Posted by Nina Haug
I fell in love with a city before I ever fell in love with a person.
Paris, of course, was my first love – I’m big on clichés. I may have fallen for Paris before ever setting foot in the city. I visited it for the first time in high school, and I’ve taken every opportunity to return. I always will love it, even as I might grow disillusioned with it, the way that you love older relatives even when you disagree with their views on certain topics.
To be fair, I’m not sure if what I fell in love with first was Paris or simply the sensation of traveling. There’s something about setting foot in a new city, having the opportunity to discover the history, the culture, the life that it holds. The love of traveling was one reason the McDermott Program seemed perfect to me. Over my past three years as a McDermott Scholar, I’ve visited over a dozen countries and nearly three dozen cities. I’ve fallen in love with some of those (though not all) – a tiny town in Northern Italy, Florence, Vienna, Rome, Dublin, Barcelona, and Istanbul all come to mind.
Now I know some of you are probably saying, “Nina, you only spent a day or two in some of these places. Is that really long enough to fall in love?” I don’t believe in love at first sight, it’s true. But I think if you spend that day or two wandering the city, walking the back streets, exploring the history, talking to people in museums and hostels and cafes, you can fall in love pretty quickly. And I have. There are certain paths whose routes have traced themselves under my skin like veins, certain phrases that linger in my ears years after hearing them, certain views that I still see when I’m drifting off to sleep.
One thing I never really thought about before these three years of traveling, though, is leaving. Traveling means leaving – to visit any place means knowing that your time there is limited, that you are a temporary presence in its ongoing rhythm.
In some ways, I think that’s what love is about. It’s refusing to accept that temporariness. It’s believing, no matter how unlikely it is, that you will come back there someday.
There’s an essay by Robin Sloane called “Fish” – it’s downloadable as a free app, and I highly recommend it. One quote from the essay has really stuck with me: “To love is to return.”
I believe that.
I believe it as I leave city after city, as I tell myself “I’ll be back someday,” as I try desperately not to forget the little things that made me love wherever I was.
To love is to return.
I always return home, to my family and the crazy wonderful mess of a city that is New Orleans. This year, I’m returning to Dallas to the people and things that I love here.
And I always believe that I will return to the cities that I love. I’ve returned to Paris over half a dozen times. I’ve gone back to Florence. I’ve gone to different parts of Austria. I hope to return to all of these other places, to get to know them better.
Summer is a common traveling time for McDermott Scholars. For all of you who are abroad right now, I hope you fall in love. Oh, not with everywhere – there will be some places, even places that others love, that won’t hit you quite the same way. But I hope you find at least one that you love. I hope you take the time to walk through quieter parts of town, to talk to locals, to eat at little neighborhood joints, to find the soul of the city. It’s in those early morning runs and the sunset on green copper roofs, in the advice a security guard gives you and the blessing of an old priest, in the perfect galette you stumble upon and the gelato stand you walk to again and again – that’s where the soul rests.
And once you find it, if you fall for it, I don’t think you can ever quite forget it.
I don’t think you can ever stop believing that you’ll return.
Because to love is to return.