Gare d’Austerlitz, Paris, a big, noisy, busy train station. We piled off into clamour and crowds and made our way to an exit. Tristan knew this station all too well. It was here that he sat, crouched over, in the men’s room, for several hours fighting wave after wave of nausea. Something he had eaten on the plane maybe had set him off. An unpleasant, unwelcome challenge to his first international trip.
His return to this station after a week with his grandparents found him in a very different state of health. Thank goodness. We still had to find our way to our accommodation somewhere in the web of streets in front of us.
Going the right way
Using Google maps we trundled our way on uneven pavements. Chantal sweating and huffing in her denim jacket, cursed her heavy case that wobbled and stuttered. Tristan and Matthew walked behind, talking, and pointing and taking the odd photo.
“Are we going the right way?” called Matthew. He was feeling the cautious tentativeness of a Johannesburger in a big city. And a bit exposed dragging a large suitcase behind him.
“Yes, it’s down here, and then we turn right and on the next corner - oh never mind, just follow me,” Chantal called back, arm wrestling her bag into line.
She was less concerned but also not over confident. She squinted at her mobile phone and then popped it back into her handbag, zipping it up carefully.
A kilometre and a half later we fell into our apartment situated on the third storey of a building on Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter of the city. Luckily we hadn't had to drag our bags up flights of stairs, this building had a lift. We were grateful for small mercies.
Spaces to slow down, pause and reflect abound all over Paris.
Paris didn't disappoint
We couldn’t come to France without spending a few days in Paris and it didn’t disappoint. Other than the fact that the city is under renovation in preparation for the Rugby World Cup in September and the Olympics next year, Paris in summer is a bubbling, energetic, froth of people, few of whom seem to actually work. Much.
In spite of the warnings we didn’t encounter a rude French anyone. It might have helped that we always greeted first “Bonjour!” and asked for forgiveness later “Parlez-vous anglais?”
Of course there are busloads of tourists but apart from the photo frenetic foreigners, of which we were three, there are plenty of Parisians enjoying the extended sunny days. They hopped on and off bicycles and scooters, sipped coffee and wine and cocktails as they watched the world go by.
The banks of the Seine have been cleared and repurposed as “Paris- Plages” creating a beach like atmosphere with deck chairs, umbrellas, misting fountains and palm trees. People in beachwear recline in the shade hidden behind oversized sunglasses. The sound of waves an imagined surge and pull over the lap lap of the river.
Wine, deck chairs and curious passers by on the bank of the Seine.
After using a hop-on, hop-off bus the first day and finding the experience underwhelming, we walked everywhere. Matthew’s foot held up remarkably well, as we trudged significantly more than 10,000 steps a day.
Almost every building has some historical significance and a beauty to discover. We chose carefully as nothing is viewed for nothing. The height of summer brings in queues of sightseers and crowds to battle through.
Notre Dame is still in recovery and will be for some years, but her sister up the road, Sainte-Chapelle, was an inspired choice by Tristan. The wash of multi-coloured light from the three storey high stained glass windows took our breath away and left cricks in our necks as we moved in a spiritual stupor from panel to panel.
Five floors of art at the Musée d'Orsay kept us captive for several hours. Our eyes overflowed with paintings from every era, sculpture, furniture and even film. It wore our legs down as it lightened our hearts.
Sainte-Chapelle’s windows are composed of 1,113 scenes from both the Old and the New Testament.
So much to see, so little time
It felt like there was so much to see and too little capacity to take it all in. We walked and walked and breathed in the culture, the buildings, the bustle and the bodies. People everywhere. Days long with light were filled to bursting. We only had three days. We needed to eek as much out of them as we could.
And yet wherever we went there were places to pause. Quiet. Unobtrusive. A graffitied section of wall, an alcove with a fountain and ferns, a sign on a door announcing to the world that Ernest Hemingway was once an inhabitant of that place. All called for us to stop and take notice.
Not of the magnificence of an ancient palace or cathedral but rather the insignificant and unimportant. Places that caught an eye and caused a smile. Stimulated an urge to pull out a phone and record the painted duck on the corner, the LEGO heads, or the coloured stripes on the road.
Paris attuned our awareness to multiple moments of beautiful experiences.
The quiet in the centre
It was in these moments, the pause before the inhale, the quiet in the centre of the commotion that the energy was able to settle. We were present then. Deeply present and awake. Allowing the walking whirlwinds to subside and the cells of experience to process.
It is those little gaps of right here, right now, that we remember, as much as the largess of the huge and historical. They allowed the pavement to meet our feet, allowed us to stop and greet the man taking a sculpture lesson, notice the shop where Tristan found the silver ring he had long been searching for, and record a playful dance in an alleyway.
These moments, small and intimate, became the ribbons of joy that wound the days together, tied them up in a frivolous bow and left us with a precious gift. A box of memories that we take out in quiet moments to open carefully, and rifle through. Then to pick out a small memory souvenir to admire and smile at as we laugh and remember.
Until next time.
Yours in feeling,
Chantal & Matthew
Clockwise from left to right: Ernest Hemingay was here; Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” in the Musée d'Orsay; A reminder from the Universe; Place des Voges - the oldest planned square in Paris.
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