For some, life is defined by success. The high-paying job, the potential promotions, the nice car. For others, life is defined by a systematic order of doing things. Find a spouse, buy a house, start a family. For me, the value of life lies in the relationships that I’ve built along the way.
I have friends that are preserved in my childhood. Friends that I used to play with in my family’s treehouse, that I celebrated my birthdays with by bobbing for apples and hunting for peanuts, and that I starred in plays with that brought the whole mountain community of Idyllwild out to enjoy the performance. I moved away from that small town – so small that it didn’t even have a fast food restaurant – at the age of 12, leaving behind – and consequently losing touch – with many of my childhood friends. And, even though, years later, I have found some of them on Facebook, somehow it seems unnatural to meet again as adults. I prefer, in ways, to keep them treasured away in my childhood, preserving that image of innocence and purity that we all had when we held life in the palm of our hands.
I have college friends that remain some of my closest. They have enriched my life and helped me to become an adult. We went to frat parties together, joined the massive crowds at football games and mused about what our futures would hold.
And I have friends that I made in Paris the semester I studied abroad and the year after college when I returned to work as an English Assistant in a high school. They’re the people that make Paris feel less like a city and more like a home. Some of them are past students, one is the teacher that I worked with, one is an old roommate, one I studied abroad with. And one I met during my tireless search for the best and cheapest crepe nutella in Paris.
I have few weaknesses when it comes to food, but I’m utterly and shamelessly addicted to crepes. I savor them, and, in my search for the perfect one, have become quite the connoiseur. The batter must be the perfect consistency so that the crepes don’t come out too thick, the spread must be nutella – a chocolatey hazelnut spread – not chocolate sauce, and the crepe must be freshly made (to save time, crepe makers often make a stack of them and reheat them as necessary).
When I first became addicted, I was living frugally as a student and needed to find the best and the cheapest. I was fortunate to have been placed in an apartment that was in the center of Paris, but, more importantly, was strategically located near rue St. Denis, a street lined with sex shops but also creperies. I scoured the street for the cheapest creperie and found one where a crepe nutella was not only about .20 cents cheaper than the others but also the best. And, as I returned again and again to satisfy my addiction, I came to know the crepe maker. He was friendly and welcoming and remembered me despite the fact that hundreds of people passed by him every day.
When I returned a year later to work at the high school, I searched and found my crepe maker friend once more. He was working on the same street but at a different location. To my surprise, he remembered me, and, later on, even offered to hire me when I was trying to figure out a way to extend my work visa to stay for the summer. (I ended up working as a waitress at Hard Rock Cafe instead, thereby, bringing an abrupt end to my potential career as a crepe maker.)
In the years since, I have seen him evolve from an employee tirelessly making crepes to an entrepreneur tirelessly operating several of his own creperies and even a couple of restaurants. And he even visited David and me twice in New York when he came to see how things work in the United States and returned to add free WiFi to his restaurant and hire a jazz group to play music. And, every time David and I go to see him in Paris, he treats us to crepes, made fresh and with nutella, of course.
So, it was without question that we would go to see Chouchou during our current visit to Paris. Since his restaurant is currently under renovation, he invited us to a super nice, Michelin-rated restaurant. The fact that I got to meet his wife and his 5-month-old son made up for the fact that there was ham in my dish that was, supposedly, “une assiette de legumes”. (Even in french, it’s difficult to ensure that a plate of vegetables doesn’t come with some unwanted surprises, but I should have known because even though it was a nice restaurant, it was a beef restaurant and the waiter didn’t quite know what to do with me when I kept asking for something vegetarian.)
It’s relationships such as this one that makes my life meaningful. It’s the people that I’ve met – regardless of whether they’re friends for a moment or a lifetime – that give my life value and make my life vibrant. And even though David and I have moved around a fair amount, we bring with us the relationships that we’ve made along the way. These relationships keep California, New York and Paris alive for us and allow us to connect the past with the present and transform each independent chapter of our lives into a cohesive, vibrant, colorful patchwork.
So while others pursue their own definition of success, I know that I have already achieved mine. For it is merely by looking at the quality of the relationships that I have with the people currently in my life that I can confidently say – even at the age of 31 – that my life has been a success.
For those who find themselves in the center of Paris, be sure to visit my friend, Chouchou, at his restaurant and be sure to tell him that Sara sent you.
63, rue Rambuteau