Exactly seven days ago I took my small suitcase, latest best friend and existential crisis and got on a plane to Paris with a one way ticket, 130 Euros and 18 copies of my zine.
Now you don’t need to be a well-travelled and well-read genius to know that Paris is no place for poor girls. I never managed to sell anything in my life and wherever I travelled in the last two years I always missed my cheap and dirty Berlin too much. So, what the hell was I thinking when I asked my friend to book this ticket for me?
The answer is pretty clear now. I wasn’t thinking. I was acting on my survival instinct. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but to me it was the only choice. I had to remind myself that no one can tell me what is and what is not for me. I had to get out of my comfort zone and I had to cool things down with my one true love Berlin.
And could there be a better city to have an affair with than Paris?
Its beauty is generous and kind – at the beginning. It takes you by the hand and makes you feel beautiful. Paris is a Casanova. From the very first second you know that there’s something suspicious in all its beauty but you can’t help but let go of reason and end up spending your grocery budget for two weeks on dinner on your second evening. Being in Paris feels like being a Chanel mannequin one minute and a sparrow the next. Sometimes it makes you want to take your top off and scream “FUCK PATRIARCHY” in the middle of its most sophisticated museums, sometimes it makes you fantasize about being a mistress to Henry Miller in the 30’s. It’s Disney-like-dreamy but it always makes sure you check in with reality with its cheeky pick-pockets who laugh at you and say “OKAY OKAY” when you realize what they were trying to do on time and scream.
My friend booked us a hotel for the first four nights. If the word standard had a picture next to it in the dictionary our hotel would be it, but we insisted calling it the new Chelsea Hotel and even spent the whole Friday day and night inside watching movies and eating croissants.
On Thursday night we went out clubbing to the newest, and apparently the hippest, club in Paris, but spent the whole night talking about how Berlin is much cooler. We were happy to bored and did not even try to hide it.
For a “free spirit” like me, even if you are not in love with the city you live in, your relationship with it is the closest thing you will get to a passionate love story or a soul sucking. You can’t stop talking about it. You find yourself complaining about things you actually know you would miss or praising the most ordinary things about it like the wide streets and cheap supermarkets.
Some people are born with the gift of being content with staying put. Others are cursed with a voice inside their head that keeps telling them to leave, even if they like where they are. It’s a cureless condition, even if you find the perfect city or the person. These people only feel alive on the line, in between.
Of course I like going back home – when I have one – but I am in love with seeing trucks parked in different yet somehow matching colors with plates from different countries that you can count when your bus takes a ten minute break at a petrol station on the highway in the middle of nowhere.
We spent two afternoons trying to sell our zines in front of the Pompidou museum so that we could visit the Beat Generation exhibition. But when we had it we spent it on drinks, because we figured that’s what any Beat writer would do. We sang Beatles songs with a guitar playing stranger and his dog and talked to students who didn’t have money, but wanted to hear our stories.
We asked ourselves why we never did this in Berlin. As residents of a city even the wildest ones of us get into a married old spouse mentality and make ourselves believe that we have to behave in certain ways while we are in it.
I am probably not going to spend the rest of my life selling zines in the streets of Berlin, but doing it in Paris made me realize that if I wanted to, I could. For some people it’s a day spent with elephants, for some it’s smoking pot in Amsterdam, for me, this time, it was as simple as sharing my stories with people on the streets that set me free.
On Saturday my friend went back to her hometown, to reality but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t done. I didn’t run far enough to close the chapter. A guy who bought a copy of my zine said he was going away for two days and we could crash at his flat while he was gone if we wanted to. It sounded extremely sketchy, so I said “Thank you, yes!”
The address he gave me was right next to the French National Assembly, in one of those streets where it feels like a TV series could be shot and no one could actually live. He was really hot and polite and my adult brain could not comprehend how this could be safe and real. He came whistling the song a character in one of my stories in the zine sings before he gets all psycho. At that point, I was scared of my own made-up story. But I followed him upstairs anyway.
It was the most elegant place I’ve been in years. Just like a movie scene I put my bag down on the floor and looked around with my mouth open. He said he had to catch his flight and left. I locked myself in, turned on all the lights and waited for something really dramatic do happen for a while. Then I shot a video tour of the apartment and sent it to my friends.
I spent all of the next day writing in that apartment facing the wall. For lunch I sat on the big parliament blue velvet couch on my own staring at the sunshine coming in from the giant windows and posted a photo on instagram. I looked out of the window and watched all the fancy people pass by. I missed my shared flat in Berlin which is right across an infamous squat house. I wished my flat-mate was there to cook for me. I made pasta and ate it with rice sauce. I smoked by the window in my sloppy pajamas. People seemed to be shocked, everyone who passed by looked at me, some even pointed me out to their friends. Did I really look that absurd? Was it that obvious that I was a homeless writer crashing in this mansion-like place?
I left the apartment early Monday morning before he returned, crossed the street and took out my phone to take a photograph and remember these two days forever. Then I saw the “FOR SALE” sign on the window I was smoking at.
I had no place to go, no reason to stay, an account balance of -130 Euros and a weird feeling inside me. It was the “something” I had been waiting for to happen. It was time to go home, and the call was coming from my heart.
People were good to me all through my odyssey. But I don’t think they were all necessarily good people in general. They were good to me because I was good to them. They opened up to me as if they didn’t take their headphones off for years, didn’t look anyone in the eyes. They looked beautiful and strong but were secretly waiting for someone to give them a hug and tell them they are not alone.
It took me long days out of context to see what was right under my feet and in my heart. Happiness is everywhere for those who really want it. But this isn’t what my journey reminded me of at the end. It is the beauty in ugliness, the joy of sadness, the peace in loneliness, the richness in humbleness, the deepness of random encounters with strangers, the chicness of Parisians, my weaknesses, my super-powers.
It is the first time I have thought of this word without putting crisis next to it in months.
Nazli Koca is a writer and dreamer based in Berlin. It’s very likely that you will run into her while she is writing in the train or reading at Spoken Word events around Rathaus Neukölln.