Torn between two loves: Paris and the South of France
We’ll always have Paris.
Despite being the most memorable line from 1942 classic film ‘Casablanca’, this fiction-inspired wish has been in the back of my mind for the nearly two decades I spent outside my home country, perfectly aware that its significance had wandered away from its original WW2 contextual intention.
Paris has stood for the safe and desired haven I would always return to.
Almost split in two – my life in Paris vs the South
I was reading an essay in ‘The Guardian’ by American novelist Elizabeth Strout where she explained that she divided her time between New York and a small town in Maine and that it was a strange thing. At the time of reading the essay, this famous movie quote came back, almost taunting me with a slight streak of vengeance.
If I was particularly touched by her concern about discussing her ‘self’ as a writer in a big city versus the small town where she grew up, I was even more surprised to realize she was not questioning this way of life, i.e. living alternatively in two places.
Indeed, like her, I divide my time between a small town, where I am originally from, and a big city.
- The small town is Frontignan, in the South of France, 17 km east of Montpellier, in the newly re-named region of Occitania, by the Mediterranean Sea, and
- naturally, Paris is the big city.
Guilt or longing: which is it today?
Similarly, I find it is a strange way to live, explaining why the point of view of the novelist appealed so much to me.
Additionally, most of the time, I feel guilt.
When I am in Paris, I have a pinch of remorse for all that I leave behind in the South.
Conversely, when I am in the South, I long for Paris.
Obvious reasons account for this ongoing feeling of frustration, reminding me they had for long already been humorously listed by Jean de Lafontaine in the well-known fable ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’ without losing their actual accuracy.
Yet, if it was only for these – the advantages and drawbacks of life in a city – I might have adjusted more serenely with this dichotomous situation. But one person’s life is more complicated and we all have personal stories attached to places.
And that’s the point, for, at this stage, it’s not the 17th-Century French poem which applies better to my current angst but rather the 1930s – Josephine Baker’s song:
J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris.
Tormented: two loves, two lives – should I stay or go?
So long as this predicament appears temporary, I can postpone dealing with an answer, as my husband and I had envisaged to settle for good in the South when he retires – like most reasonable people do. We would have the sun and the quality of life, what else could we hope for?
Despite that, as the deadline is approaching, I am not certain I want to stick to this decision any longer.
Two lives: am I both?
I spent my childhood in the small town of Frontignan, which, still a village at the time, was where both my parents were born, and the house I own now was built by my grandfather.
Although I was in my early twenties when I left my hometown to live in Paris, I have kept my Southern accent. When I go to the Saturday market place in the South, I chat and laugh with people I went to school with.
I totally blend in and I enjoy that.
I first lived in St Germain-des-Prés and in the late 90s I opted for the right bank where the family could live in a ‘big enough’ apartment that would still be central.
I studied and became a teacher with tenure in Paris. Both my sons were born in this city.
Contrary to the quasi-celebrity status I enjoy in my small southern town, when in Paris I totally melt, disappear even, quite unknown in the Parisian crowd and I enjoy this too.
Two lives: how can I be both?
Elizabeth Strout admits that she would not have been a writer if she had not lived in NYC. Yet she mostly writes about the people of her native Maine region.
From this admission, I take it that instead of focusing on what I lose each time I hop from one place to another I’d do better to appreciate what I gain.
Eventually, perhaps I can have the South and Paris.
Have you ever been torn between two lives or even two loves? How did you overcome the feeling? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below!
All images courtesy of Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier
There is a lovely chat about the ‘Two loves, Two lives’ conundrum over on our Facebook page.
Please continue to share your stories here with Jacqueline
or on our Facebook page, she’s on standby to interact with you 🙂
Here is a sample of only two of these ‘chats’
Alisa Bearov Landrum wrote: “An American, I am presently in the process of buying a pied à terre in Paris, and I am already thinking about how I will manage the division of my life into two very different sections – further complicated by an existing second home in (ironically) Maine. Lisa Anselmo addressed this in her book ‘My Part-Time Paris Life’ – an excellent book – but her goal was to transition to a full-time life in Paris.
My goal is to not feel that i am living a ‘part-time life’ in either place, but rather a single full and complete life that just happens to include both places. The most important thing, I think, will be to find a way to include my friends and family in each place into the other to some extent. I am picturing something like a venn diagram: things and people that are exclusively part of my life when I am in Paris, others that are exclusively part of my life in the US – and then, most importantly, to find ways for them to overlap so that the sense of missing one or the other will be minimized.”
Marie ‘Z’ Johnston says ” Thank you for this tender article. This “dilemma” must be in the air! Currently I am living in a small town in the Dordogne. I love it here. Previously i was in Carmel, Ca (where I was born) after having lived in Paris on and off for years, that was where I longed to return. I have flats in Paris, so after the family house in Carmel sold, I returned to Paris. That was last March. Bouncing between Paris and Excideuil is easy, and I enjoy my time in both places. What has complicated things a bit is that my oldest daughter (who has been living in Paris the past 5 years) is moving to Los Angeles and her dream job next week. She will be joining her brother & sister who both live in LA and I ask myself what in God’s name am I doing so far from my family? I am single so this is really a personal choice I must weigh – and we must make our own lives after all, our children are busy making theirs (as we did when we were in our 30’s). Making friends with the uncertainty of our lives is never easy. Deciding what is the right choice, the right place, the right life is a heart & soul decision.
I’d love to hear how others have arrived at their choice.”
My wife and I were fortunate to once live in Switzerland, working for American technology companies. It was an extraordinary life–going to work in Silicon Valley every morning, with all of its energy and excitement, then going home to a small Swiss village at night, with all of its charm and history (and cows.) We kind of had the best of both worlds, all at the same time. We have since recreated this life, but differently–we split our time between Silicon Valley and St.-Rémy-de-Provence. We have rich, full lives in each, though our lives are quite different in each place. We haven’t figured out how to combine the two and live them both at the same time but we’re happy with our arrangement. Having said that, after we’ve been away from France for a few months we really start to miss it!
Your dilemma Keith is more serious than mine … as my 2 places are only 3 hour 1/2 away by TGV. As a matter of fact I also have a third place where I could feel at home too, which is Ojai, in California. I have never dared imagine stay there too long though, because of the cost of medical care. I once sprained my ankle in the States and paid 300$ for the x-rays only- a fortune according to French standards. My medical insurance would not cover all this extra and I never inquired for longer stays in the US except for the usual holiday coverage!I believe you have it all sorted out of course! You have picked a most beautiful place in France! Glad we can exchange on our similar experiences.