It had been a hectic day.
My alarm went off at 6.30am and from that moment on I was behind the eight ball. Late metros, bad connections, classes in the three corners of the city, no time to eat. And it seemed as if every student I saw needed to rearrange their next class schedule, which of course, completely destroyed my own, carefully orchestrated to-the-minute plan for the next two weeks. Finally, I finished my last class and rushed to the train, eyes glued to my iphone as I walked. When my train pulled into Gare du Nord I considered the two subsequent train changes it would take to drop me virtually at my door, and decided enough was enough. Home was only a twenty minute walk from the station, the sun was shining and all that was waiting for me at the apartment was an uninviting mess of timetables to sort and a pile of unplanned lessons and unanswered emails to plough through.
And so I slowed my pace down from manic to meander and took my time. I made a point of taking a different path to usual, then veered off again down an inriguing side street. Two metres off the main-ish boulevard and it was as if I had stepped into another world. Gone were the impatient car horns, and the omnipresent police sirens, and in their place, a sort of tangible silence. From the top of the street I could see that there was a sign at the bottom telling cars they couldn’t get through, and I considered turning back. It was a reasonably steep incline after all, and though the pretty bridge looked inviting, I didn’t want to waste time going all the way down there to find out I’d have to just come back up again. Then I stopped myself. What was I thinking?
Who had I become that the risk of having to double back was more important than the possibility of finding something magical?
I have spent a lot of the last few days perfecting the copy for my website, talking about how the real Paris is only found by allowing ourselves to get a little lost, and yet somehow I’d forgotten to apply it to my everyday life.
In a stretch of street that spanned less than fifty metres I passed a mosaic artist, hard at work in her studio/ showroom, a hybrid childcare centre/café/arts centre, a funky modern French restaurant with colourful metal chairs and school desks for tables, two boutique hotels and an exquisitely painted purple and gold door. I was debating whether finding a street sign would be cheating when I heard the soft music of children’s laughter from just around the bend. I followed it to find a small park, surrounded by tall fronds of greenery.
I breathed out in contentment and emerged on the other side of the park, to find my street just metres away. I made my way to the bakery where I buy my bread most days (except for Tuesdays when they are closed, and Sundays when I prefer the bakery a little further down the street) and asked for two pieces of their tarte aux poireaux. Each morning as I debated the merits of a traditional vs a normal baguette and resisted the siren song of the croissants, I would admire the savoury tarts. Today felt like just the day to try them for myself.
The brisk yet warm woman took her time slicing two pieces off the freshly baked tart, enquiring whether I would like them heated up, before checking herself, realising it was 5pm and they must be for this evening, and placing them lovingly into a white cardboard tray. She then performed an enviable origami manoeuvre and twisted the bakery’s signature paper into a perfect pyramid, with a flourish. I smiled from ear to ear as I walked the rest of the way down rue Cadet, cradling my prize. As I walked, my mind wandered to the delicious bottle of chardonnay from Bourgogne that we had shared over dinner a few weeks earlier, and inspired, I pushed open the door of the Nicholas store at the end of the street.
Bonjour Monsieur, j’ai aucune idée ce que je cherche, (Hello, I have no idea what I’m looking for) I announced joyfully. The man in the red apron stopped unloading his stock and came to help me. Five minutes later I emerged, with a bottle of dry white wine (full of character, he said) from a little known region adjacent to Burgundy.
It had been a wonderful day.