It strikes me early the first morning. Jet lag has jolted me from sleep at the unsociable hour of 5:30am, and so with a somewhat smug feeling of virtuousness I pulled on my running shoes and set off for the local sports oval.
I’ve left behind a drizzly Paris in the throes of early winter. December has sapped all the colour from the skies and even the gaudy Christmas lights and odd pink monsters in the windows of the Galeries Lafayette can’t lift the mood.
But here, in suburban Cherrybrook it’s as if someone has taken the bumper pack of Derwent watercolours and gone to town. The sky is a thick, rich blue, not sky blue, a vibrant, fiercely alive kind of blue, and the sun is yellow and intense. The grass is almost jade, not yet scorched by the unforgiving summer sun, and the pale, earthy green leaves of the gum trees shimmer in the breeze.
The irony of voluntarily running a circuit I spent most of my high school years studiously avoiding isn’t lost on me, but I am surprised to find others awake and exercising at this unthinkable hour. Whereas my fellow pavement pounders in Paris weave impatiently around each other, sighing loudly if someone dares stray into the middle of the path, here everyone is a friend. They smile, and nod and wish me good morning and apologise profusely when their dogs on leads stray vaguely into my path. By 6 the sun is well and truly up and I turn towards home.
Later, I examine my wardrobe, a joy-filled activity as I rediscover long forgotten clothes I’d left behind. I select a cobalt blue sundress, the closest approximation to the morning sky, and add accents of fluoro green and silver. I paint my toenails a bright fuschia and smile whenever I catch sight of them.
‘I love a sunburnt country,’ reads the Dorothea Mackellar poem, and I see what she means.
Australia is unapologetically colourful, unrestrained in its vibrancy, unconcerned with being obvious and in-your-face and unforgivingly unsubtle.
And it’s exactly what I need.
I brave the Christmas crowds and fall in love with a daring, multicoloured scarf in an enchanting geometric pattern. ‘Careful,’ Max warns, ‘will you wear it in Paris?’
He’s right, of course, but the scarf is symbolic. A portable reminder that even if the world around you is shades of grey, we create our own colour.