A Birthday Off the Beaten Path

About a month ago, I received an enthusiastic text message from my best friend congratulating me for amassing a “whole crew” of friends with whom to celebrate my 25th birthday. Earlier that week I had in included her in a group chat of a whopping seven people with the purpose of making birthday plans. Given that I’m still settling in to a new city, and knowing all too well my proclivity for introversion and my usual no new friends attitude, I assume my friend was as impressed by my interest in celebrating with a group of mostly new friends as she was by the fact of their mere existence.

I basked in her recognition of my feat, but quickly reminded her that I was offsetting this unusual exhibition of extroversion by literally fleeing the country to spend five days alone in a city I’d never been to and where my knowledge of the language was beginner at best.

Following the lead of my inner nomad, I’ve slowly inched travel closer and closer to the top of my priority list. And though I’ve had the privilege of travelling quite a bit throughout my life, this trip to Paris, for my 25th birthday, is my first ever solo trip. Not only am I traveling alone, I also had no plans to meet anyone upon my arrival. Though this was daunting, I also recognized it as a wonderful opportunity to do anything and only things I wanted to do. So when I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport on Thursday morning, I intentionally slowed my pace and made the conscious decision and promise to myself that I would not rush or hurry anywhere for the duration of my time in the City of Light.

Prior to a few months ago, I had no real interest in visiting Paris, or France in general for that matter. As someone immersed in the world of international human rights, when I thought of France the first things that came to mind were islamophobic laws masked in the name of secularism and women getting arrested on the beach for wearing burqinis; not exactly an inviting vision. Though I’m not Muslim, nor do I cover my hair for religious purposes, as a young Black woman planning a solo trip to a foreign country, systemic racism was not really the attraction I was looking for. But just as my plans to visit another city seemed to be falling through, I stumbled upon a podcast talking about all of the incredible contributions Black people from Africa and across the diaspora have made to Paris throughout the city’s history. The podcast mentioned a bookstore and publishing house called Présence Africaine that published some of the 20th century’s great Black writers. Instantly, I was hooked!

As I moseyed through Paris at the intentionally slow pace I set for myself at the beginning of my trip, I reveled in the pockets of Blackness I found all around: the cozy and warm interior of Présence Africaine; the Ivorian food stuffs shop where the owner, Ivan, jarred peanut butter at the checkout desk and the shelves were filled with more variations of farine than I knew existed; quiet moments I shared with myself and the painted humans on the walls on the comfy couch on the second floor of Mariane Ibrahim gallery, rising from the metro at Barbès to a microcosm of African street fashion, the flavorful heap of caramelized onions at Madiba Afro Hot Dogs, the slow and steady of the rocking chair I sat on in Nil Gallery surrounded by the work of Prince Gyasi and Abe Odedina. All of these things filled me with so much light.

Paris is known as the City of Light. For me, the Blackness of the city, the Black food, the Black art, the vibrant Black energy are what really make the moniker ring true.

I don’t know when or if I’ll return to Paris, but, as my trip comes to a close, I feel the sweetest sense of satisfaction. My first solo trip is in the books, and in celebration of my 25th birthday and the trajectory in which I hope to move, it was slow, and restful, and very Black.

Turns out five days alone in a new city was just the refresh I needed to hype me up for a celebratory night out with my “whole crew.”

Signed,

N.A.

p.s. If you enjoy the Signed, N.A. blog (or you’d just like to wish me happy birthday), please do subscribe and share with a friend.

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