(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)
Friday, September 14th.
I oversleep a bit this morning, clean up the flat and finish packing. I’m convinced my exit will be uneventful, but I’m dawdling by the time my host, Michael, appears at the flat. I take a few moments to thank him for his hospitality and allowing me to use his flat during my stay.
I arrive at Schoenfeld Airport, where I have my first easyJet experience. It’s … interesting. Especially the part with no assigned seating. I’m in a crush of passengers, essentially boarding a Greyhound bus with wings.
I’m eventually wedged between a twentysomething blonde – who’s wedged herself as close to the window as her slight little frame would allow – and a blond German guy in shorts, who tucks into a bag of fast food at the first opportunity. Ah, well. At least it’s a short flight.
Once safely landed at Orly Airport, I manage to navigate the luggage carousels, and the information booth, whose agent was quite helpful in directing me towards the shuttle train into the city centre.
I get to one of the main train hubs (Châtelet – Les Halles – with little difficulty … until I surface in the midst of a massive shopping mall.
Sure, there are multiple signs and escalators. But – sweaty and tired – where do I exit? Where on earth do I turn?
Just when I’m ready to just throw up my hands and let out a growl of frustration, a young woman approaches me and starts speaking French.
What should have happened (as I had been imagining in my mind for at least a month prior) was that I should have been expressing my desire to get the hell out of this place – in French.
What actually happens is that I say nothing, and a look of anxiety has likely crossed my face; the woman almost instantly switches to English. Turns out she’s a North American in Paris learning French and – as it happens – lives near the Pompidou Centre, which is the direction in which I need to go.
She graciously shepherds me out of the mall and across the Boulevard de Sébastopol, and I can see Rue Saint-Martin just off in the distance.
I make a couple of missteps, but finally head in the direction of the rental flat I’m staying in. I’m just about to set down my backpack and ring my host when I hear (the French version of) my name being called behind me.
It’s my host, Nathalie, sitting at a table outside a bar across the street, wearing a very snazzy (and almost too-warm-looking) red jacket.
“Bonjour!” I exclaim, my voice dripping with relief, and cross the street.
I sit; Nathalie helps me order me a “welcome” rum-and-coke”. We sit there – she in her sharp jacket, and I in my grubby, sweat-laden travel wear – under a somewhat grey, cloudy sky, getting acquainted. I feel very shy and extremely self-conscious (and awkward) at not being able to break into fluent French with relative ease. But I suppose that’s all right.
After our drink, Nathalie takes me to the flat, gives me the five-cent tour, shows me where everything is – including a “welcome” package of little chocolates, meringues, and THE loveliest tea. We make arrangements to meet the next day, so she can show me around the area.
And then I’m alone, in a very quiet flat. No TV. No CD player (despite there being a number of CDs). I poke around, unpack some basics and put those away.
I work through some initial anxiety and go to grab dinner at the nearest place I can find. I’m not yet ready to sit in a restaurant by myself. Which is strange, considering I did so in Berlin with a bit less worry.
The last thing I remember before getting ready for bed, is just sitting in the lone chair in Nathalie’s apartment in the middle of her flat, not doing a thing.
Just sitting there, listening to silence and the muffled, faraway sounds of the neighbourhood beyond the shut window.
And – possibly outwardly, probably inwardly – smiling.