Four months ago, I left Paris with not even a tear in my eye. I had a plan, and I was going to do my very best to make it work- a bit different to the first winter I spent here pretending to understand what Paris was all about. That winter, I cried so hard in the taxi on the way to Charles de Gaulle that I think the man driving the taxi thought I’d just been given a life sentence.
Following this last Northern winter, I made a quick trip though India and flew into Melbourne in February with a bag full of new clothes, a memory bank of memories, a new blog and a really, really firm promise to myself that I’d get back here. Whatever that may take.
My sisters wedding, a plethora of lunches and catch ups, a pitiful 2.5 month real estate campaign (thank god for a friend and saviour who fixed that one up within ten short days), a mountain of paperwork with every i dotted and t crossed by means of pleasing the French consulate (and getting a visa), a trip to Sydney for an interview with the aforementioned consulate, ongoing French classes, a short course on how to write a novel (watch this space), an empty apartment- packed up and now sold, three trips to my Grampians family, two trips to my Tasmanian family, multiple trips to my beachside based parents and every little visit to anyone who said ‘visit,’ later and, voila- I’m here in the little tiny loft that I call home in Paris.
I boarded the plane last Wednesday night and upon takeoff I read a letter from Mum and two other notes from very dear friends- I shed a tear, had a glass of wine and then proceeded to fall asleep with a handkerchief in my hand. An hour later I woke up with such a stiff neck that I thought I was going to have to organise an emergency landing- how was I going to make it to Dubai, was I dying, what on earth was wrong with me? I could only concur that I’d flung myself out of my seat fully strapped in and only my head had made it anywhere near the floor. Dubai was hot and painful and my transfer far too quick. A prank in a shuttle bus later (the very busy and important ground staff had sent me to a terminal half an hour away), I literally ran onto the plane with my arms outstretched – not because I was excited to be flying and was simulating what I believed to be ahead, but because I was so late and I thought my head was going to fall off my shoulders. I had a chronic case of whiplash.
Paris was hot on my arrival. I could feel the heat as I stepped off the plane and made my way towards customs. My newly minted visa stuck firmly in my passport was earmarked with my boarding pass- it had been such a long time in the making and the cause of plenty of blood, sweat and tears- this guy was going to get the full inspection and whatever it took, those often handsome but always humourless men who guard this heavily guarded country, were going to see it and admire it just as I had almost every day since it turned up in my mail box only days before I left. ‘Bonjour, j’ai un visa,’ I quipped as my turn arrived, which was met with an extra loud stamp and a mumbled ‘meh’ and I was through.
My taxi driver was African and funny, he sang ‘don’t worry be happy,’ almost the whole way to my home away from home in the 6th arrondissement. I’m not sure what relevance his song actually had to me personally, but I can only assume that my upright poise and muted neck movement made me look like a stressed and desperate person in need of a holiday. I had not a worry in my heart and felt happier than I possibly ever could as we darted through traffic and made the now familiar trip from the north of Paris, across the Boulevard Peripherique and into the beating heart of this jewel of cities, along the Seine around Notre Dame and into my street where we pulled up outside the heaving red door which always marks the spot.
Thankfully I’m not famous and there wasn’t a film crew documenting what happened next, because it was a sight for very sore eyes. The apartment sits at the top of four very steep flights of medieval stairs (87 in total) and I had two suitcases and me to lump up those stairs with a (seemingly) broken neck and a very sore set of legs that needed a good stretch. We made it, the suitcases and I, and by the end I was dripping with sweat and looking every little bit in touch with my Viking heritage.
I ran around the Luxembourg Gardens on my first morning (yes, I broke an almost year long cycle) and felt light and bright by the time I returned home at 8am. My day was almost done by the time I met the very funny Marcel Crosby from Melbourne for an omelette and a cup of watery black coffee at 11am.
I have always been proud of my relatively strong pain threshold- it takes quite a bit to bowl me over, but by 4pm on Friday afternoon I felt as though I had been run over by a bus and was coming down with bubonic plague. I could hardly move and my eyes were pinched together with jet lag- I felt completely defeated. Traipsing the streets for a sign that even started with M for massage, I was delighted to find Madame Lou Lou with her shiny face and lips heavily painted in pink lipstick- luck was on my side. Lou Lou told me that I needed a hard massage, before shouting at her colleague (hidden behind a curtain) in Cambodian and then coming back to me with ‘you can have the good luck massage,’ (which I might add was above the tantric massage on the menu- that one came with the promise of all four hands). Too tired to even speak, I let Lou Lou throw me onto a mattress on the floor covered in a piece butchers paper. For the next half an hour she pummelled me (causing my body to move so rapidly that I tore the butchers paper in half) hit me, and pulled the toes off my feet- I lay there praying that I’d leave feeling normal again.
I didn’t, and a trip to the kind faced pharmacist later (who always smiles when I ramble to him), I left with a packet of heat packs that he instructed I stick on the problem areas and try to get a good nights sleep.
Hours later I woke to hear a girl downstairs screaming at her boyfriend on the street- it was obviously the end for the two of them, and as I managed to hoist myself up with the support of an elbow I sat on the edge of my bed in my white cotton Indian pyjama suit- both shoulders now aching and my neck so stiff I couldn’t even turn to see if the damsel downstairs needed a crippled hand, and peeled the heat bags out of my hair (they were having a night out of their own). Having my own moment of dispair I looked up to the moon and pleaded with him ‘when is this going to end.’
I met Sophia yesterday on the way home from a beautiful lunch at Cafe Marly in the Louvre courtyard. I love going to Marly for its brash clientel, delicious lunches and ever so satisfying eavesdropping. Sophia runs a beautiful day spa at the end of my street (how did I miss it the day before) and she was more than willing to help with my now chronic disposition. The music in the spa was calming and would upstage even the gentlest of rainfalls – I left feeling better than I had, and filled with a newly restored hope. Sophia instructed that I have a hot shower before bed and that I visit again if I needed to. Last night, I diligently had a warm shower and as I adjusted the shower head it snapped clean off the hose and I spent the next 30 seconds chasing the hose around the bath as it raced away from me and threatened to walk down the street.
Thankfully, this morning I woke feeling almost normal again. I could move with ease and I’d slept through the night sans heat packs in my hair and breakups on the street and, it was early. Entering ‘douchette and hose,’ into google while praying there would be a hardware store open in Paris on Sunday morning, I was almost beside myself (lottery winning excited) when I found a little shop on Rue Cadet in Montmartre that stocked everything from novelty ice trays to ‘douchettes’. Setting off in the morning sunlight after a shower with the rogue hose, I paced confidently to the Metro St Michel and emerged on Rue Cadet with hours to spare before they closed ‘strictly at 1.30 pm.’
French is still not a strong point- I can do simple things like order a meal, have a mildly basic conversation and understand when someone is shouting at me that I’m about to be hit by a bus. But explaining that my douchette has come away from its hose isn’t something that I can remember learning in my almost three years of French classes. The man running the hardware store was kind when I explained that I had limited French, and he made me feel better (?) by telling me that he could speak ‘absolutely no English.’ So there we stood, me with a supermarket bag containing my broken douchette and the runaway hose and him with a huge smile on his face ‘oui Madame, je l’ai’ (yes Madam, I have it). From there, we started speaking, he explained that the washer that I’d carried in a piece of loo paper was the same washer on the end of the new hose, they are the same universally and all I had to do was choose the right shower head (douchette) and hose, go home and assemble the whole lot. Voila, I’ll be home and hosed (pardon that pun)! From there, I found myself buying plastic containers for my muesli, a storage box for my clothes, a new paring knife for the kitchen and god only knows what else. I walked out of the aptly named ‘Cadet Service’ on Rue Cadet feeling really quite pleased with myself.
I’m going to dedicate this post to my most wonderful French tutor Céline who has spent hour upon hour, week after week, month after month being so patient with me – every single Thursday afternoon. Each week, I would arrive for my tutorial (seperate from class) looking like a Labrador who’d just raided the pantry- eyes bulging, complete with a look of docile guilt. I’d confess that I’d already forgotten what we’d done the week before and she’d diligently and patiently explain that I can do it- I haven’t forgotten, we just need to go over it again. Now that I’m back in Paris, I think of you Céline and I thank you so much for reassuring me that I can do it (and for insisting that I only speak French here).
I will and its moments like this morning when I realise that I really can do it, and I find it all thoroughly enjoyable.
Pictured: the view from my bedroom window where I wrote this post.