Paris has always been the city I go to relax and recharge, and even more so now that I live in London. I need a place to escape London, to quiet the constant noise and allow me to slow down. Some Londoners flee to the country in their green wellies and Barbour coats for long, bracing walks; I prefer hiding in my favourite cafés and wandering through perfectly sculpted gardens with a silk scarf tied around my neck.
But sometimes it's a struggle to leave London behind.
My first day in Paris was a bit of disaster. I couldn't relax and I pounded through the Paris streets, smashing the soles of my feet and tearing my calf muscles. Every inch of my body hurt, and I was angry with myself for not being able to relax. I was failing to see Paris and all of my favourite things, practically swallowing fresh croissants whole in my hurry to keep moving. I slept badly that night.
I woke up the next morning feeling as though I had let Paris down. I felt it was waste to be in Paris if I wasn't going to embrace those uniquely Parisian moments, like biting off the end of still-warm baguette or stopping to look up into the windows of a Haussmannian building. I may as well just stayed in London and practiced scowling at fellow passengers on the Tube.
The next day was slower, but truthfully because I was too sore to keep up the same frantic pace. I started the day by visiting a market and inhaling the smells of fresh fruit, flowers and fish. It took me back to my summer in Paris when I visited a different market nearly every day. I bought a pain au chocolat and browsed through colourful piles of discounted cashmere sweaters. I eavesdropped on excited conversations about 'les vacances' and commiserated silently with those grumbling about 'la pluie'. That night I took myself for an apertif at a bustling café and made conversation with the chain-smoking and impossibly chic Parisians squeezed against my table. I shrugged my shoulders dramatically and confirmed, in French, that Canada was indeed full of wide open spaces.
On my way back to my hotel, emboldened by a second glass of delicious red wine, I stopped to buy cheese at Marie-Anne Cantin. The shop is a tiny, much-written about cheese paradise just off rue Cler. The cheese is displayed beautifully and cut to your exact specifications, before being wrapped up as lovingly as an engagement ring from Tiffany & Co. It's absolutely terrifying if you don't speak French and you can't really turn around without hitting a Brie or a Roquefort. The shop smells fresh and sharp, and mixes pleasantly with the scents from its neighbouring patisseries and boulangeries.
I just wanted to buy a miniscule amount of cheese to eat with my half-baguette and slices of saucisson sec. The clerk, pristine in his white cheese-selling jacket, smiled his 'dites-moi' at me and I pointed to cheeses, while explaining my preference for softer tasting blues.
The clerk took ages with me. Every moment, every gesture, every exchanged word was completely unrushed. The selection of my perfect cheeses, the precise measurements, the importance placed on getting exactly what I wanted were the only things that mattered in that moment. For 10 blissfully, slow minutes there was nothing more important than buying cheese.
For someone as anxious as me who struggles to live in the present and catastrophizes nearly everything, experiences like I had in the Parisian cheese shop are invaluable. Sometimes life really is just that beautiful and that simple.
That's my Paris.
Moment of perfect happiness...
Returning to Le Petit Cler, my same table, and treating myself to a dinner of a croque madame while writing in one of my many notebooks. At the table next to me were two stick-thin Parisiennes eating steak tartare, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes between bites. They ordered dessert, too. Their confidence in consuming more calories in a single meal than any self-respecting North American woman would ever allow in several days, while simultaneously ignoring the dangers of smoking, was inspiring. And yes, they were perfectly dressed with shiny hair, fresh skin and sculpted nails.
Moment of horror...
I confess I went for a walk on the Champs Elysées. As I strolled towards Avenue Montaigne, a flash of something brown caught my eye. A giant rat was sitting by the chairs of a sidewalk café, its thick hairy tail practically extended into the oncoming traffic. It was staring right at me and its fur was all wet from the rain, giving it the impression of having a mohawk. I screamed.