Last Friday I participated in quasi-American style cookout on the rooftop terrace at Mama Shelter, a boutique hotel in the far reaches of the 20th arrondissiment, and the kind of establishment I generally try to avoid, since I am wary of so much purported style when it comes to eating. The food was not bad, but at €39 a head it was hard not to wince a little when the check came.
There were squares of too-dense clafouti aux cerises, merguez on the grill and overpriced rosé to drink in case anyone forgot she was in Paris, but most of the fare on offer – salads, fresh fruit, brownies, and grilled chicken – is something I associate with the potluck picnics of my childhood, not an expensive hotel meal.
That said, it was a beautiful evening, and not even the paunchy half naked man looking out his window across the street could take away from the stunning, flaming pink sky.
The next day was, of course, the Fourth of July, and it occurred to me when I woke up that morning that I had had my cookout a bit too soon. It was a quiet day for me, and I caught up on sleep and emails. It was also the first day that the reality of my new situation really had any chance to sink in.
What does it mean, if anything, to be so far away from the place I was born? To be a foreigner?
What does it meant to be independent?
By certain measures I am an independent person, some might even say lucky. I support myself, make my own decisions, and can more or less do what I want with my life, having only to take care of myself. Certainly this kind of independence has its perks, but to be truly separated from all other people would require abnegation of clean water, language, and fresh food, not to mention love and sex, and I don’t wish to go without any of these things. On an almost daily basis, I go back and forth between elated empowerment and a sense of utter and hopeless disconnection. Love, life’s energy, emanates from me and falls, often received by no one, not even parents.
This last piece of it, my orphan state, I did not choose, nor would I ever. And yet in many ways it is what has made my life now – the perpetual travel, this Parisian experiment – possible.
In other words, there is nothing particularly lucky about any of this.
I would trade all of it, including the picnic planned for later at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with friends, bread, good butter, cheese and wine, for another muggy summer night in Ohio with my parents.