“Paris is cold,” I offered, and he responded, “The weather or the people?”
As we sat there, just the two of us, in the bookshelf-lined apartment I had once seen full of my summer classmates, I quickly clarified that I meant the weather. After all, the hospitality of both him and the writer whose apartment we occupied had warmed my otherwise gray and drizzly days in the city. But, as I went on with my day and packed my suitcase to fly back to Princeton the following day, I wavered in my earlier response.
Any place becomes much colder without the warmth of others. Without someone to share a table with or take to a museum or laugh with about getting caught in the rain, the temperature craters.
It was only my second time alone in Paris, and the first during winter — any touristic shine had faded into an elegant familiar patina. The cold sun that rose later and set earlier barely managed to pierce through a muted city: a palette of gray skies, darker pavement, wet roofs, and cool-to-the-touch stone walls — no longer radiating like I had once seen. My trips on the metro were rarely fun jaunts and more often commutes from one archive to the next. Yet another sardine in this metropolitan tin can.
But the cold wasn’t immediate. My first day out and about, I wore only my blue light work jacket amidst a sea of long coats, scarves, and, on the younger end, puffer coats. I slid through the city — from archive to museum to café — with my own warmth sufficing. As the week pressed on, however, a sweater emerged under the jacket, then my own long coat over, and later, around my neck, the orange and gray scarf I nabbed before Landau’s closed for good.
It had grown colder, but don’t ask me to define this “it.” Sure, the temperature dipped from low fifties to low forties. Some days, I woke with my sinuses more stuffy, sniffling until bathed in the warm steam of a hot shower. Still, the cold crept in from within as well.
I wasn’t unhappy. I wasn’t as happy as I knew I could be. I was cold. Simply cold, but with no desire to add another layer. If anything, I wanted to unwind the scarf around my neck, to ditch the heavy coat, to rip enough layers off for my skin to feel a warm air and a warm light. But again, there was no such air or light to begin with. I would have only left myself naked and exposed — vulnerable and uncomfortable. Like sitting on the edge of a disheveled bed, standing after a shower with excess water dripping down the drain, or meandering through the small talk about trivial things unlikely to be revisited.
Paris was cold, and I was unsure if I would ever feel its warmth again, or how long it would take to feel it once more.
One soppy night, in a restaurant empty save for myself, the workers, and a distant party of three, I rattled my mind with a persistent anxiety: the harrowing realization that the life one wants might be cold, might extinguish or inhibit the few sources of warmth one has felt — for years, months, moments. A second harrowing realization that we might not be able to build our own fire without the kindling of others, without their flint and steel. Hell may be other people, but at least hell is warm. How does one reckon with the discovered cold of a once dreamt heaven? Perhaps heaven will remain cold until we replace our dreams of it with the reality of the people already around us and, eventually, those yet to join us.
During my first days back in Princeton, the temperature has been just as low or lower, the sunsets even earlier somehow, and the skies just as drizzly. But I’ve been able to shed some layers; my scarf is barely unpacked. On these hilly acres, it has been warmer — warmer than Paris, warmer than my very first august days in Princeton.
Who knows how long this warmth will last. A few moments, some months, many years — any length would be better than none at all.
I know the sun will pierce through once more. There will again be warm air and warm light in which to bathe my bronzing limbs. But I cannot ultimately pin my own profound warmth on the whims of the sun and its fickle seasons. Perhaps, this all means it is time to tend to the fire instead of moving from one hearth to the next, hoping the latest will be warm enough immediately, already.
Paris had been cold. Paris can be warm again. It might take some patience. It might take some effort. It might take starting anew from dwindling embers. But, it can indeed again be and endure warm.
José Pablo Fernández García is a senior from Ohio and head editor emeritus for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at email@example.com.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect[at]dailyprincetonian.com.