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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Cara

Random moments of happiness: Paris edition

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

For me writing has always been an escape and a source of comfort. I have kept a journal for as long as I can remember and it always feels cathartic to ‘release’ my thoughts on the page. Last year for my 20th birthday one of my best friends,Cornelia, gifted me a beautiful journal which is bound in a metallic atlas print. She wanted me to fill it with all of my adventures from my year abroad. It’s true that this journal has become a source of solace for me, compiled within it are my high and low points scribbled in broken French, messy English and barely legible Spanish. It’s quite entertaining reading back though my old journals when I’m feeling down, or rather when I need a reminder to regain perspective of a situation. Settling into Spanish life for me hasn’t been easy and I’m battling with crippling self-doubt and anxiety most days. In times like this I would usually read through my old journals; chuckling to myself about how 13 year old Tash would have dealt with these types of crises. Recently I’ve been wishing I could read over my old journals as some form of comfort. However, most of my journals are at home in Manchester so I can only call on my memories of the past few months. These past few months have been a period of growth and change. I’m learning how to be on my own again, enjoying my own time and company, finding independence in a new job, learning how to navigate the language barrier and make new friends.

Sometimes it can all get a little too much, I’m the type of person who is very proactive and hates to sit and do nothing. Don’t get me wrong I still have my lazy days, just like anyone else, but I pride myself in getting involved in things. Some days I feel like I’m failing with my blog; my main objective is to recount my personal growth over the year and whilst I am trying to say yes to new things, sometimes too much choice can overwhelm me and all I want to do is stay in bed all day and watch Netflix.

I’ve often been told by my friends and family to try not to compare my year abroad experience in Valencia with my whirlwind summer in Paris. My dad always tells me that I’m too hard on myself; because I haven’t settled into Spanish life yet it doesn’t mean that I’m failing my year abroad. I try and recall these words at the forefront of my mind but I’m finding it really quite hard not to compare the two cities; when you transition from one familiar place to something completely out of your comfort zone it can be hard to initially adapt. I’m learning that it is okay to reminisce and reflect on ‘better’ times, however I cannot let it impede my experience here in Valencia. I can’t be vicariously living through my memories of Paris and my experiences there, I have to go out and make new ones here in Valencia whilst I have the chance. Whilst I’m still navigating my way through Valencia I haven’t really got any new posts to share; hence why I thought it would be a good idea to pen some of my best experiences that I had during my short stay in Paris, things that I often think of when I’m feeling down. This helps to remind me that it is possible to be happy; that even though I might not feel it now, I will feel it again.

It's important to remember that I’m only four months into my year abroad yet I’ve experienced what I like to call ‘random moments of happiness’. It's difficult to put into words exactly what they are. In this blog post I’ll try my best to articulate these experiences. These fleeting moments come when I least expect them, they can be offset by the smallest of actions. It’s a feeling that I haven’t experienced all too often. The best way I can explain it is when something happens unexpectedly- I feel a wave of happiness, its kind of euphoric; I just start smiling or feeling lightheaded- but in a good way. Sometimes I’m brought to tears by it, but I’m crying because I’m so happy or so at peace in that moment. It’s difficult to truly capture the feeling in words but I want to share three instances, which I’ve had over the past four months when I’ve experienced this happiness.

Island life: Feeling at peace

My first experience happened very early into my time in Paris. I had spoken with a few friends who had recommended that I should visit the Ile de Saint Louis in Paris. I didn’t even know that Paris had islands. It turns out that this ‘island’ was connected to the rest of Paris by of the many famous bridges. I decided to take a stroll one Saturday afternoon. We were still in the midst of a heat wave and the blaring sun was out to stay. At this point I wasn’t a seasoned Parisian but at the same time the île felt so familiar to me and I felt at ease just ambling around on my own. Of course this was the height of the summer season; that meant out with all of the ‘true’ Parisians and in with an exodus of tourists dressed in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. I’m someone who relishes in solitude, I of course enjoying hanging out with my friends and family but I really do enjoy my own company. That day it was like I was on a date but with myself. I treated myself to an Amorino ice cream, wandered around the tourist shops browsing postcards and the winding narrow paths. I saw families and couples, holding hands and enjoying each others company. Sometimes moments like this make me feel sad or homesick but that day it was refreshing seeing young people on dates or families wandering around too and enjoying each other’s company; I didn’t feel lonely or sad. I moseyed down on the riverbank and sat on a bench. It was about 2pm in the afternoon. That day I didn’t have any plans; I didn’t have anywhere that I needed to be. I felt totally free. It was like a weight had literally been lifted off my shoulders, I had no obligations, and I was running on my own time. I sat there thinking ‘Wow I could just sit here for as long as I want and that would be okay’. The sun was beating down on my face and the water and sky were so clear and blue, it felt like a mini paradise. I was undisturbed, alone but not lonely. I felt at peace with myself- something which now when I think about it, I hadn’t felt for a long time. No essays to write, no deadlines, no admin to fill out, just me, sitting on a bench on my own.

In my feelings at French flea markets

One weekend in Paris, it was suggested that my friends and me visit a flea market in the northern outskirts of Paris. At this point I hadn’t wandered too far from the centre. But I was determined to follow through with my mantra of ‘saying yes’ to new things. Honestly when the day started off, I felt a little apprehensive, I had envisioned a cosy market, packed together stalls and friendly old French women trying to sell antique china. It was a little different from that. Getting to the market was fraught with problems anyway- the metro seemed against us- and when we finally arrived there was a bevvy of people flogging suitcases, knockoff designer trainers and bags. We couldn’t walk through leisurely because every ten seconds someone would try to coax us into buying their ‘genuine fake’ nike trainers. We all were a little exasperated by the constant pestering: that was until we found the antique indoor market. It felt worlds away from the cloistered market stalls. Inside it was a lot quieter; it felt like we’d stumbled into a different market completely. There were second hand bookshops, vintage clothes shops and even an old record stall that reminded me of my dad’s collection at home. Wandering through the stalls, we saw old bric-a-brac shops, an antique light shops filled with ornate chandeliers. I felt that moment of light-headedness coming back again, I felt happy to just wander freely. Seeing all of these antiques made me think of all the people who had previously owned them, how they each had a history and story. It felt nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of Paris; by removing myself from it all I felt that sense of peace again.

A surprise concert: The time I went to see Christine and the Queens

The last moment of random happiness was in my last week in Paris. I was in work one day and saw an advert for a premiere to Christine and the Queen’s new album and promotional film. It was free and would be held in the Salle Pleyel in Paris. All we needed to do was apply online via the apple music webpage. Christine and the Queens, or Chris as she now prefers to be called, is one of my favourite artists. I fell in love with her debut album Chaleur Humaine; her lyrics and the videography of her music videos never fail to amaze me. Her songs discuss themes such as sexuality, femininity, loneliness, female desire and love in both French and English. Her music was instrumental in helping me in coming to terms with my own sexuality and how I see myself. Let's just say that I have a lot of respect for her and her artistry. I’ve always wanted to see her live in concert but had never had the chance. I applied with the hope that maybe I would win tickets, but at the same time I prepared myself for a negative outcome. Two days before the concert I still hadn’t heard anything; I figured it was fate and wasn’t meant to be. I had seen that people had already received confirmation of their places. I checked my junk mail box just in case I’d missed anything… and yep there they were. Two free priority tickets to the short film premiere followed by an intimate performance. I was ecstatic. What a way to finish off my time in Paris, by seeing one of my favourite artists perform her new album, for free.

Myself and my friend Bridie geared up to go, when we arrived we were told that all filming and photography was prohibited and we would have to leave our mobiles in a sealed pouch. The Salle Pleyel is a concert hall usually reserved for classical music performances, the architecture is breath-taking- I wish I could have taken photos inside. The main theatre was also amazing, we had really good seats- an unobstructed view not too close to the front but also not at the back. It reminded me of a vaudeville musical theatre, the red drapes, the large stage. Chris studied theatre and stage design before she embarked on a musical career and it was evident in the staging. The lighting, the props, everything was thought out. The night itself was mind blowing; she has such an exuberant presence, she’s mesmerising when she performs. Her charisma and energy exude in everything that she does. In a way I’m glad that we couldn’t film or take photos. It forced me to truly be in the moment, I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage; I didn’t feel like I was in a theatre watching a play, even though it was constructed to be that way. Each song flowed into the other and it felt like a cohesive narrative in front of my eyes. This was the first time she had performed the whole album in front of an audience; if she was nervous she didn’t show it at all.

I felt that familiar feeling of euphoria again, I still couldn’t believe that I was seeing her perform in the flesh. The audience was a mixture of all ages, genders and from what I could tell, sexualities. I was nice to see a community come together, regardless of our political or religious beliefs; we were all here because something about Chris’s music makes us feel good. The only way I can describe it was like an out of body experience, everyone was immersed in that moment- we were all experiencing the same thing but reacting differently to it. I’ve been to quite a few gifs and concerts but I’d never felt like this before. I was so happy that I was able to experience this. It sounds cringey to say but I felt a part of something- I’m not quite sure what but during that hour or so I felt so at ease and so happy.

So, when I’m feeling down, unsettled or uncomfortable here in Valencia, I like to think back to these moments. I know that the feeling of random happiness isn’t just a one time thing, as I’ve shown I’ve felt it multiple times over the past few months and I’m sure that I’ll experience it again too later on in the year. I need stop being too hard on myself and to let myself go through the motions, the highs and lows both make up the year abroad experience. I can’t anticipate when these waves of happiness will come nor can I force them, but I’m sure that they will return at some point. I’m still at the beginning of my year abroad, there’s plenty of time to feel happy again- even if I’m not feeling it now.

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