June 18, 2016

8 Surprises from Serendipity in Paris

I had several expectations for my extended stay in Paris.

I expected to enjoy delicious food. I expected to linger at the Eiffel Tower. I expected to walk way too much everyday.

These expectations were met with perfect pastries, a sparkling Tour Eiffel, and sore calf muscles.

I also expected to trace the lines of my French life from before, and to pretend it was still mine.

There was no way to foresee how incredibly deep and meaningful my weeks in Paris would be, and there was nothing pretend about returning to my French life.

It was still there. All of it - all of them: the excited expat friends, the cool French friends, the crazy volleyball teams, the fun university students, the friendly restaurants, the kind strangers. I didn't feel like I had just spent an entire year away; it was as if I had never left.

Sometimes we belong to places we are not from.

It's all wonderfully weird because I have never felt that instant familiarity going back anywhere else - and, as someone who has lived in at least ten different locations, I've had plenty of opportunities to feel this way before.

I am a great trip planner. I organized a ton of different meet-ups with old friends in advance, incorporated a wedding into the itinerary, went to several volleyball practices, hit up some museums, and worked around everyone else's schedules while also balancing my own tutoring days at the university. Even if only these planned activities had happened, I still would have had an amazing trip.

But then...

(1) I took a bus, and my tutor boss got on halfway to my destination.

(2) I was on a tram and saw a woman who ended up on the same bus as me in an entirely different district of the Paris suburbs two days later.

(3) On another bus, one of my former students stood across from me.

(4) I went to visit a former French player of mine at a weight lifting gym, and out walked a previous French roommate of one of my American friends.

(5) I kept running into a coach from my old club on the suburban trains.

(6) A lady I had only met at church two weeks prior sat down right next to me on the metro.

It was all too much, in the best way possible.

As if those six completely random rendezvous weren't enough, there were still two more waiting to astonish me.

(7) A quick hit of Instagram one morning during work a break displayed the top photo of the Sacré-Cœur. I looked at the username and typed a hasty, "Are you in Paris?! So am I!!"

The Irish pub crawl guide my friends and I had hung out with in Berlin just happened to be in Paris for the day. Lunch was planned, I brought my crew of hilarious British coworkers, and we let our various English accents ring loud and clear for five hours at a pub in Montparnasse.

I loved that nobody had to be anywhere else, I loved that my friends could mix so seamlessly, and I loved that we totally monopolized the sound space the entire afternoon.

(8) I still cannot believe this happened. I was staying with a friend who lives so close to Notre Dame, it's insane (yes, this is also unbelievable, and yet, also true). I decided to go out for a crepe and a wander while waiting for her to return so we could go out to dinner. I walked this way and that - wearing something akin to my pajamas, nonetheless - spilling hot caramel all over my hands and sweater and thinking aimlessly along the banks of the Seine.

I crossed a bridge. Don't know which one; didn't matter. I saw an interesting corner. I went down a new-to-me street on the Left Bank. I was about halfway down the avenue when I looked up.

I know that guy.

I said his name out loud in disbelief, completely convinced it wouldn't be him and I would just keep walking like nothing had ever been said.

But it really was my favorite - and maybe only - Scottish coworker from the university, and we hadn't seen each other in nearly two years.

***The looks on our faces!!!***

I shouted, "AHHHH!!! How ARE you?!?!" at least four times.

Serendipity - fortunate happenstance, of course - struck gold again as this Scottish friend just happens to be a bar manager. A very generous bar manager, at that, and one who insisted I return before the end of my trip, and could I come back with friends?

A week later, I returned to the bar with three of my French friends and my Scottish pal was nowhere to be found. I asked the bartender if my friend would be working that night.

"Oh, he's here! He's just downstairs bartending the private party. You can go down and say, 'hi.'"

We tentatively crossed the bouncer on our way into the cellar. I found my friend and said, "I told you I'd be back! But we can only say 'hi' apparently."

He gave me a perfectly incredulous look and said, "You're staying."

The party invitees themselves were the right age for us to blend in with their mid-twenties-young-professional-hipster look, but their taste in dance music was not quite as cool. We acted like we were supposed to be there, and had a blast. One of the friends I brought just happened to know the sister of the girl throwing the party, too!

Four hours of birthday party crashing and free drinks later, my university-aged friends were convinced the Scot was some form of a bar god, and obviously every night out with me was always this epic.

I have always touted Paris as a small town, and I have other stories of accidental meetings from the time I lived there (running into someone from my California college on the Eiffel Tower is my favorite). This time around, I was only in Paris for twenty-six days, with two weeks in Portugal splitting the middle of it.

I was averaging one crazy coincidental moment every three days?!

The only word that kept coming to me in these moments was: serendipity. I couldn't get enough of these fortunate happenstances, and serendipity completely defined my first fabulous trip back to Paris.

Have you experienced these kind of run-ins with serendipity somewhere? Where is your most serendipitous place on earth?