Thursday, January 10, 2013

20 years ago

Amazing. Twenty years ago, I was on my way to Paris for the first time. I was 20-years-old. I had been to Quebec City but otherwise had never left the country. I was bored, in my third of four years of college (business school, no less). Fleeing to a foreign country for a semester abroad seemed both plausible and inspiring. A bona fide escape. Little did I know it would be the most transformative experience of my life.


My brother and best friend dropped me at Logan Airport. I flew with a girlfriend from school. We landed the next morning and slept in a hotel with bunk beds until we found families from which to rent rooms. Outside, the air was heavy and grey. Ambulance sirens screamed with a totally different cadence. It was foreign in every sense of the word.



For four months, I took classes that would fulfill my credit requirements back home (advertising, notably). But other classes that I never would have found on my conservative business school campus: feminism and a harrowing, hardcore literature class led by a crazy British professor in which we studied, and I stumbled through, The Decameron, holy shit.



I traveled: Amsterdam, Switzerland, Barcelona, Florence, Greece, the Loire Valley.



I drank in the open—how civilized! (My scarfing of burgers, fries and tuna sandwiches to stave off homesickness, not so much.)



I made new friends. I can still see their faces though I can only remember a couple names.



And, most important, I fell in love. With Paris.



It was another eight years before I got back. But on every subsequent trip, Paris was more and more under my skin. I started going as often as I could, trying different neighborhoods, testing out all seasons. I ate different things, found new museums, sat in different parks, and returned to old favorites and felt a connection from doing so. I came to know the city better and the more I knew, the more I wanted. I felt it was part of me. I needed it.



And then there was that fateful day in 2008. The chance to move to Paris with my ad agency. The proverbial opportunity of a lifetime. The start of the most profound and liberating and magical and life-defining stint I could ever imagine.



And it all started 20 years ago.



Would I have had my two years in Paris—my new friends, my book, my career, my home, my memories, my feelings, my attachment, my profound love—if I hadn’t first gone there as a college student? I don’t think so. It makes me so proud of, and so grateful for, the courage of that 20-year-old girl getting on a flight 20 years ago.

24 comments:

  1. Congrats to your very special anniversary. My 20 was 2 years ago, but it was with my family that I first arrived to Paris (and promptly fell in love) so not quite as exciting as going off alone.

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  2. I love stories like this. Almost everyone I meet that studied abroad (whether it was Paris or not!) has found that four-month period to be life changing. I know mine was and I know how special this anniversary must be to you!

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  3. And that 20 year old girl, getting on that plane, had no idea how brave she was or what was in store for her .. That is what is wonderful about this .. You have hopes and dreams but when you actually get to live them .. it is so much more than all you hoped for :)
    besos,sweetie.

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  4. The seeds are often planted quite young aren't they, and the great thing is you don't necessarily realise what you've planted at the time. Congratulations.

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  5. Merci, mes amis. It's true - the seeds are planted early though it could take years, if not a lifetime, to realize them and their significance. I was so shocked when I suddenly discovered it was "my 20-year anniversary"... so happy that I did realize it and had a chance to reflect on it. Thanks for indulging me. :)

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  6. Amy, I had a very similar experience when I was 20 and traveled abroad for the first time to Strasbourg, France! My friends and I took a weekend trip to Paris that I will never forget and wouldn't change for the world. I've never felt more at home than I did the two days I was there and have pined to go back ever since. (I'm only 22, so its not like my finances are ready to support a trip like that). I stumbled upon your book, Paris, My Sweet, and immediately bought it on Amazon. I started reading it yesterday and my mouth fell to the floor of the train on my commute to work...Social@Ogilvy in the Chicago office! I already knew about the Louis Vuitton account in Paris and am an avid follower of Ogilvy Paris' social platforms! Your life is literally how I aspire mine to be when I am in my thirties! Can't wait to finish reading. Would love to connect, but it doesn't appear you work for Ogilvy anymore.

    Kate Newman
    Assistant Account Executive, Social@Ogilvy

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  7. Power to you girl!:)

    I finished your wonderful book on the plane to Paris a few weeks back and I went to l'Étoile d'or during my stay to buy a Bernachon chocolate bar (coffee and hazelnut - yum!). I saw that your book had pride of place on the shelves there:) I chatted a bit with Denise (I was looking for dark chocolate and chili - she was all out) and she told me that she had had to move the Bernachon to a cupboard due to many thefts:( What a shame! Especially since they are over 10 euros a piece!

    This was my 14th trip to Paris, and even though I've never lived there, I know that I will own a little piece of the city one day and make it my home:) In the meantime, I will enjoy going back and reading about other people's experiences:)

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  8. going to paris soon. can't wait to see for myself the magical spell of this city...

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  9. Ramli, have an amazing trip!

    Duchesse, thank you for reading Paris, My Sweet and it thrills me that you not only saw the book at A l'Etoile d'Or, but that you had a classic Denise conversation!

    And, Kate, amazing isn't it? It's so odd how different lives shadow and mirror and overlap one another like ours. I hope you're having a really great experience with Ogilvy and you should definitely consider using their international reach to work abroad at some point. Pourquoi pas?? I moved on about a year and a half ago to a smaller, boutique agency but loved my time and different stints (pre-Paris, Paris, post-Paris) at Ogilvy. Bon chance! xo

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  10. I loved reading your memories of this life-changing time, and I loved Paris, My Sweet so much. I gave a copy to my sister before she went to Paris last November, and she loved it too. When is your next book coming out?

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  11. I took my daughter on her first trip to Paris, when she was 13. It was magical to see Paris through her eyes. I felt as if I was seeing it again for the first time.

    She put "Paris, My Sweet" in my Christmas stocking. Amy, thanks for a delightful book and for loving Paris as much as we do.

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  12. I wanted to thank you for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit
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  13. Happy Anniversary Amy! You are still a brave an awesome girl. Thanks for the beautiful post. I can't wait to read about the many adventures ahead of you!

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  14. Gorgeous post, Amy! I echo Connie - you are still so brave and awesome. Remembering my own journey now. I love how we can be young and fearless, even when we're afraid.

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  15. 20 years ago I also went to Paris for the first time. I adore Paris but unfortunately, unlike you, I have never had the opportunity to go back but I am returning this June for a holiday and I am very excited. 20 years ago I would never have believed it would take me this long to return! I am also reading your book and loving it! It is what has led me to your blogs so I have lots of catching up to do! :)

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  17. I have just started reading your book, and absolutely LOVE it! I found it in Powell's Bookstore- another amazing find! You are such an inspiration. :) Spending at least a year in New York City has definitely been #1 on my wish list!

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  18. Lovely story and sentiments. Like you, I'm grateful for the courage I had as a college student to take advantage of study abroad (I went to London). It was an amazing opportunity to connect with the world and a launching pad for lots of travel adventures.

    I put your book on hold at my local library and am eager to read more about your time in Paris.

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  19. Congrats! This is an amazingly beautiful post. ;)

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