It had been a while since my last aimless stroll around the city. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily routine… But, having a three-day weekend, I resolved to inject a little culture back into my life. Visiting the Musée d’Orsay for the first time, admiring the Parisian architecture, and rediscovering the Palais Royal. Yes, it’s no secret it’s very well-loved by locals and tourists alike, but it’s with good reason. It remains a calm retreat in the centre of the buzzing city, the perfect place to take une petite pause, read a book, indulge in a patisserie, or simply do nothing. And on this particular day, cold and rainy outside, the garden was empty save for an elegantly dressed woman, perched on a bench and reading a book, an old man sitting by the fountain with only his thoughts, two young men on their lunch break and many people just passing through.
It’s already half-way through January and I haven’t even had a chance to publish a blog post about all the “new year, new me” nonsense. Not that I was ever going to do that.
I will say, though, that it is a nice feeling to think about the year ahead in such a curious, beautiful and intoxicating city. The promise of opportunities, lessons learnt, the chance for a myriad of people to enter my life and change my perspective. So many stories yet to be written — the ones you tell the grandkids and the ones you keep all to yourself, their significance amplified by secrecy.
While it’s not a resolution per se, I’m reminded of the importance of living in the moment… and knowing exactly what that means.
I’m going to be honest and admit I’m not so sure I can survive winter in the northern hemisphere. It has been a cold start to November, and despite having Welsh made-for-arctic-temperatures blood, it has sent a jolt through my weak Australian-raised body.
But, I have to say, if I am going to endure a relentless winter, there’s no better place to be than Paris. After two months of seeing the yellow leaves gather at the base of trees lining the picturesque boulevards, I almost don’t mind that they will be bare for the next three months. Perhaps it’s the novelty, but there’s something romantic about being in a big city like Paris during the winter. Drawing the curtains in the morning to see locals out on the street as they come back from their morning trip to the boulangerie, fresh baguettes under their arms and faces protected from the frosty air by scarves. By night, people gather at the brasserie on the corner, laughing over a meal inside or rugged up on the heated terrace, drinking red wine and, of course, smoking cigarettes. It’s a time to explore museums, read a book in a hidden café, or shop for Christmas presents in the extravagantly decorated department stores.
OK, it’s almost definitely a fantasy conjured up by the part of me that takes Christmas movies too seriously and is a sucker for a Parisian cliché.
I think Paris is most beautiful during “golden hour”—that time of day when the sun is setting and the light filters through the trees, bounces off water and casts a warm glow over the entire city.
Only now as we go further in November, this time of day is becoming earlier and earlier, and the sun is seen less and less as grey clouds start to monopolise the sky. And we can’t have light without shadow.
Paris is a beautiful city but when it comes to setting up a life here it’s not always a walk in Le Jardin des Tuileries. It’s very easy to develop an inexplicable resentment for the sheer bureaucracy that makes the smallest tasks such as changing my address with the bank a lengthy and document-heavy process. And yes, there are people in this city who will show others no compassion and will not be open to letting new people into their friendship circle. It’s understandable—Parisians constantly have people asking them for something, whether it’s money or a cigarette. Parisians are almost desensitised to seeing that homeless couple on the street and the worse-for-wear looking man on the métro who walks up and down the carriage telling his story for the fifteenth time today.
I know I’m lucky. Sometimes it takes a sunset walk through the park to realise it, and sometimes it takes something else.
Autumn has brought crisp wind and morning mist, but there is also a sense of change in the air. The sound of crackling leaves underfoot is a reminder of the end of one season and beginning of another. Amidst a frenzied apartment search, I wonder where the time has gone; October is almost over. While Paris is such a beautiful city to while away the days, sat reading a book in a park or café, it is almost impossible to avoid getting caught up in the rush that grips the city. One example is the métro — a particularly fascinating phenomenon — where people are squeezed into a tube sometimes suffocatingly humid and warm with body heat. A tide of movement either pulls them on or off the train; it’s a constant current.
And so, yet to really settle in this city, I am trying to balance the administration and day-to-day demands with time to breathe and write blog posts in cosy Australian-inspired cafés. At least there’s good coffee to keep me going.
The days are getting shorter in Paris and the temperature has taken a sudden dive, but the light is still beautiful. When you’re struggling to find a place to live and truly settle into a big new city, you have to appreciate things like romantic pastel sunsets.
And to show how far I’m willing to go to capture these moments, shortly before taking this picture I climbed all the stairs leading to the Sacre-Coeur right after leg day at the gym. Safe to say I’m paying for it today.
Taking a French attitude today and asking “why not?”
Today was gloriously sunny and 29 degrees — perfect for reading in the Jardin du Luxembourg after a delicious chicken and salad baguette. I think a glass of rosé is the only way to finish off the day.
Speaking of rosé, it’s also the colour of my chest after spending the whole day in the sun wearing a scoop neck T-shirt. And yes, I have been raised under the Australian sun…
The second day of autumn and the Jardin du Luxembourg is still in full bloom and packed with Parisians slouched in a chair, their feet on another, reading a book in the sun. Others enjoy an apéro under the trees, while children sail boats in the pool in front of the Palais.
I must admit, I did join in by reading A Moveable Feast beside the water. But half an hour was enough for me—my pale summer-deprived skin was in danger of getting sunburnt. I’m still getting used to the European thing…
It was about 9:30 in the morning when the taxi driver dropped me outside the apartment that I’d booked through Airbnb. He helped me with my bags, grunting with the weight of my 30kg suitcase, and drove off. I stood there waiting, knowing it would be about 20 to 30 minutes before the girl who was due to give me the key could meet me.
I stood on the street, trying to stop my suitcases from rolling down the hill, thinking “Oh my God. What have I done?”
Here I am in my first hour of living in a new city, out of the family home for the very first time and I feel completely out of place, terrified someone will approach me and ask a question in French that I don’t know how to respond to.
But, alas, along came Mathilde. We hadn’t even moved off the street and she was already asking about what I wanted to do in Paris and offering to speak to her friend who works in the industry. Her welcoming nature made me instantly at ease.
Yes, the metro sometimes smells like urine and there are copious amounts of red tape preventing me from doing things like setting up a French bank account, but Paris is beautiful. The weather is almost unseasonably warm, there is always a boulangerie nearby and I have met great people from all corners of the world.