Most tourists complain of the ‘dustbin run’ in the early hours of a Parisian morning. Clang, clang, clang. My hotel is tucked away in a little side street, so the brilliant sun was my alarm clock. Normally, the habit lady goes for the nearest Starbucks or Paul, but this morning, I was checking out early.
For years I have been arriving to a very stern faced French lady at the desk. The ‘welcome back Mrs. de Villiers’ (said in perfect French) was a great surprise and we left on a very chatty note this morning. I knew the back pack was going to be a challenge, but I was walking the streets I loved and my spring was light as air. A quick trip towards the Tulleries again, and marvelled at the mosaic sidewalks, so traditional, so classical.
Edging towards the Rue de Rivoli. Going to give the Louvre a miss today, just such a beautiful day, I want to be outside and soak up the Parisian ambiance. Past the designer shops, the five star hotels, I have no interest, it’s the small, typical French cafés I seek. But I have to do Fragonard – my special macaron shops and marvel at what seems to be one French script. Have you noticed how every menu, every sign is written in exactly the same font? Passing the local schools I wonder if they are teaching them to write in just the same way.
Oh Great, another me. Not the best picture but loving these voluptuous females (this one avec le handbag) There are two types of French women: the ones who let go once married and become the mama, and the other who would rather die than be fat. And ugly. Maybe grow old, but never ugly. Never lose the joie d’vivre.
Breakfast break on the small island of Il de Cite. Tucked away from the tourists lining up to get into Notre Dame, I curl around the back and have my own petite dejeuner. The waiter is about sixty, skinny and winks at me – oh Thank you Lord, stranger kindness. Bought my usual Olive Oil from Provence, found a film location for ‘Midnight in Paris’, and nestled my purchases from my favourite, ‘Shakespeare and Company’. Could spend hours there, as Hemingway did.
But it didn’t end there. I am drawn to the churches in Paris, and St. Gervais in the Marais was en route. As per usual, I have to light my candles.
An elderly nun, crippled with scoliosis. putters and stands beside me, just standing. I am sure she is going to berate me for sneaking in a photo, or not putting the correct change in the box for the candles. I did, I think? Patiently she stood until I turned to her, and in her broken English, she asked me if I wanted the half baguette the local baker had donated to the church for the hungry and homeless. Cradled the baguette like a new born babe. Now, let’s pause. I don’t think I looked quite like a homeless person (I hope), but perhaps I looked hungry, or in need of comfort. I cannot begin to explain the magnitude of her gesture. Perhaps it was not the physical hunger she sensed, but the need for spiritual nourishment. I wanted to take her home, but thanked her, in my broken French and moved outside, my faith restored, my resolve fixed.
The Marais district is known as the Jewish quarter, but also for the Place de Voges, a hauntingly, beautiful square. Comedy shops, designer shops, bead shops with real horns and sharks teeth.
It was time to migrate towards my final destination. Gard du Nord. Walking north, the scenery changed somewhat. This is the immigrant section of Paris, Indian takeaways and plenty of graffiti of angry youths trapped in squalid surroundings. Reaching Gare de l’est, it began to rain, the back pack was cutting into my shoulders and the boots were tired of walking. A final spot of lunch, Croque Monsieur and of course, the last biere, I had done what I set out to do. Walk Paris.
As the Eurostar sped through France, watching the scenery wizz by, I realised just how fortunate I am to be able to visit so often. That Paris offers me refuge and memories I could never wish to replace. That I found love, and lost love in this romantic city, learnt about her bloody history, her poets and philosophers. That her river reminds me of revolution and locks of love. Her bridges are works of illuminated art. Paris reminds me of passion. For words, for colours, for indulgence in life. She makes me want to love, to dance and to dream.
Till next time, bonne nuit mon cherie.