I know that there’s a brisk breeze outside because fat green leaves are falling from the big ailanthus trees at our apartment window. I know that the breeze is brisk because the leaves seem to almost be pulled from the trees’ grasp, plunging downward at a soft gradient. All summer these leaves have sheltered us from the prying eyes of the windows on our avenue’s other side. They have shaded birds of all shapes and sizes, providing Violette, our apartment-bound cat, a feline form of entertainment. Their disorderly abundance break the civility of the Parisian concrete jungle (arguably the most beautiful concrete jungle in the world - in some parts, anyway). They are big and fat and green leaves but they are slowly turning yellow, brown, in that eventual and then all-of-a-sudden proceeding in which mother nature commands.
These leaves litter the busy pavement below in what I imagine to be more or less the same way that they littered the pavement the September before. I lean toward more because mid-September in Paris was much cooler last year. I remember that it was chilly enough, and we were tired enough, to warrant staying home on the day that I’d arrived, and that by the time we managed to rouse ourselves from bed it was near dark. We went outside and walked along Paris’s cobbled streets until all of night had fallen. The photos that Rémi and I had taken of ourselves on Pont Marie, a four-hundred year old bridge that crosses the Seine, show us both wearing turtlenecks and coats.
I asked Rémi to take me on that walk again on the night of my one year anniversary. I was eager to compare how it felt to walk around Paris a year ago with how it felt one year later. Wonderfully, taking photos on Pont Marie felt even better the second time around. For one, it was warm, and neither of us were burdened with itchy turtlenecks and heavy coats. Second, I knew where we were this time, and could have found my way home without having to call on Rémi’s explicit directions. Third, Rémi and I were closer, more familiar, no doubt thanks to the passing of time, as well as actually living on the same continent, in the same city, in the same apartment, jostling for the same blanket in the sleepy hours of a cold morning...
Third, I was different on the inside. Lighter, looser, plus a load of other positive feelings that, to me, signified that I was happy. Evidently, such happiness is not forever guaranteed - at least that’s my safe assumption - but in that moment on Pont Marie, I was splendidly, naturally, very happy.
I’ve realised that a lot of that contentment comes from one very curious thing - curious to me, anyway. It stems from having made significant choices that have at once eliminated decision fatigue while fostering a surprisingly satisfying quotidian simplicity. It stems from having done the very thing that frightens me most: committing. In coming to France I had made an enormous commitment that has involved challenging the emotional, cultural, economic and romantic features of not only my life but someone else’s, too. Rather than self-sabotage and flee, I was - am - to stay and try my best to make all elements of my life in Paris work. Difficult at times, especially for a commitment-phobe like me. But oh-so incredibly rewarding, too.
There is a passage in the late Sylvia Plath’s book, titled The Bell Jar, that uses a fig tree to metaphorically speak of choosing. The protagonist, Esther, describes seeing herself sitting in the crotch of a fig tree while watching innumerous figs dangle temptingly above her. Each fig represents an opportunity, a decision that, if selected, cancels out the possibility of experiencing the rest. Unable to choose a fig, Esther keeps watching from the tree’s base, and, regrettably, the figs begin to fall to the ground.
I came across this passage when I first read The Bell Jar, when I was 17 or 18. I was at that age and in a society where one’s options were excitingly - and often overwhelmingly - plentiful. The passage spoke powerfully to me then, and, now that I am in my late twenties, where the options and overwhelm have lessened but have not ceased to exist, the passage continues to be relatable and comforting. Relatable because I too have sat in the crotch of a fig tree. Comforting because I am not the only one. You can read the passage here.
When I moved to Paris I didn’t know - I still don’t know - for how many Septembers it would be. Everything in my life was suddenly new. How I would choose my produce would be new (evidently, bananas are neither cheap nor local in Paris, but leeks certainly are), how I get around would be new (no more car but plenty of metros and hand sanitiser) and how I would spend my free time would alter, too (never have my weekends been so full of picnics and museums). In summing up all of these little decisions, I have not entirely unwittingly picked myself a fig.
I had picked the fig that meant Paris would be my home, French would be my third language, and Rémi would be the love of my moment (that’s what we say, anyway, because what’s a better way to scare off a girl with commitment issues than by promising forever?). I had picked the fig where I would work for myself, pursue cuisine as a creative project, and no longer celebrate my birthday in autumn but in a very early spring.
And what propelled me to choose this fig? Well, for one, a gorgeous Frenchman and Paris is a very delicious fig. Second, I think that many of us arrive at a point where sitting in the crotch of a fig tree really begins to ache. Standing up, reaching out and zeroing in on that glittering fig, handling it tenderly so not to bruise or drop it… feels really good after spending years cramped in a tree’s crotch.
Like Esther, there was the realisation that, like the leaves of the ailanthus trees outside my window, figs will age, wither and drop. What Esther failed to realise, though, is that there are next year’s figs, and the figs of the year after, and these figs might become fat and juicy on a different week of that given year, and they might be placed in the fig tree’s branches a little differently, but some will grow close enough to your fig that you can reach out and grab hold of more, and these figs will be an offering of things, not all things, but a smaller set of things regardless, that are ripe for your picking.