My first Parisian croissant tastes like almonds and the beginnings of frostbite. I feel almost like I waddle walking down the street, so unused to the practice of needing to wear more than shorts and singlets. Now, swaddled into a state that might resemble warmth, Paris becomes a wide open port of exploration. Seeing Dean after months is a euphoria all on its own, as if my first steps into Europe and a seemingly endless supply of pastry weren’t enough. I spend the first night and day in a state of happy shock, more dreaming than living.
Waking to a frosted morning in a Paris studio looking over the city roofs of the tenth arrondissement the reality that we have just four days sinks in between layers and layers as I try and prepare for stepping outside. We have no idea where we are going, and with neither map nor reliable internet, the most obvious first stop is the bakery up the street from us. Stumbling through Dean’s high school French and my complete jet lag, we secure croissants in the shades of almond and chocolate, as well as cafe lait without causing too much ruckus, but quite a bit of hilarity.
Back on the street, the buildings tower over us like so many elegant ballerinas, and the sunshine falls on the road in shattered rays. I stand within them to little success, and try and then focus more on the ballerinas. As we wander, it becomes less obvious and relevant that we have no idea where we’re going.
“That sign looks familiar.”
“Cool, this street looks awesome.”
In this way we discover Paris. On the first day we stumble all the way from the tenth to the eighteenth arrondissement, and to the hill at Montemarte, although I still have no idea how. The neighbourhoods we travel through have shuttered shops, suspicious window watchers and rubbish fluttering on the streets. Towering over them on the hill is the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, looking very out of place. But the hill is gorgeous, and the view only slightly marred by fog and smog as the sun rises high above us. We play stage dramatics with the painted actors swapping silent jokes for gold coins, and lap up the feeling of being on the edge of this great city. That night we collapse in our little studio, our feet wearing through our shoes like it aches to walk as one on the Parisian pavement.
Over the course of the next few days, we branch out through Paris like tree roots searching for water. Each day we want something new to overtake us with its beauty, with its unrivalled uniqueness. We wait below the Eiffel Tower and watch the crowds of people snaking their way to the top, we ride the Metro and try to guess what people are saying, we wander aimlessly inside the Lourve unbelieving at all that history, and we marvel at the wonders of the average Parisian supermarket.
One day the Eiffel Tower calls to us from our little studio window. Queues aside, we know today is the day to scale it. To avoid the most of the line-up, we opt for stairs over the lift, reasoning that to climb inside this monumental skeleton would be a crime to miss. We are among the first in the gates and foot over foot we begin our ascent. The rails are cold beneath my hands, even under gloves, and vertigo follows Dean around like a villain, threatening him at every upward glance. As we climb, the air chills my lungs until I feel each breath is the beginning of a new icicle inside my chest. Reaching the first deck is a triumph of its own, and we celebrate the views and an odd feeling of being much closer to the sun without being any warmer. Navigating a maze of visitor walkways we take the elevator (there are no more stairs available) to that little point at the top of Paris. As we walk around the top deck, the wind on one side is strong enough to make me glad for the enclosed railing, as frostbitten fingers grip hard to my camera trying to steady for the perfect shot. Around me, many try to accomplish the same. The sun is now high behind us, and the shadow of the tower falls over an ageless city marching forward to the future. The stairs on the way down are much easier.
Buoyed by our morning high we hit the streets with yet more enthusiasm. Before the sun sets that night we cover half of everything on offer, circling the Arc de Triomphe, getting up close with Notre Dame, enjoying city architecture and eating like at any moment the world might end.
My last croissant in Paris tastes like satisfaction and the promise of return. I eat it walking slowly through the street with Dean, heading for the airport bus and my new home. We couldn’t resist one more in the bakery shop window. Our French has gotten passably better in the past four days that with minimal speaking and lots of smiling, the baker barely notices that all we can only articulate our intense need for pastry and nothing else. The icing sugar dusts my fingers and the corners of my mouth, and I’m drowning in marzipan and loving every moment. We pass through narrow alleys lined with mopeds and I still want to look in every shop window. To Paris I can only say: I shall return.