I find difficult, if not impossible, to find the words to describe the moment I fell in love with this enchanting city. But, for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll do my best to take you with me to a moment in time that feels like a dream.
À Paris, s’il vous plaît
After spending nearly nine whole days pounding the London pavement, here I was, up at 4AM and waiting for a bus to take us to the train station. I was with my good friend Susan, who had graciously allowed me to stay in the guest room of her grandmother’s London homed during my visit. She needed a mini-trip for inspiration for her upcoming collection, and I needed to believe in love again. As cliché as it sounds, and perhaps even torturous, I hoped that Paris, one of the most romantic cities in the world, would help heal the heavy heart I’d carried with me from Toronto, and had been dragging through the streets of London.
Our train arrived at Paris’ Gare du Nord around 8 o’clock in the morning.
I bounced my 50-lb suitcase up the flight of stairs that led from the platform out to the streets.
I looked away from my suitcase and turned to face the front of the exit as I walked the last few steps, and there she was – the most beautiful city I’d ever seen.
The morning light was a perfect, hazy, yellow hue. The surrounding hotels the station had donned every window with a flower box, with colours that danced under the soft rays of the sunshine. I felt like I was in a dream, or as if I’d stepped into a masterpiece by Monet.
We had another 3 to 4 hours until we were able to check into our Airbnb, so we happily took the opportunity to park ourselves at the closest café and indulge in a croissant, café mocha, and a baguette (or two). We sat here for hours, chatting and taking in the sights and sounds of local Parisians emerging from their apartments, mounting on to their bicycles or scooters, and starting their day. There’s something fascinating about seeing a city wake up – as shops to turn on their ‘Open’ sign, as the smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, to feel a sense of awakening even within your own spirit. That’s how I felt that morning at the patio of that café – a morning I’ll never soon forget.
When reality hits…
Eventually, we tore ourself away from the café, which was now filled with the lunchtime rush, and checked into what was my was my first-ever experience with Airbnb. Our host was a young, gay man from Indonesia who was studying to be a pastry chef. His apartment’s guest room was charming, spacious, and had been decorated with the classical French flare we’d hoped for. For a first-time experience with Airbnb, this was perfect.
After settling in, we decided this was the perfect time to catch up on some sleep, since we’d been up since three in the morning. It was at this time, while my friend napped, that I made the mistake of checking social media. Through a series of tweets and text messages, I discovered that my ex-boyfriend had planned to surprise me in Paris and propose. Of course, we’d broken up two months before this, so obviously this was no longer even a possibility. But, finding out what might have been broke me. I immediately started balling my eyes out and crying aloud. My friend awoke and comforted me. Needless to say, the highs I’d experienced just that morning now felt like a dark cloud had rolled in and was hovering over Paris. I was devastated.
That evening, with puffy eyes and an aching heart, I walked with Susan to Pont Neuf, a bridge across the River Seine, and watched the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle against the dark blue night sky. We stood and watched in silence. And, all I could think in that moment was, “he would have been proposing to me right now”.
Beauty around every corner
The three days that followed felt like a haze, but, regardless of how I felt inside, the beauty of Paris could not be ignored. With every turn of every corner, I was met with ornate details of haute couture, delicate displays of the finest pastries, and of course, the musky smell of cigarette smoke. But, I didn’t mind it. In fact, I somewhat enjoyed the smell – it reminded me of my late Father, who used to smoke what was perhaps a pack a day. It was comforting.
I spent the days roaming the streets alone, and would meet Susan for dinner or drinks in the evening before we’d head back to our Airbnb. I wish I could tell you I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, or that I sat in worship at the Notre Dame. But, I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I just walked.
Stopping every few hours for a meal, or yet another treat, I’d sit at a patio and watch people walk past me. Families, friends, lovers, student tour groups, Japanese tour groups…almost every person from every walk of life, all here to experience the beauty that is Paris.
All good things come to an end
We ended our trip at a restaurant near the Notre Dame called the Bistrot le Champ de Mars, where I treated Susan to dinner to thank her for letting me stay at her place in London, for being an amazingly supportive friend during what’s been the most difficult time in my life, and for coming to Paris with me. I’ll never forgot the sympathy she showed me, and I hope to one day pass that same comfort along to someone else who is hurting.
Perhaps you opened this post hoping to read the story of two lovers frolicking through the meandering, cobble-stoned streets of Paris hand-in-hand, falling evermore in love. Instead, you were met with a story of loneliness, sadness, and bewilderment.
Until next time…
At 5 o’clock in the morning on July 6, 2013. I closed the door to my Airbnb, and was walking the quiet streets of Les Halles towards the train station. Today I was leaving Paris and heading back home to Canada. I could hear nothing but the gentle mumble of my suitcase wheels rolling over the cobble stones. I made sure to look around and take it all in. The morning light was pale blue, and the air was slightly cool. It was eerie to see these streets so empty, when usually they’re bustling with the joie de vivre that Paris is known for.
I took a deep breath.
And, I thanked God for the silence.
Something about the quiet was comforting. It was as if, for just a moment, I got to have Paris all to myself. I’d come here with a broken heart, but I knew this wouldn’t be the last I’d see of Paris. In that moment, I promised myself that I’d return to this city that had captured my heart, except not until I’d found the one who would capture my heart. Next time, I’d come back with my husband. We’ll add our lock to the bridge and throw the key into the river. Next time, my heart will be full, and not empty – it will be healed and not broken. Next time, I’ll be with the one I love.
I’ll be back, Paris. I promise.