It was around midnight, last year, a couple of days after New Year's and about a week after I'd turned 30. I was busy with one of my favorite forms of masochism: surfing discount travel websites with no intention of buying anything. But then there was one of those "act now, only one ticket left at this price!!" offers screaming in bold red letters. I saw the place (Paris), the dates (ten days in mid-Spring), and the price (reasonable). In the throes of a breathless nausea, I clicked "buy," entered my credit card info, and it was done.
I hadn't travelled internationally since graduating college, and never alone. Unless you know me intimately and extensively, unless you are fully versed in the guilt about risk and responsibility and rationality and always, always about money that haunted my decisions from 16-ish on, it's hard to quantify how much baggage I abruptly dropped in the act of impulse-buying that ticket. I freaked out afterwards, but less than I would have if I hadn't just turned 30. Waiting for some outside entity to rescue my life from my bullshit had recently begun to seem like a waste of time I wasn't gonna get back.
So then it was April, and then I was on a plane, and then I was in Paris. I'd barely slept in 48 hours, hadn't eaten a real meal in about 24, and was closer to being legitimately delirious than I've ever been while sober. I went for a walk that was supposed to last an hour and somehow lasted five. Around hour three, I turned onto the Right Bank and saw this:
Or, honestly, an infinitely more spectacular version of this. The dome of the Grand Palais was a strobing disco ball and the Seine bled pink. It was rush hour and scores of people -- normal Parisians who presumably did this walk all the time -- had just stopped to stare.
At a different time in my life I would have longed for someone (a handsome, male someone) to share that beauty with. But in that moment, I was very, very conscious of the fact that another person would have destroyed the experience entirely.
That moment was a gift. For me. And from me. That trip was the first significant thing I'd ever given myself without a "real" reason, paid for with income I'd earned since quitting my Traditional Office Job to be self-employed. That sunset was the universe telling me that I was right to buy that ticket; proof that I had, in fact, chosen the right path. If I weren't an atheist I'd probably bring God into this. I am an atheist, so I'll just say that moment was the closet I've come to having a mystical experience.
The sun fell further, and I planted myself outside the Louvre just moments before the lights blinked on and the walls turned gold. I was running on fumes and I started to get very, very cold, but it was another hour before I could get myself to move. I didn't see anything that spectacular again the entire rest of my trip (it rained a lot, cuz Paris), but I didn't need to. In a month I'm going to Rome for six weeks, totally alone, for no reason other than I can make it work.
The right sunset is all it takes, apparently.