‘An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place and circumstance. The thread may stretch and tangle, but it will never break’. Chinese proverb.
My first memory in life is of blowing out the candles on my fourth birthday cake. It’s vague, but I can recall this moment with enough clarity to know that it actually happened. There are earlier ‘memories’ that I question the validity of, and often wonder if they are ‘made up’ as a result of hearing versions of tales and therefore, ‘constructing’ memories from occasions that may have occurred before the age of four.
My family have a lifelong habit of questioning the ‘construct’ of my tales and memories, and, I know that a friendship is moving from gold to platinum status, when people ask ‘are you sure about that, Pin?’.
At about the age of four, I also developed a fairly strong will. As a sensitive person, with a penchant for rom-coms and happy endings in books, maintaining this will for the past 35 years (if indeed, it started at four) has not been without its struggles, but the older I get, the easier it becomes to determine when to say yes when I mean yes, and no, when I mean no. Indians are excellent at this – they tend to say yes as they shake their heads in a fashion normally reserved for no.
Just before I returned to Paris almost a month ago, Mum and I had dinner together where the topic of conversation shifted to ‘moments of clarity’. She recalled the summer before last, where I announced that I was going to sell everything and move to Paris – just like that. It was a bit ‘just like that,’ but there were months in the lead up to making that decision, where I lay awake at night, in an apartment that I loved, in a city that I’d long called home, and questioned what it would take to make me truly happy.
I had no reason to be unhappy, and not for a second am I actually suggesting that I was unhappy, I was just at a turning point in life, where days were turning into months, and months into years, and where being four was becoming more like ‘a long time ago’. Almost ‘the olden days’ in the minds of my colleagues, many of whom were a good fifteen years younger than me. I remember saying to a group of them in the kitchen at work ‘I think I’m having a bit of a quarter life crisis,’ to which they teased, ‘no Pin, at your age, it’s almost mid life’.
I suppose if you’d doubled my age and added about ten years, they were not too far off the mark.
And suddenly, I was living in Paris. For the first time in my life I saw ‘real’ freedom, where the daily commute to the office was replaced with a morning meander to a café. Mid morning deadlines were non existent and the Swatch on my wrist was almost redundant – I no longer religiously checked it, willing the end of the working day.
But, the grass is always greener and it was during these early days in my new life in Paris, where I began to crave routine and deadlines, and rather than getting lost in the rues, I was losing myself in all that new found freedom.
The man at ‘Scoopi Copy’ about four blocks away from my apartment in the 6th, is as long suffering of my mumblings, as he is kind. I first found him during one of my Parisian winters, a forerunner to my new life here, when I was taking a month of classes at the Alliance Francaise in Boulevard Raspail. He has a little dog who yaps, and there is a beaded curtain at the back of his shop, behind which he sits and drinks Coke Zero as I scan and print documents on a fairly regular basis. During the first few weeks following my move last year, I was not only seeking routine, but also a the second part of my visa.
Day after day I’d visit ‘Scoopi’ where endless documents were scanned before being churned out of his printer. Headers of red, white and blue loomed over dossiers littered with French language, legal documents were stacked one on top of the other, and my favourite, a timetable for my ‘new life’ came whizzing out on one of those early days of freedom, in colourful tones of pink, green and yellow. I’d built a work plan.
This timetable has been altered to suit study requirements, reprinted upon alterations and most importantly, adhered to, for (almost) the past twelve months.
One thing I quickly learned is that in times of freedom, the need for routine becomes more important than ever. And, as a side note to this, realising the importance of saying yes to each and every opportunity and invitation, was to become a conduit to the success, outcomes and wins found in that freedom.
Before too long, my diary was filling up with appointments, coffee meetings, lunches, dinners, trips to museums and walks in parks – all with people I would otherwise not have met if it weren’t for that moment of clarity, which resulted in my move to Paris.
Within weeks, the invisible red thread was weaving its magic through the rues, parks and boulevards of my new found home. And suddenly, I found myself working harder than I’d ever worked in my entire life.
Not only was I finally realising a long held dream of writing (and actually being disciplined in it), I was also confidently saying ‘oui’ when I’d actually meant ‘non,’ simply because I hadn’t understood the question. The latter saw my cheeks flush a constant shade of red to rival the rougest of vin rouge, after moments of pure linguistic humiliation. Glasses of wine and conversations had with English speaking friends, saw moments of hysterical laughter when I’d admit to things like asking the woman in the boulangerie ‘was she a delicious croissant that I’d could eat?’ mixing my etres and avoirs, when really I wanted to know if she had any delicious croissants left for me to eat.
As much as I was determined to speak French, I was grateful too, for new found friends who could laugh along with me in English while reassuring me that I wasn’t an alien, rather, quite normal in fact.
More recently, I discovered Monday Book Club, held each week in the beautiful Hôtel de Crillon in Place de la Concord.
This discovery came about following a highly enjoyable, laughter filled lunch, with the sunny and talented character that is Jane Webster – not long after my recent return from Australia. Written up in the New York Times (just this week, 8/3), Jane is described as the ‘doyenne of the impressive Chateau Bosgouet.’ She is also the founder of Monday Book Club, and, while our book club didn’t get a mention in the review, I am more than happy to sing its praises.
Following lunch, I downloaded The Bettencourt Affair and devoured it in two days, enjoying each page of my first ‘book club book’ of many, with the same enthusiasm I’d shown for the fois gras and filet de canette I’d enjoyed at our rendezvous a week earlier at the famed restaurant Le Grand Vefour – situated in the north western corner of the Jardin du Palais Royal.
Just yesterday over coffee with another talented Australian, who has moved her life to Paris to continue her career as an artist, we spoke of everything from Emma Gonzales to every other topic on Earth (looking for complimenting words beginning with E here). Shrugging into our coats as we stood up to leave hours later, we agreed that we could have continued to chat for a further several hours.
‘Paris delivers me the most interesting people,’ I explained, ‘people I may have otherwise never met’.
She agreed, adding that while sitting in cafés solving the worlds problems for hours is probably not going to get me a book published, or her, a painting finished, it is important to realise that opportunities like these ‘just feed it’.
Feed what, you might ask?
For me, it is that invisible red thread that connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place and circumstance. The thread that may stretch and tangle, but it will never break. This contributes to our success in each and every way.
As with with every friendship, new or old, comes the inevitable connection that are the dots that make up each little ‘rue’ on our map of life.
And finally, I will continue to say yes when I mean yes, and no when I mean no.
Except in French of course – that project is ongoing and more satisfying than ever, and forgive me if the odd ‘non’ was actually meant to be a ‘oui’. I’m strong willed in different ways, when it comes to ‘parler français’.
But at this point life, my early memories, life experiences and moments of clarity, are more than ever, adding up.
A tiny little part of me knows that I’ve got Paris, and all that it continues to deliver, to thank for that.
Pictured: a man waits for the bus outside the beautiful Abbey of Saint Germain des Près.