Her friend had a view of the Eiffel Tower from his living room windows through two of those typically French windows; tall, with the elegant wrought iron panel at the bottom to stop people from toppling out. Imagine living somewhere with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and he lived out past the ring road, near the Chateau de Vincennes. He didn’t mention it, but she found one night, afterwards, as she stood in the dark room, her hair falling around her bare breasts, that if you stand at the right-hand side windows you can, on a clear night, see the lights of the tower. She nearly toppled out herself when she saw it, twinkling away in the distance. He, the friend, was completely blasé both about the fact that he could eat his dinner every night with a view of the Eiffel Tower and that he lives in a suburb with its own chateau and royal forest, but that’s the French for you.
Her apartment, for the week, also had a view of the Eiffel Tower, which is obviously quite common due to the sheer size of the thing but this view, her view, wass something else altogether. Even her friend with the constant view was a little jealous of the view, she could tell. The bedroom, her own bedroom, in Paris, looks out through the trees, directly onto the western leg of the tower and at night, with the lights off, she could lie on the huge bed and watch the thousands of lights on the tower and it felt like they were putting on a show just for her.
The building, her building, squats on the frantic-during-the-week Quai Branly. The traffic, breathtaking in both its constancy and decibels. The windows were mercifully double-glazed. The view is the reward residents long and short term, get for putting up with the traffic and make it worth the occasional early morning car-horn wake up call.
A Friday night traffic snarl meant on Saturday, it’s finally peaceful. Perhaps it was a long weekend, she had no idea. Being a tourist means every day is the weekend and national holidays can catch you off-guard in a place like Paris where the shops actually close for such a thing. She didn’t care about the reason; she was just happy to hear the birds in the trees outside the window.
When she ventured out to enjoy Paris in the peace and quiet, the odd taxi cruises past but no one else seems to want to go anywhere, either that or they’re already there. (Then they come back from wherever they are on Sunday night and the constant flow of traffic resumes, until the next weekend.)
She wishes the concierge a cheery ‘bonjour’ and the small, squat woman rolls her eyes and nods. She makes a mental note to ask her friend how to translate a French roll of the eyes, but she has the sneaking suspicion it’s cross-cultural. She is nosy, but that makes it feel all the more French.
The apartment is the perfect option for the solo woman traveller. She can feel part of Paris even from the safety of that large comfortable bed. Travelling alone can be lonely and a little bit sad if you don’t do it right, but she decided to do it right from the beginning. First class all the way. It didn’t come naturally. She eased herself into Paris, slowly, as though she was an easily startled gazelle. She was nervous, unused to relaxing and doing something just for the hell of it.
The first day was the hardest, as you would imagine. But after that first breakfast in the shadow of the towers of Notre Dame, fresh off the train from the other side of the narrow sea, she had no trouble eating alone in restaurants. Her friend assure her that dining alone in Paris didn’t have the same stigma it carried in less evolved cultures. He meant her culture, he could be a little superior sometimes. But there are rules to follow, he stressed. Choosing the right restaurant is important; it can’t be too touristy and if she’s the tenth solo traveller to eat there that night the wait staff might be a little tetchy.
After she learnt the rules, she knew that a woman dining alone in Paris can expect to feel as though she has been fussed over by an extravagant uncle or two by the time she had finished her meal. Each waiter will pass her table saying bon appétit. She may enjoy a complementary glass of wine or the waiter will slip a cheeky crème brûlée on to her table. There is even the possibility of a semi-serious proposal of marriage. It doesn’t matter if it is all done with a wink.
Years later, she would bore her friends with stories of how lovely it was to be fussed over by a French waiter.