I knew upon arrival into Paris that this trip would be different than my week spent here in October 2006. I felt heavier this time and with a certain knowing of Paris. The first week was spent shaking a stupor not only due to jet lag but weeks of angst, raging insomnia, and a chaotic heart. I knew Paris would do something and that all that turmoil had to give at some point. But it was just such a heavy feeling to enter Paris with.
In my first week, I openly cursed Paris, felt incredibly awkward and self-conscious about being different here, and often found myself lost and hungry at the wrong hour to find food. I accumulated numerous blisters, two of which I briefly convinced myself would require amputation of my feet. I also saw beautiful sights and enjoyed lovely gardens like Tuileries and my favorite, Luxembourg. I returned to the Louvre and walked along the Seine. I enjoyed fresh baguette, great coffee, macarons, and the always gratifying experience of wandering the streets of Paris (well, only gratifying when I wasn't causing seemingly irreparable damage to my feet).
Please do not despair, dear reader. I have not lost my love of Paris. I have only had to earn its love for me. It is true that we take our "baggage" with us everywhere and anywhere, Paris being no exception. That initial week was one of emerging awareness, struggles rising and giving way. The "what does this all mean" questioning forming blisters on my brain that easily rivaled those on my aching feet.
But patience has always been a virtue (and a detriment in its own right, too) that has always been a bit too plentiful for me. As Chicamericaine and I sat out on her terrace looking toward Père Lachaise on Thursday evening, we briefly touch upon the grand and yet ever-simple observation of how difficult life is for anyone and everyone and I said half-jokingly that I was fortunate to possess too much patience to be suicidal; that and a passion for life which, in its optimism, always allays whatever struggles try to overcome me.
So, I entered Paris, feeling battered and bruised on the inside somewhat. After cursing Paris last Monday, everything started to shift. I stopped hearing that incessant string of questioning in my brain. I stopped feeling as awkward and conspicuous here, and with each moment, an increasing lightness is overtaking me. It came upon me and not just in grand, historic buildings and awe-inspiring museums. It came upon me in some of the most simple ways: a Frenchwoman stopping near Musée Rodin and asking me for directions in French, thanking me sincerely when I managed to actually guide her in my broken French. It came upon me when a homeless man held the door at Saint-Sulpice for me and then teared up when I gave him some change upon leaving. It came upon me when a baby with her grandmother sat nearby at the Luxembourg Gardens and would stop crying when I would look at her and smile. It came when I knew how to get home without consulting my map once. It came when this bird perched right next to me for quite some time on Pont Royal.
Wherever we are and however we are, that lightness comes about when we give into moments with absolute wonder of the possibility, simply being present. So much of what I took back with me from my last trip was the physical beauty of Paris.... the majestic architecture, the way the sky looks draped in Paris light, museums housing countless works of art that are so moving to the soul. And while that beauty is still here, still Paris, still so appreciated and loved by me, I feel so enchanted by the little details of moments and not just the pleasant moments, but also the real moments.
Sitting at the café downstairs, enjoying steak Bearnaise this week, I see something move out of the corner of my eye and a man sitting with his girlfriend at the next table shrieks and points, uttering something indistinguishable. I didn't need to hear or understand the word, I knew it was a rat. He smiled nervously and said that he was scared of them. Then, he proceeded to finish his meal calmly. It didn't put me off my meal, either. I laughed out loud as I climbed the stairs back up to my apartment. Ah, the real Paris!
And as I climbed the spiral staircase up to my apartment the other day, I came upon that third step above the final landing and I suddenly knew ahead of stepping on it that it was a tricky step, with an awkward slope to it. That step made me wobble for days but in no time at all I knew that step and I was ready for it.
I have come to realize that in cafés and restaurants, the servers will seldom check in with you or ask you how you are doing. Rather, the customer needs to be more aggressive here in getting the server's attention, in asking for l'addition (the check), and that the customer often needs to initiate the greeting in small shops. Assertiveness and honesty is appreciated. Servers and proprietors warm up to you over time, and so you develop a relationship with them here.
A Parisian server at one of the pubs on the street tells me that in French culture, friendliness is not immediate, even for service employees. Rather, that degree of friendliness develops over time. But when people know each other or even see the same customers repeatedly over time, that friendliness grows. As it should. And yet, in my growing assertiveness here, I continue to smile freely and easily. In passing proprietors along my street over just ten days' time, I am already greeted with friendlier smiles each day.
All these seemingly little experiences/idiosyncrasies/observations make for the most wonderful sensation of being here and I finally feel that I am experiencing what I wanted most out of this trip: living fully in the moment. And so I don't curse Paris tonight. I don't feel compelled to plan out my remaining days here. I'll get to those other sights and such, just as I'll get to making decisions about the future when the time comes and not a moment sooner. All I can feel right now is an incredible contentedness as I lay on my sofabed and listen to the humming of people on the street below and the occasional roar of the métro passing underground below them....
Here in Paris.
Sunday, July 13, 2008