Post-Parisian Depression is, as described by its name, a period of notable depression that one experiences upon leaving Paris and returning home. Symptoms are similar to those of other forms of depression and are marked by a sense of grief and loss. Caused by a return to reality, Post-Parisian Depression is the reconciling of what “is” with what “could be”. The heightened stimulation of the brain that one enjoyed while in Paris, now deactivated, still clings desperately to the memories, the moments, and the feelings of rapture that one felt while in the bosom of Paris.
The effect of leaving Paris is similar to the low experienced after a drug high as the dopamine levels in the brain return to their normal state, which no longer feels sufficient. Symptoms often include lethargy or malaise and may be further exacerbated by symptoms of jet lag occurring simultaneously. Post-Parisian Depression exists primarily as a tongue-in-cheek condition not yet recognized by the medical community, or as one might call it "a first world problem". Its recurrences and longevity can be exacerbated by triggering memories of Paris simply through browsing photos.
To love Paris is to love history. Secondary nostalgia, to coin another term, is brought on by a sense of proximity with great figures of the past, whether artists, poets, writers, philosophers, designers, fashionable aristocrats, emperors, kings or medieval knights. To walk in the footsteps of history, from the Middle Ages, to the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Belle Époque, the Avant-Garde, or Post-War Paris, is one of the most powerful features of this magnificent city. The idea of being part of something much grander than oneself is captivating to say the least. This concept of secondary nostalgia was so whimsically depicted in Woody Allen’s 2011 film “Midnight in Paris”. With its world-class museums containing collections from Ancient Egypt to the present, the ability to transport oneself to their preference of time and place in history is a privilege unknown to the majority of North Americans, who otherwise may become immersed in an ancient civilization only through books, films and the web.
One of Paris’s greatest strengths is that its attention is not lost on narcissism. La Grande Dame holds up a mirror to rest of the world to contemplate. Its many restaurants, museums, and contemporary art galleries, are a critical reflection of the diversity of its homeland, its colonies, and the world beyond. Each arrondisement bears a signature flavor of ethnicities and religions that can vary vastly from one neighborhood to the next. You may see stylish business men and women, Orthodox Jews, men and women dressed in traditional colorful African garb, Muslim women wearing hijabs while sporting the latest Chanel handbags, Asians of every type, and young hipsters, all of whom call Paris home. Our senses run on overdrive as we process the thrill of experiencing cultures that may be somewhat foreign to us, when in fact, it is we who are the foreigners.
France is similar enough to North America to be comfortable, but different enough to be exciting. By contrast it is that sameness that for some, makes our North American home cities so dull. Canada, for example, celebrated its 150th anniversary just this summer. (That is not to say that Canada was not inhabited by its First Nations People long before it was officially declared a country.) By comparison, Paris has maintained itself as a city for approximately 3000 years! We are, no matter how many generations old, visitors here. And so there is a sense that, even for a fourth or fifth generation Canadian, can only be known through spending time in Europe; that sense of discovering your ancestral roots and taking one step closer to knowing your true self. If you don’t know where you come from then how can you know who you are? This sense of proximity with our ancestry divulges some of the power that Paris holds over us.
We tend to feel much more alive when we travel. Outside of our comfort zones our brains are much more engaged. The smallest tasks become challenges: digging through a pile of change in our pockets and studying each coin carefully to determine it’s value as we attempt to pay for our morning coffee, successfully navigating the Paris metro, ordering dinner without resorting to speaking English, and a multitude of other daily activities are all small victories. In our home cities our brains become lazy. We can complete these everyday tasks on autopilot without the slightest concern. It is those small mental stimulations, like hearing new languages and accents, navigating new city roads or metro systems, and learning a new set of cultural norms, may keep us from developing Alzheimer’s or dementia as we grow older.
And so as we return the comfort of our homes, bathed in familiarity, and our brains return to their normal autonomic states, that it is not surprising to feel a sense of loss as a part of us that was once fully engaged returns to it’s slumber until the next trip to Paris.
- Holly Marie Armishaw, 2017
Holly Marie Armishaw
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Holly Marie Armishaw is a contemporary artist, art writer, francophile, and world traveler. Through rigorous exploration of inspiration from international sources of art and culture, she infuses her insights with a critical eye as she discusses global trends. Both her art and writing are informed by attending a continuous array of art exhibitions, lectures, fairs and biennales, both at home and abroad.