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I Am Not at a Cafe

By Ha D.H. Le

PARIS—Eight weeks ago, as I prepared for the voyage, I imagined my future in Paris. There, I would frequent the cafes that sheltered writers like Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller. I would sip my coffee, pull out my notebook, channel the spirits of the artists before me, and work studiously on my novels.

As I write this, I do not sit in a cafe. I rest on a bench waiting for the metro to come and take me back to Paris from Torcy—one of the many suburbs just outside of the city. A notebook rests on my lap but my pen’s ink has long run dry. I type my thoughts on a notepad in my phone instead.

Sometimes I wonder exactly what I expected from Paris. The city of my dreams since childhood, it had always occupied some space in my heart and mind. Did I dream of hearing French music on the streets, of intellectual discussions in the cafes? Not at all. Did I idealize the city? Hardly. A city is just that—a city with all its perks and problems. So while I never considered the possibility of such things, I was not surprised to see the metro stations house the homeless or to even find the outskirts of the city an alien universe. As for the racism, that was a slap in the face, rare occurrences that always soured my good mood.

But for all the faults I discovered in the city, my love for it remained. It was not like Paris had lied to me. The national monuments were just as formidable and beautiful as I imagined. The museums and their masterpieces continued to wow even after several visits. And the grandeur—the ornate architecture, the stunning palaces, the semblance of luxury and high culture that makes Paris so attractive to its visitors—existed. Of course such stereotypes lived only in the heart of the city. Away from the tourist centers, I found various ethnicities coexisting together, metropolitan and modernist buildings, a semblance of the not-so-luxurious urban life. But that too, surprisingly, was precious in its own way. It evoked memories of what I knew before college, of something very real and personal even if sometimes ugly.

This Saturday, I leave Paris. I depart the city with a fuller perception of the culture and people that fill its streets. And while my regard for this place is not as fantastical as it once was, it is all the better for that. Fantasies are amusing to have, but in the end reality always wins.

Ha D.H. Le ’17, a Crimson arts editor, lives in Dunster House.

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HighlightSummer Postcards 2014