Remembering Paris. No edits, just writing 1000+ words per day for 30 days.
July 24, 1994.
Paris. Finally. My dream city was at my feet and I was about to become a citizen, even if only for one week. I stood on the wide pavement outside my hotel. It was 4-star, clean if a little dated, and decidedly nicer than the creaky old hotel we’d stayed in while in London. All these years later I can’t remember the name of the hotel. Now it’s renovated and 5-stars but back then each corridor was coded with huge blobs of a different primary colour. I’m sure this had been the height of interior fashion sometime in the 70s. This feature would come in handy a few days later when I slowly dragged my drunken self into the elevator, trying to ignore the judgemental stares of the desk staff.
I’d just arrived, my head on a swivel as the taxi driver sped towards my hotel. He pointed out the Eiffel Tower in the distance. I was shocked at how it soared into the sky, towering over ever other building. Well, not every other building. There was an ugly glass sky scraper to the left of the tower. I was horrified by it. It was just wrong. I decided to ignore it. The driver then pointed to the white onion domes on top of Montmartre. I copied the words he said. Le Sacre Coeur. It shone in the bright summer sun.
We sped along the raised expressway, my eyes constantly drifting back to the grey urban spread from horizon to horizon. London had that spread, too. I’d been surprised that much of London was low-rise with the small cluster of buildings that made up The City seemingly on par with the cities in Australia. Sydney, I thought, was a more spectacular looking city, even if it lacked the museums and art galleries.
“What city is this?” I asked the cab driver. All those drab grey apartment blocks. It couldn’t be Paris, could it?
He looked at me in the rear vision mirror, one eyebrow cocked. He’d already asked me if my hotel was in Paris, confusing me and making me a little fearful. I know now that it’s important information for a driver. There are many street names that run across the imaginary line that divides the 20 arrondissements of Paris from the outer suburbs but back then I wondered if I was going to end up in some other city, or worse, bound and gagged in the trunk.
“Paris. All.” He waved his hands around like he was conducting an orchestra. Then he smiled, huge white teeth. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but he assured me I was in Paris and I felt I probably wasn’t going to end up in his trunk.
Now, my suitcase stood at the end of one of the twin beds in my overly air-conditioned room and after a quick freshen up I’d made my way along the orange corridor. I remember standing having a hunch that each level was different colours, and stopping the lift on three other floors to confirm my hunch. I was laughing by the time I found the lobby. The desk attendant called me over and asked for my key. My mum had told me to keep my key on me but I knew that didn’t ensure my safety. I handed her the key to the room and bid her a cheery ‘bonjour’. I couldn’t wait to get out into the streets of Paris.
At least I was appropriately attired; for the heat, anyway. The heat was stifling, even standing there in my sheer summer shift and kitten heels in the shade of the horse chestnut trees. I lifted my head as though sniffing the air. The heat wasn’t unexpected. We had been sweltering in England for four weeks. That had been unexpected. The heat-wave, at least, had reminded Mum of home, but she still complained about it.
I felt my forehead. I hadn’t been well for a few days. I’d been out a few times in London. I’d met a girl who had been through a terrible breakup and she was up for some hard-core partying. She was content to talk about her situation and I intimated I’d been through something similar. I didn’t tell her I’d been widowed. It confused people. (A few days before, I’d met another girl who had also been through a nasty breakup. I thought it was weird that they had both met me and not each other. I told her I’d been widowed; she wondered aloud if I should be out partying.)
And then there I was, in Paris, but it didn’t feel like Paris. The street was deserted. Not a single person walking, the parked cars appeared to have settled in for the weekend. The neighbourhood was silent. It wasn’t just a quiet Sunday in the suburbs, it was deathly quiet, like Sunday in my home town where everyone was either asleep, at church or at the pub. Where was everyone? I’d just come from London; it had been buzzing.
Had I misjudged Paris? From where I stood it had all the allure and mystique of visiting the staid old suburb my lived in. Now you have to remember that in the early 90s we didn’t have the world wide web. No Google Maps, no Facebook Live, no selfie sticks, thank goodness. I only knew of Paris what I had read in books or seen on the television or in a film.
Standing close to the trunk of the tree, more for camouflage than shade, I unfolded my map again and turned it this way and that. I folded it again and shoved it in my shoulder bag. I had no intention of being that tourist; the one who walks around, map flapping like a flag that says ‘I don’t belong here’ and ‘please mug me.’ Making a decision based on very flimsy intel, I turned on my kitten heel and walked towards the Place d’Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe. Or so I thought.