A la folie means, "the madness" in French. To me, that is a perfect phrase for my life the past few years. My story includes a mixture of glamour, tragedy and international intrigue; a story that, at its core, holds love, adventure and dreams before all else. It is said to mirror those stories that you hear about, that you never actually believe exist, but I can assure you, my life, through all of its complexities, is as real as the sky above me. I've received a countless number of emails and questions regarding why I left Paris, which is both flattering and intimidating, but it's something I've never really talked about publicly. I've been thinking about this for a while now- what to say, what not to say, how to put in words the person that inspired me to move continents, and the experience that held a significant amount of risk, for the feeling that had consumed my heart. While I spent time pondering what someone that reads my blog would want to read, I always came back to the simple philosophy of being as transparent as possible, in the hope that my experience has some resonance with your own, or in some way, lets you have a telescope into my Parisian adventure. What better time to answer these emails, than a post closing out the year- so here it goes.
For a few months, waking up actually hurt. I came back from living in Paris; an American Girl in Paris: part un situation. I wrote about it here when I first started documenting life on my blog. My blog first came about when I decided that I was going to move to Paris to be with my boyfriend. I had been consulting in New York City after my startup had gone up in flames and left me responsible for cleaning it up. My startup that held nearly two years of my life, almost made me lose my sanity. So, at that moment, I realized that all major decisions in my life had been previously made with my startups in mind, and I felt that it would be a great time for me to take a leap of faith, for a person, rather than a company. So I moved to Paris. As I was pending visa approvals to be able to work, I needed a project in the interim to keep my brain consuming and my fingers occupied. Paris was a place that was every bit as beautiful, as it was entirely toxic. It represented a life that I believed completed me and offered me everything in the world that I could ever dream of: a beautiful love equipped with a budding partnership, a chance to live in and experience one of the most breathtaking cities on the planet, and the opportunity to grow as a human in ways that I never even knew. It was very Carrie Bradshaw circa Sex and The City.
I was loved, the way one loves going on a special holiday that you plan for months and you work out every single detail to be as perfect as possible, an "édulcorée" image of life- where the flowers bloom, the stars are brighter than they have ever been, and the impossible finally seems possible. But my love was just that- a special holiday. It wasn't my fairytale that I believed existed. It wasn't the relationship I had believed in with all my heart. Weekdays in Paris were spent being properly prepared, as a girl in French aristocracy should be; my lips bright red with Chanel, my scent generously perfumed with Serge Lutens and my clothing was perfectly starched by our cleaning lady which included a mixture of: slim cigarette pants, cashmere sweaters, leather drivers, elegant dresses, buttoned cardigans and designer heels. I would prepare dinners, or we would dine out and I would see Paris on the back of a scooter, drinking extensive amounts of wine and food, while living French gastronomy to its finest. I would trot around and explore Paris' arrondissements, stepping into every museum and exhibition that I could find on my way and meet my boyfriend for a mid-day tea party by this bank at L'Opera- photographing all my moments for memories on my digital diary. Weekends were spent in the country in chateaus that were oversized, conventional, yet distinctive in Napoleonic history; chateaus that were so grand in size, that you spent the majority of your time in only two main quarters. We would celebrate weekends with close family and dear friends, with no particular celebration in mind, but the very essence of celebrating to celebrate. Constantly learning the mannerisms of French life from the appropriate way to slice your fromage to the way you use the word "vous" versus "tu". Life in Paris was perfect, to the point where it was too perfect; he got to be himself upon whom everything was imposed and from whom nothing was asked. And then, just like that, everything changed. Suddenly, I didn't even know the person I was living with. I found myself questioning my judgement for how I could be so wrong. I realized that, in this situation, I was perhaps mistaken, imagining a progression in the life that I believed to be true, whereas the only progression that existed was an illusion to the life that I believed. Overnight, I was filled with shame. I reduced to nothing. I escaped as quickly as I could.
However humiliated I was, or rather because I had been humiliated, I didn't care; I only cared about my inability to feel anything following my departure; I first felt a surfeit of pain, but then I was motionless, feeling even more exposed in the solitude, which by anything, is the worst type of pain- the pain that you can't even feel. He took that from me. Whatever courage, or whatever outspoken nature I normally have, I felt myself suddenly grow so weak to the point where I was drowning in a sea that I couldn't swim out of. When I got back from Paris, I felt the way you do at night when it's cold and you don't have any heat, but you wake up sweating from nightmares; you're lost in a dream that you have had before, a dream that starts to haunt your reality, a dream that happens all over again, every night; certain that this dream exists and not certain when or if it will end, and you want it to end because you're not sure how much more you can bear, but a part of you hopes for it to continue so you know the outcome. This persisted for weeks and it didn't stop until I made it stop. What goes along with leaving someone you love? Is love really supposed to trump all? Regardless of how I fell head over heels in love with his family, his friends, and our life- he was not good, so I made up my mind and I let him go.
I came back to New York City, my true home, and it was the subsequent chance to reinvent myself from that previous chapter in my life. I started changing things because I needed to feel in control of my life again. I started erasing everything and everyone that had such a negative drawl on me; I engulfed myself in the things that make me happy, with the people that make me happy. I began meditating again. I started searching for peace. I prayed. I had to let go and come to terms with what had happened to me and move on. I discovered that I wanted only, "Fuck Yes" people, experiences, and things in my life. I knew with an infallible intuition that I was whole again. I fear, I must confess, that sometimes I think that I want to live a simple life. The fantasy of going away to a villa in Italy, where I am able to grow my own lemons has always piqued my interest, but I believe that after a few weeks of being a lemon farmer, I would be entirely bored out of my mind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a life of simplicity; it's just not the life for me; I'm sure I could do it for a few months out of the year, actually I know that I could, but not all twelve. I find that I would probably start craving the drama of creating things that could potentially destroy me, with people that could potentially hurt me, with experiences that could potentially change my life; perhaps it's the entrepreneur in me.
If I was honest with myself, I would admit to a feeling of both anxiety and fright, knowing that there are people like him in this world. You always hear about stories and you think that it could never happen to you, but then it does. This feeling was too intense for me to delude myself, I was, I am scared, and I now am even more cautious with the people that I allow into my life. For in spite of the fear which convulsed me- or perhaps because of that fear- something inside of me changed. I got stronger and sooner or later, regardless of how I thought I was dying from the pain, I was able to move on. A brilliant author that I have long admired, Jonathan Franzen, delivered a very moving essay during a graduation speech at Kenyon College titled, Pain Won't Kill You. Franzen said, "...pain hurts, but it doesn’t kill. When you consider the alternative—an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology—pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is not to have lived." My point with explaining my experience, however painful it may have been at the time, was that it didn't kill me, but instead, offered me the chance to really dig deeper into who I am as a person. I am wiser and have been forever changed by this experience.
What I see in my mind's eye, what I will never be able to forget, what still fills me with the same sensation of disgust and nausea that I had felt during my last days in Paris and the months following, was the thought that someone you care about so deeply could instantly transform into something worse than anything your imagination could invent. I was prey to a dual feeling of anger and compassion; both feelings that were overpowering my ability to think, but feelings for nothing. Anger for nothing, compassion for nothing, nothing was true, nothing was real. Anger because I haven't, I don't and I won't see any regret or sorrow on his part for what he did to me. Compassion because the human part of me feels empathy that he felt that it was okay to treat another person this way.
A few months ago, I was sitting with my dear friend Brian having a very ardent conversation at Souen in Soho over cauliflower soup, mint tea and ginger shots and I kept saying, "I don't understand how someone could do this". I kept saying it, "I don't understand", "I don't understand", "I don't understand". Brian finally stopped me and said, "But you do understand. You know and I know that you understand". So, Brian is right- I do understand. One thing that I have now made adamantly clear is that the way I was treated was unacceptable. I do not tolerate bad behavior and the mistreating of people, and neither should you. I do understand and it's very simple- people you love don't hurt you, not like this, and if someone does, they are just bad people and you should wish them well and move on. I understand and you understand that the most important thing you can do is to always remember to be true to who you are, be true to what your values are, and be true to the people around you. Love is incredible and it's the one thing that can't really be explained. Go and seek the kind of palm-sweating, heart-racing, body-aching love. It's the one thing in life that is worth everything; risk or no risk, reward or no reward, if you can feel it and really feel a magical kind of love- it's worth it.
From the moment I launched Coco Zaza til forever- I will remain humbled, in awe and happy knowing that there are people that return to Coco Zaza to consume content, whether that content be in the form of photographs for outfit inspiration, my quirky short stories, or my cheeky humor that I hope people realize is actually humor- I thank you with all my heart. Your emails, your questions and your stories that completely relate to mine, have inspired me to maintain this creative outlet and have warmed my heart. It is the creative bond that I needed to amplify my adventure and survive during my transition. It has forever offered me a fulfilling sanctuary for my creativity and for that, I thank you. I wish you all a wonderful holiday. A wonderful time with those near to you. A wonderful "a la folie" type of life. A wonderful earth-moving love. A wonderful end to 2014 and a wonderful beginning to 2015. Let's create wonderful things for this world together, because you understand.
In happiness, gratitude and love,
Photographer: Bethany Halbreich