Halfway through. I was only halfway through my semester abroad in Paris when I was told to get back to the United States as quickly as possible, as cases of the coronavirus slowly began to increase daily by the tens and then by the hundreds in France. Countries started to close their borders, flights were canceled, foreigners were barred from entering the States, schools across the nation closed their doors and on my last day in Paris, all “nonessential” public places did so as well.
I was being forced to pack my bags during what was supposed to be my spring break, leaving behind the city and the people I was just beginning to form truly meaningful relationships with. Being upset was an understatement. On top of having to go home, as I mentioned before, all nonessential public locations in France were closed for my last day in Paris - this included restaurants, stores, bars, museums, everything besides a handful of pharmacies, grocery stores, and of course, bakeries (a kind of funny silver lining and oh so French) were closed for business for who knows how long. So not only was I leaving, but I wasn’t able to spend my last day going to my favorite places, shopping for last-minute souvenirs for friends and family, or going to a few of the restaurants and museums I hadn’t been able to check off my list quite yet.
However, I simply could not spend my last day sitting in my apartment, packing and moping. My roommate and I had to find something to send us off right, so we decided to just walk. We decided we were done with the public transportation of Paris, needing to soak in as much of its beautiful streets as possible before we weren’t able to see them anymore. So that’s what we did - we walked. We walked completely across town to a bakery my roommate had found earlier that weekend and that happened to be one of the only places open in the city.
Luckily, our walk was greeted with one of the most beautiful days I have experienced in Paris all semester - a much-needed break from the near-constant cold, wind, and rain of the past few weeks. The sun was out and shining, warming up the streets and the Parisians, causing people to shed the coats that are a constant and necessary fashion staple in the city at this time of year. While walking we even spotted a few exposed legs (a true rarity in Paris) as people ventured out of their apartments in dresses and shorts to battle their cabin fever and enjoy the beautiful day.
Walking the streets was truly strange, as we probably could have counted the open storefronts we saw on our hour and a half walk on two hands. Places that we knew to be constantly and sometimes annoyingly crowded were suddenly peaceful and quiet. This was emphasized by the fact that it was Sunday, a day where most stores are closed anyway and a day where some roads are even closed off to cars and reserved for pedestrians only.
The combination of partial road closures, near-total business closures, and undeniably beautiful weather was incredible and strange at the same time. The Parisiens converged on the streets in a whole new way, taking their children and their dogs out to enjoy the sun and get out some pent up energy. This manifested in walking in the middle of usually busy streets, running into and talking to strangers, children laughing and flying down the sidewalks on their bikes and scooters, and people sunning out on the banks of the Seine. It was incredible, and we just had to join in.
So we did just that. Beginning our hour and a half walk back from the bakery to our apartment, we stumbled upon Place des Vosges, one of hundreds of green spaces in Paris. Written up by urban designers and city planners alike as being a wonderful example of an urban catalyst for human-to-human and human-to-nature interaction, Place des Voges was truly fulfilling its purpose that day.
As we entered the park, we were immediately greeted by soft classical music floating in on the wind from some unknown, nearby place to greet the Parisians and foreigners alike who had come to the park that day. Small groups were making slow, leisurely laps around the park while others played ball with their friends or their children and still others simply laid on the grass, soaking up the rays of the sun. Immediately upon seeing this storybook scene, there was only one thing for us to do, and that was to lay on the grass and take everything in for ourselves. So that’s what we did, and we soaked everything in for over an hour. We simply could not tear ourselves away from the unreal and completely perfect setting, knowing that when we did, it would not only signify the end of a perfect, albeit strange day, but also the end of our time calling Paris home.
We eventually and very unwillingly left, knowing that what we were leaving in that park was also the future we could have had if we had been able to live out the rest of our semester in Paris. We were forced to leave the city just as it began transitioning to spring, just as days like our last day were beginning to be something to be expected. This was a very difficult and upsetting realization, but considering the circumstances I left feeling incredibly satisfied with my unexpectedly early last day in my wonderful home away from home, only solidifying my desire to return in the future to get the days I am losing now.
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<p>My name is Jeanne Torp. I'm a junior at the University of Mississippi majoring in International Studies and French and minoring in Environmental Studies! I will be studying abroad in Paris, France for the Spring 2020 semester, working to better my language skills and immerse myself in the French culture. After graduating, I hope to enter into the urban design or architecture fields, which I'm especially excited to be pursuing as new green and sustainable methods are being introduced to the field every day. Some of my hobbies include traveling, writing, photo- and video-taking, music, and reading.</p>