In Iowa, the world is seventy-five percent sky. A friend from Massachusetts told me she got vertigo driving through the state on a road trip when she was young. “I felt like I was going to fall off the earth,” she said. In some places, you can nearly see the curve of the planet; in others, I think I can see the curve of the sky like a dome above me.
In Paris, the skies are lower to the ground. Clouds hang just overhead, practically skimming the buildings. I can sit in my bedroom on the third floor and watch them disappear and reemerge from behind the five story building opposite. If the Midwestern sky is a dome, the Parisian sky is a flat disk suspended fifty feet up. The sky I’ve been under for the past three years, the New York sky, is a satin ribbon laid above along wide avenues, weaving itself into a grid as it snakes around corners and crisscrosses intersections, bursting open as soon as you have the city at your back.
We don’t know what we’re leaving behind until we walk away, everyone knows that. When I left home for New York I missed the sky in Iowa, but I didn’t feel the urge to return. When I left New York for Paris, I thought I would feel the same, mostly because the city and I tolerate each other like messy roommates with two months left on the lease. New York threatens to kill me with stress or a rogue taxi, I threaten to move to a goat farm in Virginia, and we get on with the day.
But over the past three months, I’ve realized the sky is not the be-all-end-all of a home. When I walk into a patisserie, I miss hearing outdated pop songs in the bodega on the corner of Putnam and Franklin. I miss skirting around buskers in the metro, a rarity here. I miss the ribbon of sky turning into a swath blue silk over Prospect Park in the summer. Seamless comes to me in dreams like God handing down the Ten Commandments.
Paris has a rhythm to the day. Paris has a sense of history New York tends to pave over. Paris doesn’t make demands in the same ways New York does. If you can learn the rhythm in Paris, you’re set. When to buy bread, when the cafés close, what day the metro workers go on strike. If Paris asks you to fall into step, New York wants you to come up with an entirely new dance.
We make plans for what we want to wrangle out the places we inhabit, but we can’t deny that these places also want things from us. Under new skies, we can see what we’ve left behind and where we ought to be, the cities we love and the cities we learn to like. It’s been a grand semester in Paris marking time, but I’m ready to dance again.