This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader.
I expected there to be some similarities between New York and Paris. After all, they’re both major metropolitan areas full of people stereotyped as jerks but who are actually quite lovely. But I didn’t expect recognition to strike from inside of me. For the first time since I left New York, I’ve felt the insistent tug at the corners of my mind from my old friend depression.
I thought that in traveling, I’d found the cure. Maybe I have. But lying here in this dark room, face lit by the glow of my computer screen, I’m realizing that the waves of irrational melancholy I’d hoped had permanently subsided were actually just a really long low tide. They’ve been building since the middle of last week, when I woke up and stared at the daylight and tried to think of a reason to move. I went through some options: walking under the Eiffel Tower, people watching at the Louvre, going to any of the dozens of charming cafes on the surrounding corners that are all practically identical except for the color of the upholstery and the moustache shape of the waiters, walking around the gardens of Versailles. I closed my eyes and faded into another hour of nightmarish sleep.
This is how it’s been every morning since then. It doesn’t matter how much sleep I get, or how much I drink. I’ll still roll out of bed in the afternoon, make the shitty instant espresso that came with the apartment, and slowly and deliberately make myself up into someone I feel good about looking at in the mirror, because you never know who you’ll encounter. Except this effort is usually just for the other metro passengers, and I usually don’t even make it outside until dark because of all the mounds of little requests and questions from people building up in my inbox, hundreds of little fires and I apparently hold the only extinguisher on the planet. And from the moment I open my eyes, I know that I won’t be able to even put a dent in the things that I want to write that day.
I didn’t want to write this today; it’s the only thing that was effortless.
The thing about my flavor of depression is that I honestly don’t know if something is wrong with my brain, or if my feelings are a rational response to my environment. But what could be rational about being depressed in Paris? Or New York for that matter. These are supposed to be some of the best cities on Earth, which I guess makes them the two worst places in which to be alone. Also, I really despise this kind of mass-produced tourism and participating in it makes me feel dirty.
Last night on my way home, I walked past the Notre Dame cathedral. I climbed the bleachers set up in front of it and sat there for a few minutes eating a chocolate chip cookie, assessing it, trying to muster some great thoughts since I’ve been hearing all my life about how impressive it is. It was nice enough. I’ll bet it took some poor slaves like a billion hours to carve all that detail into the walls. As I sat there, hundreds of people filed in and out under a strand of purple and white balloons. And all I could think was, why the fuck would anyone put balloons on the Notre Dame cathedral? Was the building too plain for the host? It simply needed that burst of inflatable plastic to compliment the ominous statues of murderers and con artists who got away with it in the name of religion? What is it about humans that we have to put our mark on everything, regardless of its effect on the overall aesthetic of a work? I finished my cookie, stood up and left without going inside or even taking a picture. It was times like that I enjoy traveling solo, because if someone would have tried to drag me inside it wouldn’t have been pretty.
And the fucked up thing is, a few days prior to this all, I was elated. I was in Paris!!! Between the Musee de Armes and the Louvre, I got to visually absorb a few centuries of history in a six-hour time span. I’ve had fois gras, french onion soup, and more cheeses than I knew existed. I walk out of my apartment, turn left and the Eiffel Tower is staring me down. I have everything I could want in a city like Paris; most people work their whole lives hoping to get here someday, and here I was. And for a moment in time I was content. Maybe even happy—as happy as I used to be in New York. It’s this state of elatedness that attracts the depression, which sneaks in to snatch it from you. The higher you get, the farther you have to fall. But how many times does a person have to fall before they learn not to climb so high (or at least set a cam in along the way)?
I’m typing this now as I sit in bed with a cup of chamomile tea cooling on my night stand, my “Xanax Princessing” Spotify playlist drowning out the murmur of a French gossip rag transmitting through these paper-thin walls, and a copy of Transmetropolitan at the foot of my bed, waiting for Spider Jerusalem to transport me outside of this feeling.
I know I have to leave here soon. Paris is beautiful, but I’m done with it for now. I’m not going to grow here. I’m not going to learn anything about the person I want to become. This city wants nothing from me but my money, and I don’t want to think of Paris in such whorish ways. I guess that thought is enough to make one rationally depressed.
One more day in Paris.