Walking up Rue de Rivoli it all seemed to come back to me. The smells, the shops, the gruff Parisian nonchalance – it felt like I had never been away. Of course I am older now, perhaps even slightly wiser (or at least I can grow a beard these days), but walking through the streets I still felt the same frissons of excitement that I did back then. My sense of nostalgia was only heightened by where I was staying – only fifty metres away from my old flat, where I spent fourteen months living a life affirming existence – a time of burglary, stress, finals, water leaks, dodgy Polish landlords, falling in love – probably the most defining year of my life on many levels. Looking across to that flat little has changed, save the graffiti tag outside the window has been cleaned off. The shops and the ambiance are exactly how I remembered them and I am sure that the beggar outside Champion flashed me a booze-addled look of recognition.
Such nostalgia flowing through my person, I decided to conduct an experiment. In High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s protagonist takes it on himself to track down and speak to all his ex-girlfriends in the hope of getting some closure. By analogy, on my first night back in the city, I decided to do this with Paris. I was quite scared about how this would make me feel: it could have really fucked with my head, but in the interests of good journalism and curiosity I spent a few hours self-consciously revisiting the places where I left the most emotional baggage and memories. Bustling through Les Halles, zigzagging through Le Marais and meandering over to St Michel I encountered hundreds of the ghosts that had tormented me over the past few years. Meeting them head on, I felt that, one by one, they were exorcised.
More importantly I realised that I had changed. It is testament to this that I am writing this sitting on the same spot (coincidently) in the same bar where I met someone who was to become a huge part of my life and ultimately broke my heart. I don’t feel mournful or sad, it hasn’t messed with my head, in fact it all seems so far removed from today and so I feel really Zen about it all. If I hadn’t had my Paris experiences then I wouldn’t be who I am today, and now I have closure I am left with just cherished memories and funny anecdotes.
Future psychiatrists: feel free to post comments.