I promised a report on Paris. Et voila!
I boarded the train on Friday night, full of hope. A fabulous adventure awaited me. It was going to start with two hours’ break from the world, when I could catch up on some reading and ponder a bit.
But there was no pondering on this journey. My colleague was on the same train and we spent the journey marking assignments, cross-marking each others’ assignments and putting together provisional grading reports. Not for me the romance of the midnight train ride. Not for me the chug chug chug. Not for me the creased spine and doggy ears of a well-read book. No. For my work is, like the A-Team’s, never done.
My friend, Aspidistra, was waiting at the train station. I was in Paris. Ta-dah!
We boarded the clunky and smelly metro and I was already in love with the place. I love big cities like mice love cheese. I remember when I first arrived in New York, I walked out of JFK airport and was assailed with the stink of traffic fumes, I stepped onto the road, a yellow cab beeped at me and the driver started roaring at me, waving his fist and I knew I was going to love the place. Cities tend to live up to their reputations in a way the countryside rarely does. I’ve been in the Alps and they didn’t seem at all alive with the sound of music with songs they have sung for a thousand years. They were pretty, but also scary, exhausting, cloudy and (gasp) a little bit boring. Big cities on the other hand…
The clunky and dirty metro entered a tunnel and suddenly stopped. A crackly intercom announced that there had been an electricity failure. Aspidistra was convinced this was my fault. Apparently my presence guarantees adventure. Or rather, disaster. My eyes scanned the carriage. We had the makings of a disaster movie. There were people of different nationalities and races. Check. There were children. Check. There were elderly people. Check. Unfortunately, there were no pregnant women, so a disaster movie was unlikely and the train moved off again.
We alighted in Aspidistra’s neighbourhood, and Paris’ neighbourhoods are disappointingly known by their numbers, like prisoners of war or IP “addresses”, so I didn’t find it worth remembering.
As we walked down her street, a few policemen on rollerblades whizzed by. Aspidistra wasn’t that surprised. She calmly, without any sense of awe and wonder, told me that you often see policemen on rollerblades in shopping centres. I was amazed. Do soldiers roam the streets of France on skateboards? Do firemen carry surfboards to ride the waves their hoses created? What a wondrous city. The policemen were leading a troupe of racing rollerbladers. How very European.
After an €8 beer (there goes a big city, living up to its reputation again) we got to Aspidistra’s place. The entry way is this amazing green passage. It’s done up in what strikes me as the style of a public building of the 1940s. I rather imagined it was a corridor leading to the back door of a hospital, and that a French nurse, dressed in a funny cape and far from the eyes of the ward sister, was passionately kissing an American GI by the name of Buck.
My friend’s flat is wonderfully Parisian. Enough IKEA to be comfy and threadbare enough to write the Great American Novel in.
We spent a lazy Saturday walking the streets of Paris. And they are just perfect. I had hazy memories of Paris. I had been there on a school tour when I was 16. I was caught about to drink beer on the ferry before we got to France and the teacher had gone ballistic. I’m fairly sure I was too paralysed with fear of what was going to happen to us when we got back to Ireland to remember much of Paris. But I will remember this visit. They care that things are beautiful. Metro stops, street lamps, railings. All beautiful. In Ireland, beautifying a bus stop would be considered a waste of taxpayers’ money.
I walked along the streets of Paris, gazing up through the leaves of big, imposing trees at big, imposing buildings, all of which look like elaborate wedding cakes. And I thought to myself that these aren’t really “streets”. These are “boulevards”. A street is somewhere with a Tesco Express and a Boot’s. A boulevard is somewhere with courting couples promenading watched over by kindly but stern chaperones. A boulevard is somewhere prostitutes in Victorian garb ply their wares. A boulevard is something a triumphant army marches down. We don’t have boulevards in Ireland.
It was a lovely weekend. We went to see Harry Potter with a group of Spanish boys and a girl from, of all places, Tipperary and had the loveliest dinner after – mainly consisting of duck fat. I miss the expat life. After my Saturday, I was well and truly ready to dump the PhD, to dump dreary boulevardless Dublin and live the traveller’s life.
But I won’t. Not just yet.