When I travel into the city centre to go to Uni, I don’t really look where I’m going. My feet just go: down my street, onto the train, off again and through the dense current of human bodies lining Saint-Lazare’s foyer and its long, dank underground tunnels; onto the Ligne 12 to Mairie d’Issy, off at Notre-Dame-des-Champs and then into the disproportionately grotesque building that is my Law school. To be honest, most of the time I’m imagining myself to be in a suitable music video for whatever song is on my Marshalls (it’s currently Isiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo). And then voila, I’m sat in a lecture trying to eat madeleines* in the most discrete of manners. I live in one of the most “beautiful” “romantic” cities in the world, and I barely notice my surroundings on a day-to-day basis.
Today was one of those days where I did, and it was fun.
I remember the first of those long commutes here. Ellie was staying with me for a while, and we were just SO excited every morning to be able to gawk at the vast panorama of Parisian landscape that my train line offers. But what we didn’t understand was why everyone else just didn’t seem to care?! As the days grew shorter with the onset of winter, my early mornings were adorned with blazing red sunrises, the Eiffel Tower a jet-black imposing edifice taller than any other building in the city. The skyline has been kept low for that exact effect. Every morning, and every night when I saw the same edifice lit up in gold over a city that seems to turn a unified chalky white at dusk, I felt a certain energy. The city’s own energy.
It’s a real, tangible thing and it becomes a part of you after some time. No matter how little sleep you have, throwing yourself into the mechanisms of a city that quite literally does not stop moving is more invigorating than any espresso any barista has to offer. I think to a certain extent it’s a subconscious thing (especially when you really have only had a couple of hours’ sleep), but at the same time everything around you is dodging or honking or shouting about the price of lobsters or barking or smelling like fresh baguettes or asking you for a Euro or a lighter or rearranging the flower stall so that it leaves no room on the pavement or shouting at the driver in front who didn’t move the millisecond after the lights turned green or sounding the warning alarm making everyone in the corridors pelt it for the Metro… I have never, ever been in Paris and been still. Family and friends that come to visit are somewhat perturbed by the speed with which we cross roads – it sounds trivial, but the green man means go and go quickly when the overflowing boulevards pause so very momentarily. We just do not wait around. These days, I get intensely frustrated when people actually wait for the train to come to a halt before opening the doors, or stand on the left side of the escalator.
And like I said, the energy becomes intrinsic after a while. So we stop being in awe of what is essentially a very precisely engineered lump of brown metal, and use the commute to finish our essays, read a novel or catch up with friends via Whatsapp (or write blogs).
Nevertheless, I just can’t resist a glance, and it always makes me smile. I certainly haven’t stopped caring.
Because no matter how long my day is going to be… I live in Paris. And Paris is kind of full of cool stuff.
Tuesdays are long as fuck for me. I leave the house at 9:30am and get back around 12 hours later. But I have an hour-ish gap. And today I said: Ellie, we’re going to Notre Dame. And as usual, she was persuaded by the heinously bad influence that I am (we should have been revising for Friday’s exam). She was probably also slightly persuaded by the fact it’s Notre fucking Dame, but I like to think I’m mainly to blame for this. In any case, when we came out of the mouth of the Metro tunnel and on to the Pont Saint Michel, we were both kind of… Weirded out.
Because we’d actually taken the time out to notice what was going on around us. There were cafés, the outdoor seating areas of which were basically spilling into the main road, absolutely full of people enjoying some welcome spring sunshine. There were bouquinistes selling their trinkets and magnets and vintage-not-vintage Voltaires and old copies of Vogue and new copies of Le Chat Noir. There were LOTS of Americans asking where “node-ur day-um” is, and lots of Chinese people following lots of other Chinese people following a person enthusiastically waving an “I’m over here, betchez” flag with the dynamism of an air traffic controller. We’d just forgotten what taking time to look at people and things and even the ground our feet are on feels like. We noticed things like road signs, and a whacking great “N” (for Napoléon III) on a bridge, and the grandiose Panthéon – our nicer university building – in the backdrop. We didn’t notice the bad air, the traffic or the homeless people, come to think of it. Despite the fact that our bags weighed somewhere in the region of 10kg thanks to books and laptops and a day’s worth of cakes and baguette, for just an hour we pranced around feeling très contente.
I moan a lot, because I don’t stop a lot. But when I do, I remember that I have so many reasons to just be thankful (should’ve sounded the preach sirens a couple of paragraphs ago). I have things like bright pinks cakes, spectacular architecture, the emblematic La Vie En Rose more or less on repeat à la accordion, cobbled courtyards in the most surprising of places (head to the Marais) and of course my beloved Luxembourg Gardens, complete with hordes of freaking adorable children taking pony rides and watching puppet shows and just being generally Parisian. I have all of that right at my fingertips (well, my Navigo transport pass-tips) and I think it’s time I started being a little bit excited about it all again.
I haven’t written anything for a while because I’ve been somewhat melancholy about a number of things. But nobody died or was maimed or injured and in fact I’ve been able to see things from a more positive stance. People always want to see things from “outside the box” – that intensely sought after ability to think laterally. I say: the answer isn’t outside of any boxes. It’s right there in front of you. Whether you’re able to get a grasp on it depends on how you look at the challenge.
And I always say with regards to my Law degree that over the past few years, it’s taught me an unquantifiable amount of information but so little of that has been about the law.
This year has been about many, many things, but here are three in particular:
solidarity, perspective, determination.
Tell ‘em, O’Shea.
*Madeleines are cakes that comprise the majority of my diet.