An apartment, a smile and the Eiffel Tower.
I’m grateful every day for the life I have. I know it could have been very different, and yet, here I am, alive, and kicking — one fortunate sunnovabitch.
Not content with granting me life, happiness and opportunity, it seems the universe (or whatever you choose to call it) has also blessed me with the most unexpected surprises. Now before you roll your eyes, this is not some self-indulgent descent into touchy-feely town — it’s me knowing that in a world full of hardship, I am lucky. And thankful for it.
My first time in Europe and I’d been in Paris for less than 24 hours. An uneventful taxi ride to my hotel on Rue De Turin, in the 8th androssiment, drop my bags and fight the temptation to fall head first into the bed, after 26 odd hours sitting on a plane. No! Get out there. Like the sequence from a Guy Ritchie film, I drop my bags, change my clothes, brush teeth, grab wallet, phone and scarf (it’s Paris after all), ding, elevator, ding, ground floor, and I’m outside on a cold Sunday morning.
And so I walk.
Some of you may have read my stories from New York. The feeling I have walking these cool Parisian streets is vastly different from the warm streets of NYC. And it’s not just the temperature. There’s a palpable feeling of ease here. It feels like I’m returning to this city — not treading the cobblestones for the first time. No matter which street I turn down, I’m just not getting that feeling of “Holy crap! Paris!”. Instead it’s “Yeah, here I am”.
This bothers me at first. I’m in one of the world’s most iconic cities and my heart is not racing. Instead it’s warm. Comfortable. But then I keep walking. The sun is shining as the city wakes up. The smells from the Boulangeries as they open, the distant car horns, the Parisians gliding past on bicycles — all of it feels completely natural, and not at all new and amazing. And I come to feel that this is as it should be.
I get lost. My hand instinctively reaches for my phone and Google maps, but then I see a bistro and stop instead. Espresso, bent wood chair and a little table out the front, the old men next to me smoking and talking in soft, fluid sentences. “Bonjour. Ça va?” They reply with a welcoming nod. Watching the world go by is easy. The separation of language is at once comforting and intriguing. My French is good enough to help me not get lost, starve to death, or sound like a ingrate, but not so good that communication is easy.
This is a good thing.
I choose the longest possible route back to my hotel, where I drop the newspaper I bought (but can barely read). Then I make my way to the nearest Metro station, Europe. I’m heading to Ternes and then walking to Boulevard Pereire. Here, in an apartment, lives my cousin and her family.
I’ve never met them. Nor my aunt who is also here from overseas. I let myself into the beautiful building, past the chandelier in the foyer and climb the winding stairs to their door. Everything about this building is immaculate. The facade was spotless, and as I climb the stairs not a single one creaks underfoot. I’m excited to meet my first cousin for the first time. My pulse quickens with excitement, not nervousness as I ring the door bell.
Before long I’m standing in a beautiful (and I mean it in every sense of the word) home, being embraced by my family. I can’t tell you how it felt. Like a piece of the puzzle I didn’t know was missing had finally been placed. After the long flight from Sydney, I felt like I had arrived at home. I’m overcome with a sudden sense of belonging. I’ve waited my whole life to meet my extended family, and now here I am, talking with them like I’d known them forever. Their two children play in the ornate front room we are all sitting in — adding to the sense that I’m home. Their giggles as they invent games the only music the room needs.
Daad, my aunt, has a sparkle in her eye that suggests she’s as excited about this as I am. Her hug confirms it. My cousin Cynthia and her husband George are about as welcoming as anyone could be, and in less than a minute I feel like I’ve been here for years. We talk freely, packing our lives to date into an hour.
Then just as we finish the Champagne, they suggest we go to dinner. I’m expecting to walk round the corner to the nearest bistro, so when we arrive at their car (a brand new jet black Mercedes), I’m suddenly curious. Where are we going? George drives the streets of Paris, the city seems more alive now than in the daytime. Everything sparkles. Then suddenly we are circling the Place du Trocadéro and arriving outside an imposing sandstone building. The valet takes the keys and we glide through the cool Paris night past the entrance to the restaurant and onto the promenade to the left.
At first I see the crowds, but then right in front of me stands the Eiffel Tower. Just past the Jardins du Trocadéro, and over the Seine river a glittering icon winks at me. It’s breathtaking. I stand paralysed in front of it, my heart straining with the joy of seeing this for the first time, with family I had only just met.
Then we’re inside the Cafe De L’Homme. It’s plush and opulent. More sparkling champagne and effervescent conversation accompanied by entree, main, un petit espresso. I’m suddenly acutely aware of the sensation of this moment. Warm, familiar, complete.
Then it’s out into the cold where the car waits. As they drop me back at my hotel in the Opéra district we embrace and promise to do this again before too long. It’s not until I’m in my room that I feel the sudden realisation that I don’t (yet) live here, and it’s probably going to be a while before I see them again.
I’m at once joyful and sad. It’s something I’ll always be thankful to them for.