I grew bored of living in Paris, this city is too predictable

Paris is one of the most visited cities on earth, but making it home was another matter 

November 24, 2023 1:13 pm(Updated 1:14 pm)

In a bar on Paris’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, one man can be found from evening until late, every day, chatting with everyone on a first-name basis. A few streets away on Lendru-Rollin, a bakery consistently churns out the best gougères –cheesy puff pastries — in the neighbourhood, drawing locals through its doors in droves.

Almost every day, hundreds of vendors set up their stalls to display fresh fruit and vegetables and shout promotions at shoppers down Rue d’Aligre. This was where I had my blueberry dealer, who sold a kilogram for €5.

A gravedigger hangs like a fly on the wall in the dive bar a few streets away. This neighbourhood was boastfully melancholic, creative, cradling and predictable.

That’s why I love Paris – and that’s why I left.

When I first told people I’d be moving to Marseille, the most common response was: “I thought you’d never leave Paris!” and I hadn’t really thought I would either. Paris had become a special embodiment of home over the past 12 years, partly because it was a chosen, constructed one.

I felt like I could walk down the streets with my eyes closed, knowing exactly where pavements would slant and when traffic lights would switch to red. For years this was extremely comforting, and I felt like I could drift through the city in a sort of dreamlike trance. Ease equivocated to home.

The city is known for its creative spirit, but for some, it hangs onto the past (Photo:   Federico Chicco Dodi/Getty Images)
The city is known for its creative spirit but, for some, it hangs onto the past (Photo: Federico Chicco Dodi/Getty)

But a year and a half ago, the comfort started to feel too comfortable. This pocket of the 11th arrondissement that feels more like a village started to feel suffocating. Predictability and reliability became restricting. I started itching for a change and feeling guilty about it. Paris didn’t do anything wrong, it stayed exactly as it was supposed to be. This is why it remains one of the most visited cities on Earth.

Then I went to Marseille. I was on my toes. It’s a city facing change – at least in the city centre – and the electricity in the air is palpable. My friends and I often joke that it’s sunny chaos. It’s too much for some people. There is no walking through this city with your eyes closed if you’re not looking to get hit by something or someone, promptly. The idea of living in Marseille became impossible to shake.

There were also practical reasons to move – the cost of living, work and the sea. My closest friends and I decided to leave as a sort of unit, which made the decision immensely easier, and fun.

It’s not that Paris doesn’t change. I saw the quais of the Seine transform from a highway into an open-air park, with hundreds of people dangling their toes over the water, bottles in hand, where cars once revved their engines. I saw bike lanes and trees multiply, the natural wine scene boom and bins lit aflame during the gilet jaune protests and, later, the pension reform movement. I watched Notre Dame burn, heard its spire fall and watched firefighters spray the church.

My former neighbour asked if I missed Paris. I said it was complicated. “Like an old lover?” he asked. It made me think of a line from the Simon & Garfunkel song “April Come She Will”, “a love once new has now grown old”.

The spirit of the city is its most defining feature, lacing its way through café terraces, poetry nights and afternoons spent gazing at the Seine. It’s what attracted me to it, and what made me leave – and we’ll always have Paris.