Happy Bastille Day?
Four years ago, in Paris – not so much
By Abby Johnston, 2:00PM, Mon. Jul. 14
Four years ago, I was having my first, best, and worst Bastille Day. When I booked my return flight out of Paris, I was looking for deals. I’d spent a semester writing about French music in Lyon, and between concerts and a rapidly-developing affinity for wine, my funds were dropping at alarming rates.
So I booked an early-evening flight with the little money I hadn’t blown on Camembert and Beaujolais. Little did I know that my cheaper deal meant I would miss most of France’s most celebrated holiday. On July 14, I packed to go home.
That day marked the end of one of the most confusing periods in my life. I was struggling to carve out a niche in music writing back in Austin, steadily plugging away with freelance work while balancing that with a full course load at UT. The prospect of leaving that thin foundation behind, even for a short time, threatened to derail my dream of living in France.
So I rationalized to myself in every way I knew how: I would still keep doing record reviews in France and make some side money. I would tailor my study abroad experience around France’s musical identity. Both of those would prove disappointing.
When la fête nationale rolled around, I felt completely unaccomplished, yet unwilling to leave the country I’d fallen in love with. The prospect of dropping back into Austin after what felt like an undeserved extended vacation was daunting. I figured the people that I had picked out as competition had landed the jobs I wanted, seen the bands I wanted to see, found the words I wanted to use.
I had abandoned my passions and aspirations for France.
I was feeling torn, so of course I ordered breakfast. I sat out on my balcony at the Hotel Regina, a luxury afforded by my then-boyfriend. We ate charcuterie and watched the streets swell with activity.
The parade rolled right under us, down the Rue de Rivoli as planes trailing bleu, blanc, et rouge streaks through the sky zoomed overhead. Tanks lumbered down the street. Diplomats waved passively. I had a cup of coffee and asked my boyfriend not to judge me if I had a glass of wine before noon.
My trip to the airport was marred by a veritable deluge. The driver said it was one of the worst rains he’d seen in the last five years, and I increasingly took it as a sign that I shouldn’t be leaving. I was starting to tear up as we pulled up to Charles de Gaulle, feeling equal amounts of relief and regret. I had successfully detached myself from my real life, but across the Atlantic it was waiting to greet me.
I hadn’t managed to sustain any steady writing. All of the editors I was working with rightfully shooed me away, telling me to enjoy France instead of writing record reviews or profiles. And as for studying French music, my dreams of discovering burgeoning yéyé gals like Brigitte Bardot or warbling French café chanteuses were dashed.It seemed, in my most cynical moments, that the French were handed Top 40 hits Americans had four months before. I felt down as I approached the cusp of my reintroduction into the real world.
Call it poetic justice, a sign from the universe, God, or the French, but as we made our final push through the airport traffic, the pinnacle of French music had a message for me through the car speakers. Edith Piaf finally spoke:
“Non, je ne regrette rien.” I regret nothing.