I had a final stop in Paris before going home.
Originally I was hoping to spend time meeting up with the teachers from BTL for drinks, getting a last chocolat chaud with Mr Frog, and maybe a drink with Manuela.
But when I sent out texts, I discovered that neither Mr Frog nor Manuela would be in Paris. And of the seven teachers that I considered to be the core of our group at BTL, two had already left Paris, two were flying to Toulouse on Friday, and I didn’t have one’s number.
D was going back to London after Rome and I panicked – how could I spend four days alone with nothing planned?
Eating out has always been a social activity for me, so it was off the list. After two and a half months of being a tourist, I didn’t want to see museums and monuments. Especially not ones I’d already seen.
I didn’t want to spend the next four days agitated, especially with one of the world’s longest flights ahead of me!
So I changed my flight home and breathed a sigh of relief. I would only be in Paris for two days now (or one and a half, if you subtract airport time).
Then I reached my hostel, on a beautiful street in the 18th at the top of a tree-lined staircase, neighboured by a brasserie and an up-market boulangerie, with a chocolaterie, a couple of bars, and several fruit shops down the road. Out the window of my dorm room was a vista of lead roofs, brown chimneys and dark windows.
Oh why had I worried?
My one and a half days ended up being plenty of time, and it was probably better that I spent them alone, as I was deep in thought and my emotions rocked in waves.
When I reached the buoyant crest, I felt that Paris had revitalised me. I had a real croissant for breakfast instead of the horrible packaged equivalents from the hostels in Italy. The round tables of brasseries spilled onto the streets, with patrons lighting cigarettes over coffee in the morning, to be replaced by wine in the
afternoon. As I walked I could smell the perfumes of pungent cheese and dark chocolate when I passed open shop doors. The market produce shined brightly, colours ripening in the sun. It all seemed so familiar to me.
Whenever the breeze rose, I felt as though I was swept into a lover’s arms and waltzed down the street. I could travel for another month. Even two! There was so much more I wanted to see!
At Place des Vosges I ate a light and sweet strawberry mille-feuille and one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in Paris (courtesy of Boulangerie St. Antoine) – no need to toasting here, as with many of Italy’s day-old paninis – the bread was crunchy and the ham, gruyere and salad so fresh that no dressing was necessary. I returned the phone that a former student, Marie Maud, had lent me when mine broke in February, and learned that she was engaged and planning to move to London. When I closed my bank account, the ease of the process made me so jubilant that I did a little dance on Boulevard Haussmann once I’d surrendered my carte-bleue.
Then my mood would start to descend. When I came upon Rue du Pot de Fer and wandered down it for the first time, I wondered how many more streets like this the city was hiding, just waiting for me to discover. I turned down Rue Moufftard and decided that I liked it even better than Rue Montorgueil, my previous market-street favourite.
Paris beckoned me. She had seduced me time and time again, and now it was my turn. She smiled coyly, flashing a bit of calf as she crossed her legs, leaving her skirts below her knee. Stay a little longer – give me a look, a smile, a touch. Pause a moment, and I’ll tell you my secrets. The leaves whispered as they rustled in the wind, and I debated whether I was leaving too soon. After nearly nine months in Paris I was still an outsider – was I walking away from my chance to get in? My chance to sample a French life?
Then I would sink into the troughs, tormented by worries about going home, and haunted by ‘what ifs’. As the afternoon crawled in, I started to feel as though I was losing a loved one and at some moments the grief was so acute that I ached to curl up and lick my wounds.
And then I would be happy again, soaring on the crest of another wave.
That day I walked around Montmartre, down to the Parc Monceau then Boulevard Haussmann, past Madeleine and Place de Concorde to the 5th and 6th arrondissements, then to Bibliothèque François Mitterrand and Parc de Bercy before heading back through Bastille, Le Marais, Les Halles and up Rue Montorgeuil and Rue Montmartre. In the evening I left for another walk around Montmartre.
When I returned from London in 2009, it took me some time to find work, and then I’d only done it with help from my mum and her contacts. I’d never imagined that I’d have trouble finding a job – it shattered my confidence, and this affected several areas of my life.
I was determined that this wouldn’t happen again, and formed a plan of attack as I fell to sleep.
The next morning I woke, feeling at peace. In the few hours before my flight I strolled. Yes, Paris was still alluring, but I didn’t feel as I’d felt the previous day. I was no longer torn.
Paris and I had had a brief and beautiful affair. But it was over.
And I was ready to go home.