It was Saturday, and I delighted in the sound of the clip clop of hooves as I rounded the corner in anticipation of my first black coffee and croissant in Paris in almost two months. Carefully negotiating the cobblestones that have tripped me up on more than one occasion, I was greeted moments later with the sight of four beautiful horses and four equally handsome ‘gendarmes’ atop them.
‘Bonjour monsieur,’ they called down to a man keeping himself busy sweeping the street, before swaying off into the distance.
‘J’adore les gendarmes,’ I whispered, as I shuffled to my local where I enjoyed the best croissant I probably ever did eat.
The night before, on my stroll back from drinks in the Marais, I was reminded of many things unique to Paris after my brief Australian sojourn – I shivered at the sight of tents perfectly pitched taking pride of place outside a far too opulent Givenchy store, and sirens wailed for reasons unbeknownst to me in the distance. Earlier at lunch, the sound of chewing from the table beside me was so close to my left ear that I began to tap my foot to the beat, and as I neared the river, two guys leaned against the back door of the Hotel de Ville smoking joints in the company of two security guards – no reprimand for smoking nor instructions of where to stand. I was momentarily stoned at the sheer sight of it and delighted when the guards lit up (albeit a less elicit choice), a common cigarette.
The ease at which people move here delights me, and the urgent pace in which they speak terrifies me. The lack of bother toward one and other and the (comparative) absence of rules, sets my heart on fire.
And this morning, the laundromat burned down.
I’m a stickler for clean laundry, so when I first took up temporary residence at chez moi almost three years ago, I was delighted to find (in the comprehensive house notes) mention of a laundromat just three doors down on the other side of the street. Upon taking up more permanent residency almost a year ago, I was delighted in equal measures to find a very flash washing machine had recently been installed in my beloved digs. But, Sunday visits to ‘mon laverie’ have remained a favourite weekly ritual.
The laundromat has at least eight gigantic driers on one wall and probably no less than twenty machines occupying every other square meter of floor space. Each Sunday I lug bags of linen, towels, socks, underpants and any other imaginable tumble-dry-able items to Monsieur’s laundry where I spend at least two hours gazing at strangers as I pick up little french-isms while I prepare for the week ahead. All other items, delicates and dresses are washed in the shiny white machine upstairs and dried lovingly on my clothing rack.
In the early hours of this morning as I came to the end of ‘the great unpack,’ I danced around the flat shuffling a little Foxtrot of glee as piles diminished and disappeared and bags became empty, finding their way into the suitcase which I soon stashed in its regular spot under the Chinese commode which is home to the smallest television in the world.
It was a happy moment and one I’d dreamed of for days, only to be interrupted with screams of ’Monsieur, monsieur il y a un feu!’ (there is a fire!).
Not averse to a neighbourhood drama, I raced to the window, flinging myself through the curtains in a moment so synchronised with the rest of ‘mes voisins’ that we would have won gold at the window Olympics, should they ever exist. Moments later, huge fire engines arrived blocking the narrow street below and sirens squealed as men in helmets and snorkels appropriately dressed for a mission to Mars, spilled out of their tankers and into Monsieur’s beloved ‘laverie’.
I never wear tracksuits in public. Ever. Unless of course I’ve been on a walk that requires breathlessness and sweat, in which case I do everything in my power to organise a trip home before my next public appearance. Naturally, this is not always possible so there have been times where I’ve gone to lunch in my exercise clothing – but those days are truly numbered.
To about three times in my entire life.
On this occasion, my unpacking Foxtrot was performed in a pair of grey marl track suit pants reserved for the confines of my living space – all 23 sq. m of it. Plans were in place to dress for the day upon completion of ‘operation unpack,’ but as sirens whirled and the street became blocked by gigantic red engines, I found myself racing down the stairs in all my track-suited glory teamed with a pair of raffia pumps found in the doorway, usually reserved for trips to the beach, or cocktails sipped under a warm summers sky.
Monsieur’s miniature Renault Twizy, a three-wheeled ‘car’ that is half the size of the man himself, lay in the shadows of two gigantic fire engines, and it was in this moment that I realised that it was indeed our beloved laundromat that had caught on fire. An elderly man paced the street perplexed, strides pressed and laundry bag in hand, and a young girl begged with les pompiers to go inside. Old women muttered ‘bah’ as they walked by with their mean little dogs on leads, and endless gaggles of people hung out from windows above.
Monsieur leaned against the doorway opposite his laundry. In this moment my heart sank and ash gathered around the ankles of my tracksuit pants. His fire engine red scarf remained neatly tied around his neck throughout the entire ordeal, as if he’d had an earlier premonition and dressed for the day.
Two days earlier, I’d set off for lunch in the Marais followed by a spot of jet lagged sightseeing. The Seine is still swollen after the recent rain and snow, and as I walked home following a feast of steak tartare, I marvelled at the sight of the lamp at the end of the Ile de Citè which usually stands tall, but is currently treading water in deeper than usual swells.
A brief coffee followed at Shakespeare and Co., where I observed a one man show starring an old drunk in concert with his own mind and a can of 1664, before I rounded the corner into Boulevard Saint Michel where I was met with screams of ‘Attendre! Attendre!’.
Squinting and blinking into the near distance I could just make out the figure of and elderly woman shuffling along the boulevard waiving a Longchamp overnighter at a well dressed little thief who shuffled ahead of her – desperately dancing a little foxtrot of ‘innocence’ clutching her Prada handbag as he did so.
In hindsight, I could have been more gallant, raised a hand, stopped the traffic and risked my life in front of a bus before stopping the robber in his steps, but in reality, I looked on in disbelief, shortened the strap on my bag and concluded that I’d just seen a cunning two person act of desperation occur in the broad light of day.
In the precious final moments before I flew back to Paris just under a week ago, I enjoyed my final Australian supper with Mum at her sweet little leafy ground floor flat in Melbourne.
We reminisced on almost two months where time had been well spent with family and friends during the happiest of summers – a time of year where I often make myself scarce, if not absent. This year it was time to be home in the company of my divine nephews, Mum, Dad and my sisters and of course, great friends.
For that final supper, we feasted on the most succulent of prawns teamed with a delicious salad washed down with our favourite prosecco. As I loaded the taxi with back breakingly heavy bags, Mum handed me an envelope containing a card with the words of Oscar Wilde printed colourfully on the front, ‘be yourself, everyone else is taken.’
As I finish typing this over lunch in the confines of La Palette – a café favourite just moments from home – two little cavalier King Charles spaniels are led past my table by a man of about 80 years wearing shorts and long striped socks in red, white and blue. My gut tells me, as I shiver in 3 degrees, that he dances to his own tune and nothing in the world, would really ever faze him.
Pictured: momentary mayhem!