How often do we make a pact with ourselves to return to a special place, but then quickly forget our resolve? Rebecca Murray wasn’t going to let that happen and set her sights on re-discovering her favourite city…
“The vibrations woke me. Pressing snooze for the second time, as I did any other Saturday morning, I rolled over. But I couldn’t help but feel this was not another lazy Saturday that permitted a sleep-in. I rubbed both eyes forcedly with my palms, trying to awaken my senses. My surrounds were unknown. Undoubtedly it was much more humid than days I had been waking to over the last few months. The sheets were rougher, the bed – smaller, the smell – mustier.
Then I remembered. Around 18 months ago I had been in Paris for a brief 2-day visit. “I will come back, even if it be to just eat baguette and drink champagne under the Arc de Triomphe on Bastille Day. I will be back.” I repeated it at the time, trying to further validate the statement, even if it was only myself I was convincing. But ha! Here I was. It’s summer. It’s Bastille Day and I’m in Paris.
First stop for the morning was the weekend food market at Place Maubert. Here, women with thick legs and dirt-ingrained fingernails stood behind stalls selling handfuls of beans, some dirty eggs and potatoes, a lone punnet of strawberries and other miscellany they had pulled from their garden that morning.
With some pointing and nodding, I had ham, fromage and the essential baguette. In the boulangerie, the yeasty smell of bread mixed with the sweetness of sugared pastries to give my nose something to savour and my stomach something to desire. I couldn’t resist adding a petit tarte d’abricot to my order.
Making tracks toward the Champs-Elysees, the sun was out to play, biting venomously at the back of my neck.
In St-Germain, waiters wearing colonial white carried trays of café au lait and pain au chocolat to tables of well-dressed women. At the bar, their male counterparts sipped café and conversed in brash but amicable dialogue, all just noise to my foreign ear.
I crossed the Pont Neuf, and paused. Squinting and standing on tip-toes, I could just make out an approaching sea of red, white and blue.
The glory of revolution sent an electric force through my body, calling on memories of my ancien regime studies many years ago. The last horses passed, all identically mounted by ornately dressed guards and a team of officials moved quickly to dismantle the barricades blocking access to the North Bank. Advancing with purpose, I made my way up Paris’ famous boulevard to the Arc de Triomphe.
Aaah, to pick a spot. Too many people. Too sunny. Too poor a view. Inconsequential details do not seem to matter.
With respite from the crowds and champagne in hand, I now yearned to emigrate to this life which was once unknown.
Leaving my little French isle on well-rested legs, I averted my eyes down the Champs-Elysees one last time. I fumbled for my camera but then resisted. A photo would do no justice to my cultured and appeased state of mind. Ah, quelle aventure!”
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* photo by Sally Johnson