I can remember when I first met you. I rode up, a passenger in the backseat of a black rental car, tired and apprehensive about having to find a new home with you. You made an okay first impression. Not a great one, but you did all right. I was enchanted by your boulevard lined with chestnut trees, your cobblestoned streets, the enticing smells wafting from dozens of tiny boulangeries and, of course, your grand cathedral.
I’m not going to lie, there were some things I wasn’t quite as enamoured with. You’re not very colourful I’m afraid, and your greys and beiges made me feel slightly melancholy. You’re not the most prepared either. I had to trek across town just to find a pillow, and it took me weeks to realize that Carrefour was basically my only choice when it came to purchasing anything. Although your chestnut trees were gorgeous, they were few and far between, and I felt like I was suffocating between your many slabs of stone.
Since I’m being brutally honest, I might as well take this opportunity to give you some constructive criticism as well. You need to clean yourself up. Your streets are a mess; unpleasant odours creep around corners, dogs do their business wherever they please, graffiti mars your walls. Trust me. You would feel so much better if you just put a little more effort into keeping yourself in shape. You also need to teach your other inhabitants some manners. People rarely smile when I pass them on the sidewalk. I spent many nights walking your streets, getting catcalled and jeered at by men shrouded in shadows. But I also spent sunny days experiencing the same thing, and everyone would be much happier if you could somehow put a stop to it.
Despite this, we’ve had some good times. There’s nothing quite like throwing up a basketball on the courts behind your cathedral, watching the ball soar towards the hoop as if it’s getting ready to break through the stained glass of the windows. Your canal might not be the biggest in Europe, or the bluest, or the cleanest, but it’s charming, and calming just to walk along at night and listen to the water run. You have lots of little quirks and things that make you unique, and although you didn’t come close to sharing them all with me, the ones that you did helped to create some marvellous moments. Falling into the plush material of the red chairs at the Cinéma Opéra and watching French subtitles stream across the screen. Strolling through the herb garden in Parc de Champagne and being enveloped by the heady scent of growth. Stumbling across a skate park that seems like it was made for goofy parkour moves. Walking along a deserted Place d’Erlon to catch an early morning train, the air eerily silent after the partygoers have finally turned in and before the early risers have taken to the streets. Eating kebabs on Gambetta, pizza from Sarda’s, Indian food from the centre, and éclairs from Annick’s. Hiking through Champagne vineyards and flying down muddy hills. Tiptoeing through the Basilique Saint-Remi, feeling the stone, rough against palms and echoing under soles. Breathing in sweat and cigarette smoke as voices speaking half a dozen languages mingle to create a pleasant din in cramped student apartments. Studying in a 17th century Jesuit college and being overwhelmed, both by the oldness of the building and the newness of everything that is being experienced.
Yes, now that I think about it, we’ve had a lot of good times. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not ready to go on and have good times with someone else. I’ll always remember you fondly, your church bells and the way your streets shimmer after a heavy rain. I’ll miss you too, and waking up to sunrises that colour your cathedral orange and pink. But remembering someone and missing someone are not the same as wanting to stay with them forever, and it is because of this that I know that this goodbye is right. Maybe we’ll meet again someday. Maybe not. But regardless, know that we’ve had good times, and made good memories, and that is enough.