve always had faith that I’d land on my feet. That money will come and money will go. For myself, a life of success and value is a life of knowledge and experience.
Living with my friend in London was filled with endless laughter, conversations about our purpose, our experiences, our desires and what it means to have a life well lived. I live for these opportunities. So when my time approached the end of my stay in London, my insatiable screamed not to go back to the United States. I sent countless emails to apartment owners all over Europe looking for an apartment to rent. Barcelona, Paris, Brussels, Lisbon, Florence, Nice and Rome – Only one email was answered with an available apartment lying within the heart of Paris.
An early and cold morning, my friend drove me to the Luton airport and I hopped on a quick flight to Paris. It was a Tuesday morning when I arrived to the city. I was to meet my new landlord by 10am and having already been able to purchase a Metro pass to get myself closer to my new place I was confident I would have enough time to walk from my stop. But I didn’t calculate into my time all of the wrong turns I would make navigating myself through the snail shell shaped streets not realizing that I come from the land of perpendicular and parallel structured city plans. Carrying a backpack and a rolling suitcase I became so confused about my surroundings and so I decided to signal for a taxi. All of the cabs were taken as it was an early Tuesday morning and the city was hustling to get to work. I couldn’t speak French and so asking for help was nearly impossible not to mention embarrassing. I passed by a hotel and thought, “they have to speak English in here. I hope they can call a taxi for me.” The woman at the front desk greeted me with a smile, spoke English and was able to call for a taxi. I didn’t care that I subconsciously felt her pity me, what mattered was to arrive on time. Five minutes had gone by before my taxi pulled up and took me about ten minutes down the road. Driving through the Eighteenth District in Paris I had no idea that I was about to live in one of the best parts of the city. As we drove, the buildings became quintessential to how I had always pictured Paris. I kept hoping that he would park any minute and he did. A little voice inside my head said, “Are you kidding me? This is a dream!” As I stepped out of my taxi I saw my landlord across the small cobblestone street standing in front of the door to the apartment building. She smiled and then shouted, “Watch out for the dog poop, it’s right in front of you.” I thanked her and managed to walk around it. She showed me the apartment which took about ten minutes to do so since it was approximately only 16 square meters which translates to 172 square feet. The couch pulled out into a bed and the little window in the nook allowed for me to see the beautiful grey sky outside. The shower was efficient but seemed problematic in the body logistics you’d have if you dropped the soap. The kitchen had a cook top, a mini refrigerator and a jar of Nutella sitting on the shelf. It was cute. It was small. It was perfect.
After my landlord left I had the entire day to myself. So I decided to walk around the area and get accustomed to my new surroundings. It was colder in Paris than it had been in London so my coat and gloves were a must. But soon after walking up the steep hills of what I learned is Montmartre, I had to take them off. I was so intrigued by the steps that seemed to lead the pathway into the sky. I had to see what was found at the top. Climbing each step it was impossible not to be slightly out of breath. As I approached the top, the bright white omnipotent Sacre Coeur contrasted so magnificently against the grey sky. Needing deep breaths after climbing those stairs but having my breath taken away at this sight is a moment I will never forget. I looked to my left and saw the entire city of Paris below me. I was stunned. I walked over to the side rail and admired rooftop after rooftop all the way into the distance where the grey mist took the rest of the city out of sight. “I can’t believe this is my life now.” I remember thinking to myself. If this is what I find being completely on my own then I’m doing something right.
It was pure luck finding an apartment in Paris because I had a friend living in the city as well. She was in the process of gaining her Masters Degree in Business and had been living and working in Paris. Right before I had left London to live in Paris I had reached out to her and we planned to see each other once I made the move. She invited me to meet her and her friends for some drinks on Friday night after she had finished work. I was so impressed with myself. Not only had I made a move to one of the most exciting cities in the world but I had already found plans to grab drinks by the weekend. Tall boots, dark jeans and a black long laced blouse I had found at a thrift shop in London I was ready to meet my new friends. I had spent the week learning the transit system and the quick pace of the city. Walking to the nearest Metro I felt like the city was already my home. As I entered where I would hop on the Metro, I saw that the train had been delayed by about seven minutes for some reason and the crowd of people began filling the platform. No one really spoke to each other while waiting and you could tell by the expressions on everyone's faces that they were getting impatient. Finally the train pulled up and the crowd of people flooded into every car this train had to offer. I managed to sneak on at this time and packed like sardines in this train none of us wanted to make eye contact for sake of avoiding an awkward situation. Unfortunately I wasn’t successful with this task as I accidentally made direct eye contact with the man who stood eye level with me about a foot in front of my face. He smiled at me and looked strangely mischievous. Balding and probably twice my age I felt a little bit uncomfortable and so I looked down at the floor and thought just keep your glance down until you can get off of this over crowded train. And just as I turned my glance downward, “Oh my gosh! Is that his penis!? What am I supposed to do about this? How many more stops do I have?” If I had known French at that time I would’ve shouted “Oh putain!” I decided that it was best that I kept my eyes glued to the ceiling of this Metro car instead.
Leaving the station and about to walk up the stairs near the bar, I saw my old friend standing at the top of the Metro exit holding an umbrella smiling at me. It was so nice to see her again and just as the city felt like home to me already I felt it was just yesterday that I had seen her. The night was great and her friends welcomed me so warmly.
On my way back home it was pretty late and the Metro was the complete opposite as earlier that evening. The cars were sparse with people and it was quiet. I listened to music as I passed each stop waiting for my exit. Chateau Rouge was where I needed to get off. As I stepped out onto the platform close to around 2am I made a great effort not to walk through the large pool of blood that had yet to be cleaned.. ah… I don’t know… from what ever happened there not too long ago. Almost back to my perfect little apartment the night was dark with hues of yellow from the lamps that lined the streets. It was quiet walking down Rue Poulet – a street with store after store of hair extensions and wigs. Perhaps it was a little bit dangerous walking home alone so late at night. And perhaps that’s what made it a little too perfect for me. This city was everything I was wanting and more.
After the excitement of my honeymoon week of living in Paris expired real life caught up with me and seeing my money quickly vanish I knew I had to find a job. I set out everyday going from hostel to hostel in hopes of finding work. Each place told me to come back in the summer when business would pick up. But morning after morning I relentlessly kept trying to find work. Not having a visa and only speaking English I found this was nearly impossible. On a particular morning, I remember admiring the young professionals getting on and getting off the Metro holding their brief cases, their school books and sometimes what looked like large rolled architecture plans underneath their arms. I dreamt of a day when I had a reason to be in a hurry. I dreamt of a life living with structure and a job I needed to get to on time.
It must be fulfilling having a career to manage. As a vagabond bohemian, this concept became exotic and alluring.
I started to imagine what my life would be like having a job to go to every day. Sparking up conversation at the coffee machine with co-workers asking them how their sons little league game played out the previous weekend – it seemed like a novel idea. I tucked this fictitious idea into the back pocket of my future dreams and stayed focused on my present.
Since I had met my friends’ friends they became the essential asset I had while figuring out my new life. They had the great idea of me finding a language school that would accept me into a year long program in order for me to obtain my student visa. From there I could find a job easily. Using my return flight home I traveled back to Los Angeles where I stayed with my parents waiting about three weeks until I obtained my French visa. Standby flights got me back to Paris cheaply and I could then live my life going to school and working as an Au Pair. The months that followed were nothing but exciting and filled with endless adventures. Finding trouble in Amsterdam, soaking up sun rays during trips to Marseille, celebrating Bastille Day with friends in Nice, partying all night in Paris until the sun greeted us walking along the rivers path and meeting one of my best friends still to this day my life felt like a dream living within a reality.
I will always cherish the memories I made while living with my old friend in London and the new friends I found in Paris. And from time to time when I’m standing in the kitchen making coffee asking my coworkers how their weekend was I can’t help but think to myself that this too is something I once desired. If it’s the dream to carelessly travel the world to find yourself and to find new desires then do it. And if it then becomes the desire to aim for a life of stability and security then go do that after.
There is so much to this life to be discovered. But the only way we will ever be able to discover is by doing.
I think back to myself the night that I wrote in my journal shivering on the small brick wall when it was 3 degrees Celsius. It’s honorable that I once thought I could do it all on my own. But that’s not the reality. The truth is we can’t get through this life without the help from others. What happens when we allow the love we find to guide us towards the answers? What happens when we let people in and accept that we can’t always do it alone? I do want love to guide me. I do need support from my friends. I won’t always find the answers purely on my own. In a way I am on my own. I have been for a really long time but my life is so rich from all of the people I have found and loved along the way. This is truly everything I’ve ever wanted and more.