Walking home last week, I watched an old man staggering towards me on his cane just as the bottom dropped out of his shopping bag. He muttered ‘merde’ and four little bottles of beer rolled along the pavement – I rushed to his aid and picked them up as he showered me with gracious thanks.
He then asked if I would walk him back into the shop to find him a new shopping bag, a request that I happily accepted before continuing on my way.
As I began writing this, an ancient woman was chain smoking slim cigarettes at the cafe table beside me, turning to stare in my direction from time to time while muttering something about my shoes. Her copy of Le Monde was covered in what was once gateau au chocolat, and in order to get the attention of the waiter – who she kissed four times each time he arrived at her table – she would smash another wine glass on the pavement.
Spring has arrived and Paris is incredibly warm, which appears to be getting to some people.
It has made me feel reflective, and just yesterday I pondered the fact that I am afforded so much enjoyment through watching old people in Paris (and all people for that matter) – with one of my favourite characters being another ancient woman who dines each night at Cafe Louis Philippe on the Quai de l’Hotel de Ville. Half asleep at all times she sits in the same seat each time with her Great Dane and sometimes, her adult son.
Last summer during a night of cocktails in the courtyard at Hotel Costes, one of the chicest women I ever did see sat in a velvet chair, immaculately presented with three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels sitting on both her lap and at her feet. When I turned to see what the racket was behind me that threatened to drown out the cool sounds of jazz filling the beautiful, buzzing courtyard, I found her snoring so loudly it could probably be heard across the channel in Dover.
Paris is a city that awakens all of the senses but usually maintains a relative sense of calm. Despite sirens that whirl on seemingly never ending rotation, as police cars whizz through the open boulevards and narrow streets; the jackhammers that sound through limestone next door and the shrieks that filter through the night air as revellers make their way home from cafe terrasses- the grandeur that is the architectural makeup of this city wraps its arms around the greatest of characters and the seemingly regular – leaving space to explore and be completely at ease with oneself, as millions of people do things such as sleep in chairs, bustle along streets, take hours to bring the bill and just be lost in unique degrees of apparent anonymity.
In the days following my return from Morocco almost two weeks ago, I was reminded of just how magnificent Paris is at this time of year. Blossom flowers cover the limbs of trees, pollen drifts as aimlessly as the many flâneurs who wander along the Seine, and the cafes overflow with locals and visitors who drink up the rosiness of dusk. The steeliness of winter is replaced with evening shadows of chalky pink bouncing from the endless limestone walls – and my favourite part of Spring, the days are long and warm.
The past week has seen catch ups over lunches and dinners with new friends and old, where I’ve shared tales and photos from Morocco, and on Sunday morning I boarded the metro for the Puces de Vanves – an endless flea market filled with more brocante than I will need in a life time. Just as I planned to leave, I was overjoyed when I happened upon six linen napkins hidden under a pile of bedsheets and monogrammed with the initials P.A.
Paris has as a way of delivering the sweetest of surprises, and at times when I think I’ve found my way, a new corner emerges. Just as when I feel all is lost with my spoken French, I find myself confidently nattering in places like a Drougerie in a far flung corner of the city, or the tech section of the B.H.V.
This weekend I will fly to Athens where I’ll meet my parents on the eve of my 39th year. Full of Spring contemplation, I think the first two lines of Tolkien’s ‘Song of Aragorn’ sum up my reflective musings as I weave situations into words while staring blankly at my suitcase;
‘All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost…’
Just as all the change emerging from this Spring is partly engineered and the rest remains a complete mystery. I don’t normally feel quite so at ease with birthdays as another year is added to the tiny speck on the horizon that is my life.
But, this year feels different.
Pictured: Monet’s beautiful garden at Giverny, pictured on a day trip last week.