Amber Zan is a Taiwanese Canadian world traveller and artist. She has spent the last decade living with no permanent address, traveling around the globe, engaging in a variety of experiences that only some can imagine. Her adventures have taken her from the London punk scene to cities such as Manhattan, through isolating treks across the Gobi Desert and touring with racecar drivers. She is currently working on a collection of short stories about her travels. Follow her on Tumblr or check out her blog A Long Holiday.
Finally I arrived in Paris, the romantic capital city of the world. Fat Frenchie – as I called him – was there to greet me and how could I say no? He had been so good to me since the days in New York. He was the French trader in the office next door, stalking me at lunch, swiping his all-access building pass to wait at my desk. His offer was an all-expense paid cohabitation in a cute apartment in Chatelet next to the Seine River. A fancy part of town, with a fancy lifestyle. I could do whatever I wanted; learn French, paint, or spend my days in coffee shops. It seemed like a dream. I could grow to love him and I already cared for him dearly. He was the nicest to me, wherever I was, whatever I needed, and he was there. He wasn’t super fat, just a little bit chubby compared to the rest of the group, hence his nickname. He was tall, blonde, wore cheesy 80s banker striped collared shirts every so often. He and his network of French banker friends had taken care of me in Japan, New York and now here. He had sent me my favorite things all over the world; macaroons, French wine and chocolates.
This would work; I would fall in love with him as I fall in love with the city where everyone goes to fall in love.
It took only a few days for me to begin to feel claustrophobic, and not only because the apartment was on the top floor of a building and surely was made for small people. It was funny to see how Frenchie would have to bend and curve to the sloping roof surrounding the living room when he got ready for work each morning. I was suffocating from his kindness and eagerness to please me. Even for the things I loved, I began to feel resentment. He knew of my chocolate addiction and hence brought me chocolate croissants for breakfast, chocolate crepes for lunch and dinner filled with chocolate desserts. Chocolate was paired with everything salty and sweet during my life in this city. I felt nothing but nausea surrounded by my favorite foods. I fell ill, and his mother, a doctor, had to come check on me. I’m sure she wasn’t pleased with me and the hold I had on her son. After days spent in bed, it was then I knew I needed to find an escape. I had wanted too much to return his feelings, each day I watched as he dressed for work, his routines around the apartment and off he went. I thought, and I don’t know why, even after every sweet gesture, no matter how much I wanted to care for him, he was still just Fat Frenchie.
I found a listing for an art assistant at a studio of a Russian painter. It was a large house with many rooms inhabited by an art student from the Czech Republic, a French poet, and various other artists. It was illegal to rent out rooms in the studio, so every room looked like a classroom with a couch pullout bed. Whenever we came to and from the studio, we had to carry notebooks with us and pretend to be attending a class. In exchange for a room I had to help prime canvases and mix paints while the artist worked on two large pieces of candidates in the upcoming United States presidential election just to be ready no matter who won. I left most of my stuff at Frenchie’s and borrowed his mother’s small lancer travel bag, then told him I was going away for the weekend and left. I spent a few days in the studio, but still didn’t feel adjusted. The French aura didn’t appeal to me, the lifestyle of those foreign artists. I was still very lost in the city especially since Frenchie used to always speak on my behalf, and thus I had no idea how to navigate it on my own. I was uncertain of what would be next. I really treasured our friendship and his only fault was being too nice. I felt the need to run again. Among the things I left with him was my guitar, something we both knew I would be back for eventually.
With luck one day, I got a message from Colin, a good friend from high school.
“Where are you?”
“Paris,” I responded.
“Meet me at Charles de Gaulle tomorrow, we are going on a road trip.”
“Where?” I said.
“Monte Carlo, Formula 1.”
Colin was a successful racecar driver based in Asia who spent his summers flying around Europe each weekend for different races. We had kept in contact over the years, me being possibly the only other person from our classmates who could also be found roaming random cities around the world. My first trip to Paris didn’t turn out to be how I imagined, but instead became the death of my romantic hopes and created a new spontaneous adventure.
Photo by Amber Zan