Paris, Day 1: Je Suis Arrivee
I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.
What else is there to say about Day 1?
I left Toronto in the blackness of a Friday night and fell through cobalt blue skies into a Paris soaked in afternoon sunshine. As the plane descended, Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene was my soundtrack: Exhale. Now, breathe. You’re here.
I navigated shuttles and buses and finally the Metro to my flat in the 11th Arrondissement. I blew the dust off my long-dormant French (so far so good — no quizzical looks yet). I unpacked. And then I started to soak it in.
My tiny but perfect flat overlooks a jigsaw puzzle of rooftops, tiled chimneys jutting upward at mismatched heights. When the window panes are thrown open, I peak out over the tops of hanging flower boxes to see neighbours reading, pouring tea, hanging laundry, and to-ing and fro-ing through the windows facing the courtyard. Occasionally the wail of a distant siren floats by. This afternoon I could smell onion and garlic sauteeing somewhere near, and the bustle of the spoke street down the block sounded rather like music.
I dress for my first dinner in Paris: black-leather patchwork leggings and flowing black chiffon tunic overtop. Silver-buckled Fluevogs. Red lips. My Airbnb host had recommended a neighbourhood café and I smile as I walk up to it. It’s jammed with people and I can feel the energy of their din. The edges of all the tabletops touch, and couples lean in close as they converse over plates heaped with French wonders — soft cheeses, black tapenade, chewy pain de campagne, and crispy frites. Plates of tarte tatin whisk by, balanced up the deft arm of a waiter. And I’ve been told the coffee in Paris tends to be subpar, but apparently no one informed this café of such, as the cup that lands at the table next to me smells rich and black and nutty.
I settle in with a little pichet of Bordeaux and my journal (my first Shinola — good work, Detroit!), making haphazard notes about the things I want to remember about my first hours in the City of Lights. I feel like the still centre of the café, with laughter and debate and the sound of clinking cutlery whirling around me. Spotlighted monuments down the centre of the street’s boulevard glow against the evening sky, and the yellow lights that illuminate the café’s terrace makes us all look like we’ve been painted in stardust.
As I walk back to the flat after dinner, I feel light despite having just eaten enough tartines and accompaniments to fortify me for the entire week. Nothing that mattered twenty-four hours ago matters in Paris. For the first time in such a long time, this freedom of mine feels joyful and I am doing the only thing I’m supposed to: Living each moment to its very edges. Just me. And just for me.
It occurs to me that perhaps happiness is like riding a bike. You never forget. You just have to decide to get back on those two wheels and pedal.