Paris is like a woman of a certain age, wholly unconcerned by the need to please and with every night we spend chasing the final train she seems to say “this is who I am, take me or leave me.” I choose to do the former.
I escape from my apartment unto our tiny alley of a street, Rue de Fontaigne du Temple. Although it’s winter the city is cold and grey it still looks like something out of a dream. Today, like most other Saturdays I have no plan but to wander aimlessly around the city. I stroll down Rue du Temple window shopping and enjoying the silence of the street, stopping only to check for new wares at a vintage store. My quiet stroll is broken when I get to the crowded Rue de Rivoli.
As I let myself be carried down the stream of tourists on Rivoli I wonder if this isn’t truly the most beautiful city in the world. Where else would I not be bothered by the abrupt stops of the Italian family of six in front of me who, in trying to control two toddlers leave me no room to pass? But beauty has its limits as does my patience. I break away from the crowd, unto a small street, soon finding myself on rue Saint Honore. My roommate would mostly likely scoff at what is turning out to be a day spent in the most cliched corners of Paris.
It’s a little past lunch time and I eschew the appealing Parisian cafes for a tiny Chinese restaurant. A choice I blame on four years spent in New York City where I came to know Chinese takeout as comfort food. I’m the only customer and have the full attention of the server. After gorging myself on greasy noodles and shrimp, I’m presented with something that looks like a puzzle. He explains to me that it’s a timed game and points at a signed drawing on the wall, which I come to learn is the answer key of the fastest patron ever, a young Polish man. I’m not certain that I understand but I go along with it.
After about twenty minutes I somehow complete the puzzle of animal faces, still not sure of the purpose of the game. The server cheers, hands me two postcards from China and tells me, mostly gesturing, a little about his homeland. I leave several minutes later wondering what brought him here, a question I ask of non Parisian I meet. Perhaps I’m still trying to figure out what called me to this city.
I think of Fred, the most peculiar of the exchange students and the only person who seems to have a real reason for being here. Fred is a poet and spends much of his time sitting alone in cafes looking purposefully pensive. He wears a uniform consisting of a striped nautical t-shirt, jeans, an oversize black trench coat and a black beret and always carries a small black moleskin and a pen. When he does engage with us, he speaks of Hemingway and Cafe de Flore, and muses of how much the city inspires him. He will finish a book of poems in these six months, he says.
I make my way to Jardin du Tuileries as it’s already too late to save the day from becoming a cliched afternoon in Paris. I sit on a cold metal chair, take my journal from my bag and begin what has become my Saturday ritual. As I’m about to put pen to paper I pause for a moment and laugh wondering if I’m turning into Fred. Has Paris become my muse? Then I recall the many late nights since my teen years spent scribbling on loose sheets of paper in the dark. The difference with Paris is the words don’t only haunt me after dark. It happens in the quiet little streets, crowded cafes or on a bench near the busy Eiffel Tower. Perhaps it’s because Paris feels like something of a dream, it’s easy for the mind to be as quiet as midnight, for it to find the kind of peace needed to create. Some days I think it’s the city showing me my reason for being here, as if she is giving me permission to write.
About the Author: Kristie Gonsalves is a freelance writer living one foot in Miami and the other in the Caribbean. Find more on her blog and is also working on a Caribbean style and culture publication.
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