I'm back in LA after a quick 10-day jaunt around Europe. We had a 2-day stint in Berlin, and on my return trip I had a 12-hour layover in Stockholm, but for the most part we wiled away the hours exploring and eating our way through Paris.
Paris was just as I remember it - picturesque and scenic, a city whose skyline looks stunning from any angle. It's a city that's difficult not to romanticize. When I think of Paris, I think of couples strolling hand-in-hand along cobblestone streets at night, white shuttered windows leading out to wrought iron balconies, and picnic blankets covered in charcuterie, cheese, and wine. On the RER train from Charles de Gaulle Airport into the city, an accordion player boarded and performed a song from Amélie's soundtrack, a quintessential welcome to Paris if there ever was one.
I'll admit though - while I love to travel, traveling internationally always gives me a little anxiety. Fear creeps into my thoughts before I step foot into any new city - what if I get lost? What if I can't communicate with the locals? What if I'm an easy target, an obvious outsider and fumbling tourist? On my first trip to Paris I didn't even go out late at night, because I was young and alone and afraid that I wouldn't be able to get home safely if I wandered too far and stayed out too late.
But this is the beauty and the importance of traveling, for it's when we are removed from our comfort zones and placed into unfamiliar situations that our true characters are revealed. And it's through how we choose to deal with these situations that our characters are built.
After taking a day to get over my initial discomfort, we settled easily into life in Paris. We drank wine with every meal, had our fill of steak frites, picnicked along the Seine while watching the sunset sink into the horizon, and spent hours wandering through narrow alleyways, soaking up the sights and sounds of Paris at night. I can appreciate the slow satisfaction of life in Paris, the way Parisians take the time to enjoy each other's company, to admire the beauty around them, and to savor every morsel of food, every drop of wine. I can still feel the crunch of buttery croissants between my fingers, can still taste the sticky sweetness of Ladurée cakes and pastries on my tongue.
One night we took a cab from Le Relais de l'Entrecôte to Le Comptoir Général, a bar / restaurant / club / living museum with French African influences. We arrived around 12:30am and they were closing up the line for the night, but a Frenchman took notice of us, three confused looking Asian girls and their Chilean companion, and claimed us as his friends so the doorman would let us in. Inside the air was thick with the heat of bodies pressed against other bodies. We enjoyed the music, let our bodies sway to the beat, and threw back some very stiff cocktails as 90s hip-hop blared on the speakers.
We wandered home sometime after 2am, my feet sore from a full day of walking, and in my drunken stupor I distinctly remember thinking - god this city is so fucking beautiful, how could I have ever been anxious about coming here? How could I have risked letting fear get in the way of this experience? Of any experience?
Now that I'm back home I'm back to the grind, settling into a place in my life I've never quite been before. I'm single - like, really single - for the first time in 10 years, and I'm exploring new career opportunities. It's scary and sometimes daunting - the prospect of navigating uncharted life territories - but I'm leaning into the discomfort, because I know that right now I'm laying the groundwork for what the rest of my life will look like. I know I'll fall in love again. I know that I'm working towards a career that's more in line with my passions and interests. And the discomfort I feel now, faced with the unknown trajectory of the life that lies ahead of me, will dissipate and make room for more personal growth.
Traveling, like yoga, allows me to recenter myself and find focus on what's truly important to me. To be honest, I needed to escape my life a little bit after my last breakup - eat, pray, love and all that - but I've been doing well recently. I'm reminding myself that it's ok to be afraid of the unknown, and to be alone, to have only myself to lean on. For years I've held space for someone else, making life decisions in consideration of how someone else's life would fit into those decisions, but I'm now at a point where any decision I make is for me, just me.
I welcome these new challenges with the same confidence I carry with me elsewhere in my life - the same self-assuredness that everything will turn out as they should in the end.